• I Like Melvis Wesley

    Melvis Wesley

    He looks like Elvis (more or less). He sounds like Elvis (just about), but it ain’t Elvis. Meet Melvis Wesley – one of the many Elvis impersonators who eke out an existence in summer by entertaining the happy campers in camping sites all along the French Riviera.

    Somehow, campsites and Elvis impersonators just don’t seem to go with the traditional image of the French Riviera – Aristocratic Englishmen and their ladies in flowing silks and summer suits, strolling along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice or all the world’s film stars jetting into Cannes for the film festival. Brigitte Bardot in St Tropez or quite simply those places of Riviera legend where, long before the age of mass tourism rich Brits and Parisians would hang out for the summer in Menton or Ramatuelle or Monaco.

    Oh dear, Monaco. High-rise apartment blocks as far as the eye can see. Yacht jams in the port. One measly beach BUT not a millionaire in sight – its all day-trippers, happy campers, bawling kids covered in ice cream, fat Germans in football shorts and tight shorts, huffing, puffing, heaving and sweating their way up the stairs to the Palace – and when you get there? – Sorry Prince Albert, but the whole place looks like it has been built from Marzipan. The Grimaldi’s palace is large house guarded by one sad soldier who looks like a Playmobil figure. But you haven’t come here for the palace. You want to see Grace Kelly – erm; you’re standing on her. Yes, she’s under that slab in the floor of he church. I know. You were expecting some kind of shrine.

    No the Riviera is not what it was. Far from exclusive – it is now very inclusive, all-inclusive to the point of being universal. Everyone wants their slice of Riviera. Everyone wants to spread their towel out on the beach at St Tropez, everyone wants a deckchair in Nice – but there just isn’t the room. The French Riviera is heaving. The French Riviera is popular. The French Riviera is every available inch of viable land turned into sprawling campsites or Jerry built holiday villages. The French Riviera is everyone looking for their slice of old world exclusivity. The French Riviera is just one vast summer refugee camp peopled with happy campers who want to say that they have been on holiday to the French Riviera. The French Riviera is trying to fit a Rolling Stones concert or a Super Bowl final into your back yard.

    There is this word in French « populaire » Nowadays it is misused in the English sense of popular, meaning that loads of people all like something at the same time. Applied in its true French sense though, « populaire » means of the people for the people – well, the Riviera is « populaire » - all cramped campsites, beaches thick with northern and eastern European flesh busy roasting in the sun, and, to keep the people happy, well, there are errant Elvis impersonators, magicians, ersatz Moulin Rouge Feather and boa topless dance troops and … well all the popular crap to keep people happy.

    There was a time when only people with time and the money to afford time could manage a holiday on the French Riviera, but in the sixties, with full employment and index-linked salaries, all the workers and plebs climbed into their family cars and chugged down to the Riviera in search of that holiday existence only previously enjoyed by the rich. And to accommodate them all, what better than campsites?

    So, I am proud to admit that I am a true Pleb, enjoying a pleb holiday on a sprawling refugee camp/campsite on the Gulf of St Tropez. I like, I even love my mediocrity in the sun. I like the Elvis impersonator. I love the fat German tourists. I love the wall-to-wall anorexic Russian and Polish girls on the beach, rubbing in their cooking oil and laying out their tea towels. I like eating my full English breakfast early in the morning at the beach café whilst reading my English newspaper and staring out across at St Tropez. I love the « populaire ».

    I’m not sure of the original purpose of this post, BUT, if you want an authentic posh French beach holiday, nowadays you have to head for the Atlantic coast where it is all Espadrilles, and stripy Breton fisherman’s sweaters. You don’t go to swim but, hop about in rock pools, build sandcastles, take long bike rides and just paddle in the shallows with your Chinos rolled above your knees. Now I’ve never been to New England, but this all sounds very Martha’s Vineyard (of which the French equivalent is the Ile de Ré), whilst the French Riviera is now a down market Copacabana.

    Oh dear.

    No matter, in two days I am off to the Riviera because there is guaranteed sunshine, warm seas and I also kind of like this Pleb side to the holidays, because after years of trying to be a writer and an artist, I have finally worked out I’m a pleb I like Melvis Wesley and I’m very happy that way.

  • Pimp my Mobile (Home)

    Yes, this is perverse, but I am fascinated by mobile homes. (Oh what a sad bastard I am. But I suppose it beats angling and car tuning) Read on for mobile home meanderings.

    Remember Big Brother ? That awful Reality TV show that darkened our screens during the Noughties. The concept was simple. Take a gaggle of publicity-seeking morons, lock them in a confined space for three months and then broadcast their antics on prime time TV. Drinking, smoking, swearing, arguments, sex … then every week ask the participants to nominate two or three of their number for «éjection » and then ask the TV audience to ring in and « save » the least awful of the would-be has-beens.

    A holiday in a mobile home is not unlike Big Brother – take six or eight people (depending on the capacity of the mobile home) and shove them in a confined space for two weeks and then watch as the stresses and strains of close quarters family holiday living take their toll.

    Your average mobile home (what the Americans might refer to as a trailer home) provides 24 to 28 square metres of living space. It is a flimsy wood and plastic construction that will probably just about stand a light shower or a summer breeze, but were there any serious huff and puff, it would collpase. Looking at some mobile homes you are prone to wonder if the first two little pigs were not working on the design team.

    The mobile home has one distinct advantage over other caravans and many motorhomes – the designers have put in « bedrooms » – small spaces sectioned off by plastic « walls ». There are doors to enter and exit the room, however, when the mobile home shifts a little, it’s not sure that the door will actually fit back into its original « hole ». However unbedroom-like these minsicule bedrrroms might be, they are important because they give the occupants some form of seperate living space from the other occupants. Your average mobile home will have two bedrooms – a twin and a double –though in bigger models (32 square metres plus) you get three bedrooms


    In addition to your 28 square metres of living space, the site owners generously add an 8 square metre covered wooden terrace/outside dining area. A very useful place to cool off after a blazing family row, when other family members are busy sulking in their bedrooms.

    Having described the mobile home layout, you may wonder why anyone in their right mind would :

    1 Rent one or their holiday.
    2 Seriously consider buying one.

    To answer the first question, in terms of space, durability and comfort – the mobile home is better than a tent. It also offers more room than a caravan or camper van (American readers might refer to the latter as a motorhome or even a recreational vehicle)

    Of course, here I am speaking from a European persepctive. Our European camper vans are quite small affairs compared to American motorhomes. However even if an American motorhome might fit on European roads, it sure as hell won’t fit on your standard European camp site.

    The mobile home phenomenon now appears to have peaked. In the mid Noughties however, there were entire campsites that gave all their emplacements over to mobile homes, leaving no space for traditional canvas campers.

    From the North to the south of France, prices for one week’s stay in a mobile home range from 500€ up to 1900€. For 500€ you’ll get a week on a campsite near Calais on the Channel coast. On site facilities wil be basic – a bar cum restaurant, a simple campsite shop and a games room (ping pong table in a large garage). For 1900 Euros – a kind of ersatz, Tahitian, luxury mobile home love nest. Welcome to the world of Custom Mobile Homes.

    Pimp your ride. Take a bog standard family saloon. Tune it, re- tweak it, paint it up, dress it up. Add spoilers, aerofoils, chrome exhausts, enough headlights to light up a medium sized-provincial airport and a sound system so loud that I can hear you thumping out techno beats several streets away – well however good (or stupid) your car now looks, it is still a Ford Mondeo, in fact it looked better before.

    So, pimp my mobile home. First buy a mobile home and then do it up outside to look like some kind of Bora Bora beach hut – right down to the thatched roof. When the outside is done, star ripping up the inside. Tear down the walls, install a jaccuzi, a king sized double bed. Deck the place out in tasteful Tahitian décor and charge almost four times the price of a bog standard mobile home on the site in Calais.



    Tropical mobile homes are confined to certain sites on the French Riviera. Two or four berth, they most my seem to be rented by Brits and Germans (perhaps the only people who can afford them). Of course no matter how exotic your mobile home, it is still a mobile home and it is still sandwiched, cheek by jowl, up against similar mobile homes and why, for the sale kind of money don’t you rent a holiday cottage or an apartment.

    Now I come to the next question. If holiday rental companies and campsite owners are charging so much for mobile homes, why not just buy your own ?

    I saw an ad recently « Own your own mobile home for under 100 Euros a month » (99 Euros to be exact) Sounds a good deal BUT, once you have bought the mobile home, you have to find somewhere to put it. Yeah, mobile does not mean mobile unless you have your own massive semi trailer / tank transporter to take the mobile home where you want it to be. You also have to find a site that will take your mobile home.

    Most mobile homes are sold already on site. All plumbed in, plugged in on their own prim proper neat little emplacement – LOVELY … BUT BUT BUT – a word of warning. The site owner has invested in several mobile homes and then flogged them off to private individuals – it is now your home on someone’s site. If one day the owner decides that he wants to move your home to different part of the site ? If he decides that all mobile homes will now have blue shuuters instead of green or red imitation tile roofs ? What if the owner simply decides that he just doesn’t want anymore mobile homes on his site ? Well, either you comply with the owner’s wishes or you leave the site. No, buying your own mobile home is a con. Many campsite owners with permanent homes like to « replace » their homes after five years – meaning they do a massive buy back of existing homes and oblige owners to buy a new home if they wish to stay on the site. The price you get is never the same as the price you paid. Of course, you still own your mobile home, so you can unplumb it and unplug it and arrange for transport to another site – that’s expensive.



    By way of info, prices for a decent mobile home start at around 40,000€ for a 20 metre square 4 to 6 berth home. Add the this the cost of installation on the site of your choice – a one of fee ranging Fromm 500€ to 2000€. Of course, your mobile home is on a campsite, therfore you have to ay site rental – anything up to 5000€ per year. Of cousre you want to make money on your mobile home, so you will rent it out as much as possible, paying a commission to the site owner for each booking and of course, you are going to rent it out all summer, meaning that you are not going to go when you want to go. Add to this repairs and upkeep of your emplacement and any other requsets from the site owner such as changing the colour of your shutters or adding new decking or … You are better off buying an apartment by the sea. And finally if you do choose to move your mobile home, count 2000€ for transport and of course you have to find a site who will want to take your home.

    Hey, just buy a motor home. If all else fails, you can still use it as a replacement for the family car.

    So tomorrow, I will take you to a posh campsite on the French Riviera complete with toilet blocks built in the style of Egyptian temples and Elvis Presley impersonators.

  • Incestuous Camping

    Holidays in France.

    Chances are you’ve come for a couple of weeks by the sea, possibly staying in a rented mobile home on a vast campsite just a few yards from the beach –

    Oh dear. It all sounds very downmarket.

    I imagine hundreds of mobile homes, cheek-by-jowl, in a field that is actually a very long walk from the nearest accessible beach.

    I imagine a sprawling campsite, not unlike a refugee camp with water points and washing blocks. A campsite shop that looks more like a food distribution centre and mobile homes and caravans in incestuous proximity. Open your toilet window for a view of next-door’s BBQ area. We are so close that we can shake hands bedroom-to-bedroom with the neighbours. We can share in all those high-tension holiday feelings that come with close quarters living and the general stress of actually being on holiday. We are so close, that even the hushed, late night conversation next door might have you calling up the local branch of the Noise Abatement Society.

    Curious is it not. We work hard all year for our place in the sun and year on year, we pay our hard-earned money to go and live in a space that is barely bigger than the spare bedroom. We live on mosquito-infested campsites, sharing every waking minute with total strangers. We try not to stare at the family across the way having breakfast. We try our hardest to greet everyone that passes by as we sit out on our small terrace, and as we pass by, we try not to stare. BUT we are CURIOUS. We really DO want to know how the other happy campers spend their lives. We have temporarily joined this ephemeral summer campsite community. We might merely be camper vans that pass in the night, but we like to know about our neighbours. GOD FORBID though that we actually try and get to know them.

    Perhaps French campsites are not like those in other countries. To start with we don’t say campsite but “un camping” and even that is going out of fashion as the humble “camping” becomes “Un hotel de plein air”(An Open Air hotel) Inspired by Club Med you can’t go camping now if your site doesn’t have a couple of swimming pools, several bars and restaurants, a mini shopping mall, a gym, beauty salon, watersports and above all – nightly entertainment to keep the punters happy. An exaggeration? – well many camp sites might not all have the gym or the beauty parlour, but they’ve got the rest

    Ah for those campsites of old – a far-flung field with a wash block like something out of a gulag and a basic campsite shop and nothing to do in the evenings other than sit round the gas lamp, fight off the mosquitoes, read a book, play a board game and then retire to your flimsy creaking camp bed at some unfeasibly early hour when most people would just be thinking of going out for the night, but you are camping you poor bastard. You are in the middle of nowhere and once it is dark there is nothing to do but go to bed.

    Of old campsites used to be fields in the country or fields by the sea. Some canny farmer with a spot of land would install a few chemical loos and water points and open a campsite. And then holidays got expensive. Those nice little cottages or apartments by the sea started to cost serious money, so everyone went camping, but people wanted all those services on a campsite that they might get in a holiday apartment. Washing machines, dishwashers, satellite TV, BBQ areas and above all they wanted something to do – bars, restaurants, shopping ; entertainment – and so the luxury campsite was born. Pitch your tent at near camping prices but with electricity, wifi, on site everything and more besides – Hey, once you have got here, you want all your creature comforts but you still want camping prices.

    I suppose the evolution to “camping resorts” started in the mid 90’s when real holiday rentals got too expensive and we all went camping to save money but stim wanted all the materiel comforts of a real holiday resort.

    As things stand in France, you can still pitch your tent in a rural campsite for as little as 5 Euros a night. You might get some very basic gulag-style washing and toilet facilities but above that that there is nothing. OR you can go for the upper end of the market – glamorous camping or “glamping” with a mobile home rental (wifi, aircon, washing machine, TV, shower, separate bedrooms, microwave) for ….

    Well it all depends where you go. On the northern coasts of France you’ll be paying 500€ to 750€ a week in high season (14/07 to 15/08) down south in the Gulf of St Tropez, a mobile home will set you back 1500€ a week. So, you know where I go and I am seriously looking at my holiday strategy. BUT, I get a lot for my money.

    So, time to sign off for tonight, because I have to confirm my last minute “Luxury Holiday Lodge” reservation (because that is what a mobile home is now called.)

  • If It’s Tuesday, We are Chinese.

    France is the world’s number one tourist destination. 83 million foreign visitors in 2013. I suppose I should feel lucky living in a country that everyone else associates with holidays. I don’t have to pay to come here. I already live here.

    Living in a place where everyone else wants to come on holiday. I once asked a friend from Nice where he went on holiday. «Paris» came the reply. Come summer all the Parisians are in Nice so that’s the best time to visit Paris. It’s a common trend – us provincial types who love Paris whilst harbouring litte affection for the Parisians themselves. It is of course reciprocal. Parisians often loathe and despise «les provinciaux» we’re just all a little too hick and uncouth for their liking – mud on our boots, spit and saw dust, hillbillies, bumpkins … most modern Parisians though, have provincial roots, obliged to leave their deepest France and head to the capital tor work or studies, it would eem though, that once they hit Paris, they adopt big city atitudes and behaviour.

    Not for me to dwell on the Paris/provincial divide, but rather to offer up reasons why people might actually want to come to France. Of those 83 million tourists, there are quite a few short stays – a day in Paris as part of a European tour. We used to mock the Americans for the «whistle stop tours» of Europe «If it’s Tuesday this must be Belgium.» – the title of a 1969 US made comedy starring Suzanne Pleshette and Ian MacShane – «A bumbling group of American tourists wend their way through Europe with one comic episode after another» – the blurb from the Yaho Movies website – Yes, the Yanks used to do all of Europe in under two weeks, and all us Europeans would scoff and haughtily mock our American friends How acn you cobver Europe in under two weeks? There is just so much … and now, we all head for the States, a few days here, a week there, a fortnight driving coast, a stopover in Vegas, a short sojourn in New York and we have «done» America. I’ve spent 25 years living in France and I still haven’t «done» France, though I have «done» places in a tourist mode.

    The Americans have in recent times been replaced by the Chinese. They spend even less time in France. A day in Paris that’s it!- A bus trip round the capital, followed by a quick trip up the Eiffel tower in the morning. lunch in a traditional French bistrot. A tour round the Palace of Versailles and then back to Paris for shopping. Where there used to be «English spoken here» it is now all in Chinese. Saunter into of any of the major Paris department stores and everything is written up in Chinese. At the Galleries Lafayettes, Chinese tourists even have their own specific entarnce, peopled with Chinese speaking guides, a bureau for currency exchange, an office to redeem ant duty free advantages and security guards – Cassius Clay/Mike Tyson-style security guards who hang in droves around the Chinese tourist buses to ensure that our oriental friends don’t get beaten up and robbed. Well, the Chinese don’t have credit cards so they carry their hoilday ealth in cash. Your average Chinese tourist is reckoned to be carrying around 2000€ to 5000€ in readies. This makes him or er an excellent taregt for the gangs of Romanian hoodlums that are curently roaming the streets of Paris. In a country where the average grooss national monthly wage is just around 2000 Euros, of you mug a Chinese touritst it is payday and more; Restassured, we don’t mug Americans tourists because they all have credit cards.

    So, if this is Tuesday we must be in Belgium because most of the major Paris tourisr attractions (unless the personnel are on strike) are actually closed on a Tuesday – and I have a problem with this. In our current state-aided economy, surely, the world’s number one tourist destination, has the werewithal to create enough jobs to keep national and world famous tourist attractions open 7 days a week? Why do the Louvre Museum or the Pompidou Center close on a Tuesday (even in summer)? In any other of the world’s cultural capitals, the museums would be open all day and everyday. moral of this story, never visit Paris on a Tiesday. Okay. In the next few posts, I’m going to be concentrating on tourism in France and places to visit.

    So, if you visit anywhere in France, you’ll be quite happy. In modern and historical terms, we are the museum of the world, but there is al the stuff that the brochures never tell you, such as the lack of public toilets, the parking charges, the price of a cup of coffee and the general ethos for the Soviet style service – ah yes, service has greatly improved over the last 20 years, but visit some places in on the French Riviera ans you get a ll the charm of an East Berlin workers’ canteen (and God knows I ate in plenty of them.) Up and coming – jellyfish, dirty beaches, polluted seas, Ryssuian prostitutes – and when you have read it all, you might just stay at home.

  • Of Cheap Hotels, Romanian Builders and Spuds U Like.

    I was working away from home last week, down in the fair city of Toulouse. Home from home was a cheap hotel in the edgelands, sandwiched between the motorway, and shopping mall.

    There I was, sitting up in bed, trying to get to sleep and trying to get some sleep above the eternal din of fellow hotel guests coming and going in the wee small hours. That’s the problem with cheap hôtels. They seem to be peopled exclusively by the nation’s itinérant building workers, who in turn all seem to be swarthy romanian types with loud raucous voices and a penchant for late night drinking, arguing and noisy sex with local ladies. The regular, mechanical sounds of a little late night fling resoanting through the thin, plastic walls.

    Yes, plastic walls. You don’t get real walls for just over forty Euros a night . You don’t even get a real bedroom. The hotel is a set of pre-moulded plastic cells, bolted together one on top of the other. Apart from the bed, all the fixtures and fittings are pre-moulded into the plastic cell.

    So, there I am, trying to sleep as the Boys from Bucharest are banging away in the next room. I bang back on the walls and ask them to make a little less noise. A very muffled « Pardon monsieur » comes through the wall and a few minutes later, the banging starts again. Around 2 am, a gigling gaggle of young ladies, heavily under the influence of alcohol, clank their way down the métal stairs, more than a little unbalanced in their high heels. There are several thuds and a flurry of curses as some ladies miss their step. One girl misses the stairs altogther and rolls to the bottom, provoking loud laughter from her companions which soom turns to grunting and burping. Ah, for the charms of drunken ladies, at least they don’t piss and vomit everywhere like their male counterparts – yes some of the Boys from Bucharest are indulging in the aforementioned activities from the third floor walkway.

    I would stay somewhere decent, but my employérs only give an allowance of 40 Euros per night, which condemns me to staying in cheap hôtels that look they have been built from Mega Blocks – Lego being far too expensive.

    And come half past five, my raucous Romanians are off to work, climbing into their white transit vans. The banging of doors, the reving-up of motors and the honking of horns. I hope they exercise their building skills with more finesse. I don’t know why, but I just wouldn’t want to live in anything built by these guys.

    Erotic spud

    During the night’s noisy proceedings, I try to concentrate on something that might take my mind off the noise and even send me to sleep. At times like this, it is traditional to count sheep. I, on the other hand, am wondering, just how many ways there are to cook a potato.

    Boiled, fried, mashed, sautéd, chipped, baked … surely I’ve missed one or two. I seem to have been living off a diet of potatoes all week – at least, potatoes are always on the menu.

    That is the problem of working away from home, you have to find somewhere to eat of an evening.

    I’ve got a KFC and a number of burger outlets next to the hotel. Across the road, in a large shopping mall, there are a number of cheap family restaurants offering real food – steaks, fish, chicken ans suchlike, all served with as much veg as you can eat – except I don’t eat green beans, cauliflower or anything cabbage-based, so, I am limited to potatoes in one of their many variants – except when their are carrots or rice on the menu.

    This past potato week, has got me thinking of a few French, spud-inspired expressions.

    This last week, had I slept decently, I might have woken up in the morning bursting with energy and full of beans, although the French are full of potatoes. « J’ai la patate » (literally, I have the potato). I suppose that first thing in the morning, it is préférable to be full of potato rather than beans, though the French would also say « je pete la forme » - meaning I’m tip top, top notch, bright, bushy-tailed and just raring to go. The litéral translation of this energetic expression … « I’m farting form » which is what happens when you’re full of beans. I wonder, could all this lead to a new trend of workers breaking wind in the morning in order to impress colleagues with their high energy levels ?

    As opposed to being full of beans or potatoes, a lot of French people might say ; « J’ai la frite » - What might be misconstrued by some, as a side order of French fries for breakfast, quite simply means that – I’m full of beans, bubbling over with energy and … you’ve got the picture.

    It is Tuesday night. I’m eating in one of these self service restaurants/canteens near the in the shopping mall. I’ve got to look twice, but the guy at a nearby table is eating a huge plate of French fries and mashed potatoes. He is meticulously dipping each French Fry in the mash and then slowly nibbling each mash-covered fry with visible relish. I don’t know if he is mad. He’s certainly sort of size that you might imagine for someone who lives of a diet of Fries and mash.

    Now, you might be surpirsed to learn that the French don’t have French Fries, they just have « frites » which the Brits call chips. For the French, chips are actually potato chips, which the Brits call crisps. The French never manage to pronounce crisps as crisps, but rather as « cweesps ». When the French come to the UK an order Chips, they also have pronunciation problems. The CH of chips becomes SH and the short I sound becomes a long E sound. Hence, Chips become sheeps and so it is easier for a French tourist in Britiain to order fries, although they occasionaly pronounce fries as freeze – what the hell, all chips are frozen anyway.

    Back at the mash. The French have a potato-inspired expression to mean that one is half asleep and just a little bleary – « Je suis dans la purée » - I am in the mashed potato, which is actually a good way to sum up how I felt after several sleepless nights listening to the Boys from Bucharest while I sat counting potatoes.

  • Urine for a good drink.

    Hooray – Summer’s here and the time is right for … Well you won’t be dancing in the streets today. It’s raining. Not just a short shower or a drizzly interlude NO, this is real rain. Thick, thudding non-stop rain. Massive drops that fall and explode on you like miniature water bombs. Veritable cats and dogs, though in France, the locals prefer to say, it is « pissing like a cow » - though I have never seen a cow pissing at close quarters and I have no intention of ever getting close enough to witness bovine golden showers.

    So, I used the golden shower motif with some reservation, and in a check on the Internet to see if there weren’t some people turned on by watching cows wee, I found this on a website – an old post dating from 2009 about a drink made from recently passed and sacred bovine waters.

    New soft drink to be made from cow wee.

    A hard-line Hindu organisation, known for its opposition to "corrupting" Western food imports, is planning to launch a new soft drink made from cow's urine, often seen as sacred in parts of India.

    The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), or National Volunteer Corps, said the bovine beverage is undergoing laboratory tests for the next 2 to 3 months but did not give a specific date for its commercial release.

    Urine drinking (Yuck). However, there are certain religious sects in India where members drink their own urine, and I have also found plenty of articles on the Internet from people who extol the health virtues of urine drinking – such as this «glamorous » 63 year-old woman who drink a pint of her own urine everyday. (follow the link)

    Or what about this couple?

    Is their any coincidence that both of these articles appeared in the Daily Mail? Are there urine drinkers amongst the newspaper’s journalists?

    Oh dear, all these people taking the piss – literally. It brings me to the subject of my elderly neighbours, who have just returned from a fortnight of « taking the waters » - two weeks « detox » in a regional spa town.

    As keen gardeners, no sooner had my neighbours returned in the early afternoon, than they were out tending their vegetable garden. A couple of hours later, Madame came round and offered us some homegrown cucumbers and a couple of large marrows.

    Now, though Madame may not do her bodily doings in the garden, I know for a fact, that Monsieur, when caught short, is not averse to exercising his excremental necessities on his compost heap. Many times we’ve caught him readjusting his trousers after a short squat on the compost. OH YUCK, we’re eating veg that this guy has S*** on. Yeah, but my neighbour only eats his own veg and then craps it all back on the compost heap. This is true recycling. This really is organic. And the veg tastes great.

    I thought that it was only my elderly neighbour doing this. However in chats with other vegetable growing types, I have found that many of them are prone to an occasional and discreet dump on the compost heap. It’s as good as manure and its home produced, though I am reliably informed that the quality of one’s personal manure is only as good as the quality of one’s diet. So, be careful what you eat before you excrete at the end of your garden.

    Of course these excrementory escritoires and scatological scribbling , were not the initial intended content of this post. I was merely going to write about the weather

  • Tourist Tax Rise/Pay Less, Stay at Home

    The first weekend of summer. School is out and it is time to hit the road for the long, fraught and congested drive to the beach.

    This summer roughly 42% of the French will actually take a summer holiday – two thirds of holiday makers will be heading for the sea for an average of 10 to 12 days. The average family holiday budget this year is a little over 1300 Euros – the equilivalent to a month’s net salary for a factory worker or a clerk.

    Fewer and fewer people taking holidays. It’s a far cry form the seventies and eighties when most French families would have a week’s skiing in winter and two or three weeks by the sea in summer . Well, holidays are just too expensive nowadays. Take your family camping on the shores of the Mediterranean for a week and you’ll be spending up to 500 Euros to pitch your tent, and over 1000 Euros for an on site mobile home or caravan. Silly money.

    The price of holidays is reckoned to go up on average by 100 Euros per year. Last week though, a government anouncement on a sudden increase in the rates of the Taxe de Séjour willmean an unexpected and unwelcome holiday price hike for everyone.

    The « taxe de séjour » (tourist tax) is levied locally on all tourists (French and Foreign). On top of their holiday bill, tourists pay a tax of 1.50€ per day per person, to local authorities for the time they are staying at their holiday destination. Kids under 13 are exempt from the tax. Therefore, a family with a couple of teenage kids will pay an extra 6 euros per day for every day of their stay – meaning an extra 80 Euros or so on top of the existing holiday bill. The money levied is used by resorts to help finance extra seaonal demands placed on local infrastructures by the influx of summer vacationers.

    Just last week, the government announced a massive hike in the seasoanl tourist tax from the seemingll meagre 1.50 Euros to a massive 8 Euros, though a government spokesman later sought to calm the ensuing public outcry by saying that 8 Euros was simply a maximum limit to which local authorities could eventually raise their local tourist tax. Reports suggest that the autghorities in some ressorts will merely double or triple the existing rate, meaning that tourists will only pay between 3 Euros and 4.50 Euros per day per pesron for this year’s summer break – but imagine our family of four – mum, dad and two teenage kids over the age of 13 – this means depending on the increase, an extra 168€ to 250€ on the price of a fortnight’s holiday. Indignant screams and howls fromall wners of holiday accommodation from B&B’s to campsite and hôtels. Also cries of anguish from restaurant owners. Who’s going to take their family out for a holiday meal that might cost around 15 to 20 Euros a head, when they are going to face a whacking tourist tax rise ?

    The minsiter who announced the tourist tax rise was more than unfortunate in his choice of wording, when he said that Rich Russian tourist staying in five star hôtels on the Côte d’Azur would hardly notice the change. He is probably right, however, middle income familles will certainly feel the impact of any rise on their already tight holiday budgets. So, less eating out, fewer visits, holiday spending will probably be trimmed down to the last ice cream .

    Hey, why not just stay at home ? Why pay two lots of tax ? I mean not only xwill you still be paying rent, rates, council tax and so forth on your empty house while you are away, you will also be paying the tourist tax on holiday for the privilège of living somewhere else. That’s mad. So stay home. Sit in the garden. Catch up on some sleep. Catch up on all those odd jobs you’ve been putting off all year. Do local visits to those places you never visit because they are local. Be a staycationer – Yes, that is this year’s big, stylish holiday trend. Stay at home.

  • Sporting Weekend

    Possibly the biggest sporting weekend of the summer. The soccer World Cup grinds on in Brazil. However since The French team were knocked out on Friday, the nation seems to have lost interest in the world’s greatest footballing event. The French now have their sporting sights firmly set on the Tour De France which pedalled off from Leeds on July 5th –

    Yes it may seem curious that the greatest cycle race in France, and indeed the world, should start in Britian, but over the years, the Tour de France has started in Belgium, Switzerland and even Holland. To call it a « tour » de France would be slightly misleading. The Tour never actually goes right round France. The 200 or so cyclists normally pedal their way down one side of the country before huffing and puffing their way up the slopes of the Alps and the Pyrenees. Finally all the participants hop on a train and are shunetd off to Paris for the final stage on the Chmaps Elysées. I daresay that if the Tour de France actually went round the whole of France, it would take far longer than the two and a half weeks that it already takes.

    The Tour de France is a sure sign that summer is here. Those who opted for an early July getaway will be sitting in their hôtels and campsites watching the Tour everyday throughout the afternoon. Those still working will either have a TV in the office to watch the race, or they’ll try to get off work early to get home and see it on TV.

    This year’s tour has a « commemerative » flavour, taking in some towns synonymous with the great battles of the First World War – Arras, Ypres (Belgium) and Reims.

    Other big sporting évents that I am missing whilst writing this post

    The Wimbledon mens’ singles final. Well I’m not a great tennis fan. I’ve never understood the appeal of spending hours watching two blokes slamming a balla round a tennis court. It’s the same with motor racing. This weekend is the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. This has as much interest for me as tennis – watching cars drive as they speed round a racing circuit, burning up vast quantities of expensive fuel. So, some people like it.

    And here is the great sporting event that no one seems to have noticed – the World Pétanque championships in Marseilles in the south of France. For those unfamiliar with this most gallic of games, the principle is quite simple. Teams of two or three people hurl métal balls at a wooden jack. The team with it balls closest to the jack wins. This is the one game that every French man, woman and child will have played at least once in their lives, and the beauty is that you can play it pretty much anywhere – a piece of dry, dusty wasteground perhaps being the best (yes, I wouldn’t advise you to play this on grass or concrete. Here is the other beauty of the game, from big cities to the farthest flung and smallest village, there are Pétanque grounds everywhere – well this isn’t like British Crown Green Bowling, where you need a manicured lawn and unlike British bowls, there is no strict dress code – shorts and flip flops are fine.


    So, this weekend in Marseilles, over 12000 players from 17 nations are bowling it out for 150,000 Euros in prize money – for sure you’d make more as a tennis player a Formula One driver or even a Tour de France rider, but the beauty of Pétanque is that it doesn’t suffer from the media hype associated with all the aformentioned sports, furthermore, anyone and everyone cab take part in the Pétanque World Championships. Just pre-register on Internet, turn up with your « boules » and wait for the draw. Simplicity itself. Of course, you’re better playing pétanque than watching it. In Spectator terms it is possibly just as boring as tennis and Formula One. With the Tour de France TV coverage, at least you get to see some of the stunning French countryside.

  • The joys of driving a crap car.

    Downsizing – consuming less, spending less, the adoption of a more modest lifestyle be it out of choice, necessity or circumstance.

    Choice – the choice of those (often with a comfortable lifestyle) who decide to consume less or at least consume in a way that equates with their principles. When you have everything, less is more – ridding yourself of the burden of possessions and finding true happiness in a more spiritual mode, rather than à la mode.

    Downsizing out of necessity. A job loss that might lead to a lifestyle reappraisal. Cutting back or just cutting out because you are now living in reduced circumstances. Downsizing to survive.

    Sacrificial downsizing – once again, cutting down, cutting back, cutting out. Privation for a higher cause. No more expensive holidays so you can afford to put your kids through university. Saving up for the down payment on a house, or simply saving now so you can live later – putting money by for your twilight years.

    Make do and mend. A kind of downsizing because you are not upgrading. Do you really need a new laptop? The old one works fine. Flat screen, wide screen, curved screen – do you really need a new TV? It’s always the same crap on screen, no matter what screen you watch it on.

    When circumstance forces downsizing. Chance happenings, those annoying but not life threatening incidents that oblige us to adopt temporary cheap or retrograde alternatives until normal service/lifestyle can be resumed.

    It started with a low speed collision with a low-level traffic feature. A moment of absence, distraction, and inattention during a parking manoeuvre. Backing out of a space and reversing into a bollard. OUCH.

    At the garage, the panel beater / body shop man, walks slowly and pensively round my car, inspecting every inch of the bodywork. There are a few other minor scratches as well as the fractured back bumper. He announces a fair price for the work to be done, says I twill take a couple of days and announces he can take the car straight away.

    AH! I’m going to need a car. « Do you have a courtesy car? » I ask in pleading tones.

    « Courtesy car? » muses the mechanic with some vigorous head scratching. « We can lend you a car, » he finally announces, after more pensive cranial massage. Hi stone suggests though that there is something slightly discourteous about the automobile in question.

    « There’s the car » says the panel beater with a vague sweeping gesture that appears to fall upon a shiny new Citroen C4. « That’ll do for a few days,» I chirp happy and relieved that I won’t be driving a heap of crap.

    « Oh no, it’s not the citroen » laughs the garage man, « your car is behind. »


    Behind the Citroen is a Renault 5 – a mid 1980’s white Renault 5 TD – a wreck, a rust bucket, a heap of crap on wheels that only looks fit for the crusher. I am assured that the vehicle is roadworthy. I am shown all the paperwork to prove the fact.

    First thing I notice as I get behind the wheel – there are 313,000 kilometres on the clock. « Yeah, you don’t want to drive too far in this, » says the man. « Just local journeys. » I scan the Dashboard – it’s all broken switches, though the indicators, windscreen wipers and headlights do appear to be working.

    Where’s the aircon? Temperatures have been in the low 30°c for the past couple of days. « It’s got manual air conditioning » announces the mechanic « just wind down the driver window » No electric windows!! In fact almost no windows at all, the driver window is the only one that works and out of the four doors, only the driver door will actually open. I am advised not to take any passengers. The interior is also very grotty, and the smell – well take your pick – a hint of wet dog with a soupçon of stale Tobacco and a strong « eco » stink like someone has been using the car to ferry round dung, compost and damp garden refuse. On the upside the car does have five gears and a full working radio, there’s even a cassette player. No kidding, as I head off, I switch on the radio and Kim Carnes with her Betty Davis Eyes comes crackling out the tinny speakers. This isn’t a car; it’s a veritable time machine. A trip back to when four gears was the norm. This car though actually has five gears and the remnants of power assisted steering.

    So, keys in the ignition. I say goodbye to my Volvo and jolt off in my rattling retro Renault rust bucket.

    A few words on speed.

    As the nation’s politicians prepare to legislate to reduce speed limits on the nation’s roads, and motoring lobbies moan about our existing measly speed limits, I am having serious problems getting any speed up at all. For sure, I won’t be breaking any records in this car unless it is the one for causing the world’s longest traffic jam. I press my foot down on the clutch to change gear. It creaks like a bad sound effect from a B movie. The steering wheel has a similar sound, like a door in a Hammer Horror film. I’m fighting with the gears and the effort is bringing me out in rivers of sweat. Time to activate the manual aircon. I’m driving slow enough to wind down the window without serious coordination problems, but the sindow only goes a quarter down before the handle nearly comes off in my hand. After some effort, I get the car up to about 40kms per hour and into third gear.

    Out of town and on to the dual carriage way. Maximum authorised speed on this stretch – 110 km. I’m accelerating with all the ease of an overweight, asthmatic snail trying to crawl uphill. I get the car up to 60, then 70 and … I hit 80. FIFTH GEAR, but then the car starts to dangerously shake and rattle - looking for a suitable simile – it’s like an epileptic with Parkinson’s dancing under strobe lights in a discothèque. Back to 60 and back into fourth gear.

    Well, time has come to give back my crap car, and I’m actually going to regret it, because driving this wreck has actually been great fun. The sheer joy of owning a lousy car. After this enforced circumstantial downsizing, perhaps I should sell my posh car and buy a wreck, because wrecks are great. I can park this car anywhere and who cares if the door doesn’t lock? No one would be mad enough to steal this car. And what about all the time, effort and money we waste keeping our cars clean, only for them to get dirty again? Drive a crap car and save valuable time and money. After a few hours it feels pretty good to be driving round in this dustbin cum ashtray on wheels.

    You are what you drive – goes the saying. Driving round in this I feel kind of shabby and liberated. I feel young again. I’m a student, a teenager. I don’t care what I drive; I just have my own personal mobility. I have my own space on four wheels, and this car might be a wreck, but it is the kind of car that inspires adventures, because getting anywhere in this car give you the sense of achievement you might get from climbing a mountain, trekking to the North Pole or paddling down piranha infest rivers in a flimsy canoe. I want to drive down to the sea in this car. I want to drive there on a hot day. Sweltering behind the wheel. Trundling along at the speed of a tractor. I want to drive somewhere far away just for the sheer hell of getting there in this crappy car. I love this car. This is true carefree driving. This car is not a statement. It is not a display of wealth. I’m not screaming at the world to look at my beautiful car. I’m not competing with anyone. I’m just a dude driving a dustbin on wheels and I don’t give a ****. If you don’t like it, just overtake me. And one guy in a huge SUV did, follow by another in a BMW – and they screeched to an abrupt halt at the traffic lights, and they waited for the lights to turn green. They fumed with impatience, they tapped their fingers on the dashboard, they looked at their cell phone they … so much stress, whilst I trundled up behind in my wreck, just as the lights turned green and trundled past them.

    Yes, I subscribed fully to that aspirational automobile dream. I hankered after bigger, better and faster. After three days of rolling around retrograde, I’m seriously starting to wonder about downsizing. A cheap, carefree car that I can bump about and bash around in. Where every journey becomes a road movie. Guess I just want to be young ag

  • Of War Service and Jigsaw Puzzles and what we tell our kids

    More of my unchecked weekly ramblings.

    What we tell our kids about ourselves. What we choose to tell them.

    Our kids will only ever know us as mum and dad. Unless we choose to tell our offspring, or hey are interested enough to ask, they will never really know those people we were before parenthood.

    Of course we do the family history thing – looking through photo albums, watching old family movies. We give our kids anecdotal accounts of our lives and we also give them comparative histories – memories of how it used to be when we were kids, very often to make the point that things are not as good as they used to be. As parents, we’ve all used the same well-worn phrases, and as kids we heard them from our parents : « When I was at school we ….. » or « When I as a boy … » -

    It’s not really until we are no longer of this mortal world, that our offspring begin to get the bigger picture. Sifting through those worldy artefcacts and papers that we have left behind and re-assembling our lives like some giant jigsaw puzzle. Of course, all the peices never fit and quite a few of the pieces are missing and there might even be peives of several other puzzles in the same box – like one of those imperfect puzzles you might get from a jumble sale. It doesn’t much matter, our kids make the pieces fit and come up with some kind of version of our lives.

    Amidst the current wave of D-Day nostalgia , I’m thinking about the question I never asked my dad : What did you do in the War ?

    Dad was born in 1917, and as I look at photos of him, I can’t imagine him charging across a Normandy landing beach under heavy German machine gun fire. At the outbreak of World War Two, dad would have just turned 22 – the right age to be called up to serve his country. Standing at 5 foot 4 inches, and weighing in around seven and a half stone, he would just have been the right size to slip into a Sherman, but dad was born with a heart defect and he was short sighted – hardly prime military materiel. Dad died from a serious stroke in 1971, when I had just turned six years old. As a kid in his formative years, it had never occurred to me to ask dad about his war service. In later years, I asked mum, who each time told us something different. « Your dad was a secretary. In the pay corps » or « Your dad was in the Intelligence Corps » – once mum even told us that dad was working as a code breaker up at Blethchley Park. Finally, mum admitted that she had no clue what dad did in the War because he never talked about it and she never bothered to ask, though shed id know that he had been in the Army. Dad had a good brain and excellent typing and shorthand skills, so I guess he must have had some kind of administrative job.

    By now, you have ascertained that dad became a dad quite late in life. He was 47 when I was born. There was a fifteen year age gap between him and mum.

    I’m quite proud to be part of an anomaly – having a dad that served in World War Two. I never really bothered much about the fact until my daughter came home from school one day saying that she had to do a family tree for homework. I delved into various files and brought out the birth certificates. Great Grandma born in 1896. Great Grandad born in 1898. My dad born in 1917 and mum born in 1932. It all went down on the family along with cut-out scans of old family photos. The shock from the teacher at school was quite incredible.

    « Wow ! Your great grandparents were born in the nineteenth century and your grandpa was in the war. » Most of the other kids had grandparents in their sixties, born in the 1950s and it was their great grandparents who had been around in the War. I suppose the teacher’s gave me a severe age jolt, pretty much equivalent to that I had when I turned up at school the first time to collect my daughter . A 38 year-old dad with a six year old kid – not so uncommon, but all the other parents seemed only to be in their mid-twenties . I felt almost old enough to be their father. Ah yes. Life around the school gate wasn’t easy. I never knew whether to stick with the young parents or the grandparents.

    Anyway, here I am going back through my family war history and it is made all the more interesting because we are now an anglo French family, therefore there are two different kinds of war memory. On British side it is those war memories with which we are all fairly familiar – rationing, evacuation, gas masks air raids, and the Blitz (or the Glasgow Blitz in my familiy’s case) Not a German in sight. On the French side though, it is different. Memories of occupation. My wife’s uncle who remembers his family grouped round the radio, listening secretly to the BBC, then one day freezing in fear as he heard the first clamp of German boots as soldiers entered the house and climbed the stairs. My wife’s grandmother who used to tell how she pretended her children all had chicken pox so that German soldiers would not be billeted on her farm. Compare this to my mum’s memories, of being evacuated from central Glasgow to the small village of Gareloch head in Argyllshire, or standing in long queues at the Butcher’s. Not a German in sight.

    A French granny living her war in occupied France and a Scottish Granny living in Glasgow. Neither Granny was ever especially forthcoming about their wartime childhood, one day though, I sat down with both my daughter’s grans to talk about the war. French gran talked about memories of a bombing raid. Scottish Gran put a hand on French gran’s shoulder and said it was terrible being bombed by the Germans – she still remebered the shies around Glasgow lighting up in the Glasgow blitz –« you could see it for miles » she reminisced. French gran gave Scottish gran a sideways look. « We weren’t being bombed by the Germans. We were being bombed by the British. » A moment of stunned silence from mum. She suddenly saw the war from another angle – and we never mentioned the war again.

    I would relate more parental war anecdotes, but like dad, mum never talked about the war. Her overriding Memory was the day war broke out, standing in the doorway of a block of flats in Oban, sheltering from the rain. In one ground floor flat, the window is open and the wireless is on. In his plummy voice, Neville Chamberlain declares was on Nazi Germany.

    « How did you feel ? » I ask mum.

    « I was freezing cold and soaking wet and I just wanted to get home. »

    Well, I’ve decided to write to those archivists responsible for that type of thing and try to get a copy of dad’s war record. I know he wasn’t a hero and so when I find out what he really did, I won’t be disappointed. I just want this one piece to complete the family jigsaw puzzles, though lord knows I hate jigsaw puzzles.

    And now I have started on a trip down Memory lane, I might as well explain why I loathe jigsaw puzzles.

    Imperfect Puzzle are those obvious lies or non-truths that we tell as parents. However, there are also those things we say or never say about ourselves. Your kids will only ever know about you what you choose to tell them. They will only ever know you as a parent and not as a full person. We are mum or dad. We occasionally feed our kids selected anecdotes of our pre-parental past, to satisfy their curiosity, but we never give them the full picture, and, when we are no longer here to answer the questions they might have, our kids are left to piece together the picture like some kind of giant, but imperfect jigsaw puzzle. They have parental anecdotes, family memories, photos, letters and such like. They try to assemble the pieces to make up some kind of picture. And If the pieces don’t quite fit? Well, seriously, were you really expecting to faithfully reproduce the happy family picture on the lid?

    Why I Loathe Jigsaw Puzzlesys loathed jigsaw puzzles. It dates from the day at nursery school, when I tried my first puzzle.

    My puzzle incident happened during my brief spell at a nursery school in Hampton Wick , to the west of London and just down river from Teddington. The school was of red brick, late Victorian construction. It was a dark and grimy place, all creaking wood floors and a strong odour of cabbage, poo,urine, and sweaty bodies, all accentuated by a very powerful pong of institutional disinfectant. The kind of disinfectant supposed to mask bad smells. It burns your nostrils. It stings your eyes. The cleaners slosh it round the nursery by the bucket load and, instead of hiding the heady cacophony of everyday nursery stink, it only serves to make the smell even worse. I attended the Hampton Wick nursery for a couple of terms, whilst mum was doing her teacher training at Maria Grey College, situated somewhere near Strawberry Hill.

    I remember it like it was Thursday (because it was) It’s time of the morning that all the kids sit down to do an activity. One of the “nursery ladies” sat me down at the puzzle table and handed me a box of bits that would (if I put them together properly) make up a picture of a sailing boat. All around me, the other kids were eagerly piecing bits together. It seemed that they were actually having fun, emitting squeals of delight as they “reconstituted” the picture on the lid of the box. As I sat toying with my pieces and trying desperately to make them fit together, I wondered how anyone might actually derive ant sense of fun from this tedious and difficult activity. And what was the point? Jigsaw puzzles are a pretty twisted invention – you take a perfectly good picture, cut it into the smallest pieces possible and then give it to someone to put back together. So, I lost interest in the puzzle, put the pieces back in the box and then drifted over to the painting table. Even if my skills as an artist are almost as bad as my jigsaw skills, the idea of sloshing paint down on paper is far more appealing than reassembling a perfectly good image that someone has taken so much care to “destroy”. And as I was happily splodging away at the painting table, the lady from the puzzle table came and dragged me away, telling me that I should finish what I had started and it was bad manners to leave the puzzle table without asking her.

    Back at the puzzle, try as I could, the pieces wouldn’t fit the way I wanted them to and as a “punishment” for leaving the puzzle table without permission, I was made to say in at breaktime and finish. An impossible endeavour that carried on in the afternoon – made to miss afternoon break and storytime so I could finish the puzzle. I didn’t so much mind missing the story as it was always the same old lady who read to us and half the time she would doze off in the middle. What really p’eed me off was missing afternoon break. Me and my mates were busy digging a hole to Australia in the sandpit and we reckoned that we had almost got there (Ah, the rubbish we tell kids). So, come the end of the day, it was obvious I’d never finish, so the puzzle was left aside especially so that I could finish it the next day. See why I hate puzzles.

    John Spilsburyeman who invented the jigsaw puzzle was one John Spilsbury – a cartographer by trade and not to be confused with John Spilsbury the 17th century Baptist Minister or John Spilsbury the right arm fast-medium bowler and right-handed batsman who played for Worcestershire. Our John Spilsbury invented the jigsaw in 1767, when, he glued a map of the world to a piece of wood and then cut out each country, the idea being that teachers could use the puzzle to teach geography. Ah yes, how could something ever invented for educational purposes be fun.

    With mum training to be a teacher, you might have thought that our house would have been full of educational toys such as jigsaws, but mum never wanted to be a teacher. After giving up journalism, she just wanted a “nice” job with convenient hours and long holidays, that would enable her to bring up two kids. Dad was a Reuters correspondent, working up in the press gallery at the House of Commons. He kept pretty irregular hours that weren’t really family friendly. He used to take us to school every morning because he never started work much before lunchtime.

    So, there wasn’t a single jigsaw puzzle in the house. Come to think of it, we didn’t have board games either. I guess we never had them because mum loathed them because as a kid … what she didn’t like, she never forced on us. When well-meaning relatives gave us puzzles and games at Christmas or birthdays, they were normally put in a cupboard, then re-wrapped and given to other kids when we were invited to birthday parties.

    Corners and Edges I’m not too bad at jigsaw puzzles. I can do the corners and I can just about manage to do the edges. Filling in the middle is still the problem. I once successfully completed a 49 piece jigsaw with my daughter, though it took us an entire afternoon. As for those epic 500 piece plus puzzles – we just stare blankly at the box. What’s the point in putting together the picture on the box? We know what it’s like, we can see it. Just don’t open the box, and the puzzle will do as a present when you get invited to a birthday party.

    Perfect Familieslike board games have, for me, always been symbolic of real families. Conventional families – mum, dad, 2 kids and meat an’ two veg families (if they still exist). I know people who love jigsaws to the point, that when they have completed their 10,000 piece epic, they will then proceed to glue it down piece by piece to a board and then display it on the wall like some work of art – I admire these people. They have life worked out. All the pieces fit and nothing is missing. When you grow up with no dad, that’s just the way it is and you don’t bother that a major piece of your life puzzle is missing until someone tells you so. Delving into the pieces of mum’s life puzzle, and at the same time, trying to assemble my own – I would say that we are like the puzzle you might buy at a jumble sale – there are bits missing, but you’ll manage to more or less make the big picture like it is on the box. I’ve never aspired to have my life reproduce exactly what is on the lid of the box – but there are those who do. I reckon that as long as I have the edges and the corners right, the rest should more or less fall into place.

    Life in a box life doesn’t come in a box, although it finishes in one. Into this world we come, filled up with what our parents have given us, all those bits and pieces that make up who we are. There are those parents who let kids get on with life and form their own picture and there are those parents who absolutely want their kids to be faithful reproductions of the lid on the family puzzle.


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