Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Lit Spat

I'm not a particularly literary sort - I like reading, but I'm not one for bagging the classics; never read Jane Austen, War & Peace, any of those kind of works. So when I was struggling to remember any of the great literary grudge matches that have gone on over the years, the only one I could recall without use of the electric internet was that between V S Naipaul and Paul Theroux (father of Louis), and the only reason I could remember that one is that Paul Theroux is one of my favourite authors. (His travel books are Bill Bryson-esqe without some of the bubblegum, and his fiction is much underrated in my view (My Secret History being my favourite)). The two of them fell out many years ago over something trivial, and the bile that each of them has unleashed since has been wonderful to behold - and they've used columns, interviews and other media to unleash it. Disappointingly as far as connoisseurs of the insult are concerned, the two of them are now on speaking terms again.

Why do I mention this? Well my friends, great mate and fellow blogger Mendip Rouleur shared this offering with the world on Sunday night: http://t.co/0Ov5vBimpm, a piece in which he castigates both some of my musical preferences, and my 'thinking' approach to music generally. I did think of posting a comment at the bottom of his blog, but frankly, it's much more entertaining to go down the passive-aggressive route of writing the social media equivalent of an open letter back to him, i.e. this.

Now, I'm not going to criticise either his musical tastes, not least because I've not bothered to listen to the links of any of the songs he's raved about in his blog, so have no grounds to do so. But even if I had what I considered to be grounds, it would only be my opinion, and trading insults over subjective opinions is futile. I can't bear it when someone observes "that genre/band/song is rubbish". No, you might not like it, but that does not constitute empirical evidence of its rubbishness.

What I'm going to take issue with is two things, the first a generalisation, the second a question of philosophy.

The generalisation: Mr Rouleur (as I shall be forced to call him if our mutual vendetta is truly to have wings) doesn't make the mistake of saying heavy metal is rubbish, merely just that it's "not his cup of tea". Fair enough, but to the aficionado of the rock and metal oeuvre, that's tantamount saying "I don't much like food". What, none? I bet I could locate a track that in an unguarded moment my blogging sparring partner would grudgingly admit to being alright. It would have to be all angsty and meaning-laden, but if I trawled Jethro Tull's back catalogue I'm sure we could come up with the goods.

And the question of philosophy: I vividly recall a moment when Mr Rouleur and I were sharing a room during one of our Pyrenean escapades, and I was bouncing around to some latest piece of Euro-chart-disco-shite, and he turned to me with great solemnity and sadness and asked (rhetorically I think, seriously I'm sure) "you just listen to music to enjoy it don't you?" Dear reader, I'm tempted to make no further comment other than "I rest my case", or possibly "Er....yes".

But I shall not yield to that temptation. Yes, I do listen to music to enjoy it - possibly just for the sake of the music itself, possibly to enhance some other activity (e.g. running, relaxing, dancing [especially when I'm washing up; you should try it - turn drudge into joy]). Music is not work - it's not something to be endured or prodded and poked for virtue; listening to it for its content and significance is not worthy in its own right. It's an enabler for a mood, just like booze and other stimulants / depressives. It's to be appreciated in its own right, which is why, as well as rock and metal, I like many, many other forms - old stuff, modern stuff, rap, grunge, disco, electro, folk, garage, goth, opera (even if it just musicals for posh folk), and yes, even some jazz. My mind is open to the possibility of greatness without meaning.

So there we have it - the opinion of a hard-hearted, latter-day, cynical management consultant. Do you parley or respond sir?

Saturday, 27 June 2015

A l'avenir

Part of the reason I love the French language so much is that I don’t speak it. Now that might sound a bit dubious, but “avenir” is so much more pleasing that “future” when it’s not your native tongue – there’s even a bike race in France called the “Tour de l’Avenir” (the Tour of the Future), which features up-and-coming riders. Anyway, it was the 10th wedding anniversary this week of the good lady wife and I, and she consequently (and brilliantly) organised a couple of a days and a single night away from Chateau Kinsey, at Chateau Mont Dol in fact. Mont Dol is a small hump of land visible to the right just off the motorway as you pass by Mont St. Michel, and the Chateau is a privately-owned hotel, with superb garden rooms leading into an equally superb garden. I’ll come back to the time away; the point was that we were talking about the future, and our approaches to it.

Now I’m the kind of person who loves plans – not rigid ones, because they have a habit of going awry, but certainly outline ones as far as “the future” is concerned; where I’m going to be working and living, what I’m going to be doing with my spare time, athletic pursuits and otherwise. Mrs M on the other hand, doesn’t make plans, and even when she does, she tends to forget them. If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not happening as far as she’s concerned. I pointed this out to her (the no plans bit, not the calendar thing). “Is that wrong?” she asked, in the tone of voice that makes the question a genuinely inquisitive one, rather than an accusatory one. I had to think, as the concept of not making plans was, momentarily, beyond my sphere of understanding. “No”, was my eventual answer, “as long as you take opportunities that present themselves along the way”. And in her case, and I like to think our case, we partly create those opportunities too. That’s probably why I bang on probably a bit too much about what we’re doing in France, because we partly created the opportunity, and we took it when it arose.

The result has not just been about acquiring a little land and a second small house, but about creating a different life. Other people might call it a lifestyle, but I hate that word – it’s too associated with pretentious magazines and sloppy journalism. It means we can be in France as much as we want to be subject to the rules about becoming a French tax resident (a big no-no), which effectively means up to 25 weeks a year. It means we can be there and still earn a bit of money from renting the original house. More importantly, it means that we get to meet new and interesting people who stay there. However, the best new thing as far as I’m concerned is the garden. We’ve not done that much with the productive part of it yet, but that hasn’t stopped the existing fruit bushes, and the blackcurrants in particular, from going wild. They’re laden. I could have spent a working day on the blackcurrants yesterday and not harvested them all. And they actually taste sweet, unlike the shop-bought things. The night before we had a salad which included beet leaves, lettuce and mint from out of the garden. These are small things that would mean nothing to many people, but they matter to me. Sure you can buy all of those things these days for a pathetically small proportion of your income, but wandering out of your back door, hearing nothing but the birds singing and maybe a distant dog barking, and picking them directly from the soil, reconnects you with things that matter.

Anyway, enough lyricism, you’d think we’d got it all cracked out there. We haven’t – despite a new bathroom, tidied up electrics and some decorating, there’s a long way to go inside and out at the new place. It’s habitable, but that’s about it. I’m feeling both frustrated and slightly guilty that I’m writing this on the ferry back to the UK to do a week's work– this coming week was the one single clear seven day period with no visitors or events, and I’d hoped to crack on with things further. However, for the sake of a week’s flexibility now, I've got a contract to do interesting work that lasts till the end of September, and I’ll have a further week off 10 days from now for Tour de France excitement. (Indeed, I think I may well set a new record for the number of cross-Channel ferries taken by a non-ferry company employee in the next month or so. I’ll be doing the Portsmouth to Caen crossing alone 3 times in 5 days next Friday to Tuesday).

That’s the frustration bit; the guilty part is that Mrs M is going to have to get on with stuff in my absence, and around her work. At least I’ll be there at weekends to mow the lawn, and next week, accompany her to another music festival, though not, thank the Lord, one that involves tents or overnight stays (see last blog post). However, she’ll be having to take carpet deliveries, paint bathrooms, clear up after paying guests, stain and varnish wooden floors, and so on, when I’m not around. I have no compensation or mitigation to offer, other than that by working now, she’ll see more of me between my 50th and 60th birthdays than would otherwise be the case. Though some might think that’s more of a punishment than a reward.

Two final things – the first goes back to our days and night away this week. We ate lunch on Wednesday at Cancale, a small Breton coastal town known for its seafood production and restaurants. In these heady days of Trip Advisor, we ate at the number one rated restaurant in the place, out of a formidable list of about 53. Just as well we consulted that particular oracle, because it was fairly unprepossessing from the outside. But the food – wow. We had a seafood platter for two that came on a boat-shaped polystyrene construction. Oysters, langoustines, large prawns, shrimps, two whole crabs of different variety, and things I only know the French names for all featured, and it was both fantastic and time-consuming – 2 hours it took us to get through the thing (plus a couple of carafes of rose wine). It was a wonderful protein overdose.
And the second final thing – in case you’re thinking I’m sounding too pleased with myself, I have this week, in no particular order:

-         -  Accidentally burned on a bonfire a very expensive pair of secateurs
-          - Crashed quite nastily on my bike only metres from home taking a corner stupidly quickly; I now have a stiff neck and a hole in my left leg
-          - Been shouted at by a French policeman for trying to teach him a lesson; don’t ignore a gendarme folks, even if he is a narcissistic prick

My battery runs low though my enthusiasm is still high. Enough.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Wildean Revisionism, a.k.a. Hellfest 2015 (Day 2)

Oscar Wilde apparently wrote that "everything should be tried once, apart from incest and folk dancing". I'm not going to argue with him on the first of those, but if participating in a couple of ceilidhs at Scottish weddings counts, I've done the folk dancing thing, and to be honest, it beats going to an outdoor festival if you're a miserable git over 40 who doesn't much like thronging crowds, particularly 50,000 people being steadily baked and pickled under some strong French sun.

Yes, I was at Hellfest yesterday (but not Friday or today; more on that later), France's premier rock and metal festival. Now, don't misunderstand me, the music was great, and by way of a wander down Tangent Boulevard, here's who I saw, with a very short line review of each:

Ace Frehley (ex-Kiss) and his band: pretty good, with the grinning, gurning, singing drummer star of the show

Airbourne: brilliant. 4th time I've seen them, and they always make the gig feel like a party, even when the stage loses power for 10 minutes like yesterday. Best loud live act in the world in my opinion, and boy, are they ever loud - my internal organs always feel as though they're being rattled againstst each other. Sporty types - check out "No Way But The Hard Way" for a top training anthem

L7: hadn't been aware of their existence before yesterday, and our paths won't be crossing again. Think a collection of gin-soaked aunts playing bad heavy metal

Slash (with Myles Kennedy singing): own stuff competent, Guns 'n' Roses tracks still the highlight

Killing Joke: had lost track of them since 1981, but they made a pleasingly dirty noise

ZZ Top: started slowly, ended brilliantly. Couldn't understand why more of the crowd weren't boogeying like me, then I realised at least 50% of them weren't born when the good ol' boys were being properly famous

Faith No More: only caught the first 10 and the last 20 minutes; they're clearly proper musicians, but were determined to do what they wanted rather than what the crowd wanted to hear

Scorpions: had expected them to be my highlight; in the end maybe it was fatigue, but whilst you couldn't fault their performance, it wasn't either exciting or a party (see Airbourne and ZZ Top)

Marilyn Manson: if he dropped the attitude and interminable, silent gaps between songs could be a half-decent performer - has the songs

So, that was the music. It was a pretty good line-up, and on Friday there had been Alice Cooper, Motorhead and Billy Idol among others. All jolly good. As were the incredible fireworks at 11pm, and the general design and staging of the event - will put a small selection of photos on the Book of Faces.

However........now, I'm not going to criticise anything in particular. There were clearly lots of people having the time of their lives, and for whom the chaotic parking arrangements, festival-standard toilets, and sleep deprivation caused by all-night partying are tiny pimples on an otherwise beautiful face; maybe they even consider them enhancements. For me though, not so much. Just as I always swore after a particularly wet walking and camping holiday in the Lakes when I was 18 that the two things wouldn't again be coupled in my lifetime, I think I can say the same for gigs and camping - one or the other, fine; both, non merci.

The experience has nevertheless been a valuable one insofar as it's reminded me that I'm getting less good at doing things on the cheap, and therefore work takes on a renewed purpose. Which is just as well, as I'll be back at it a week tomorrow, just for a week or so, before I return to France on the 7th July for the planned Tour de France days. The company through whom I do most of my work has won a big bit of business, and is keen for some early help. It's a nice project for a management consultant too - we've got three months to turn round an interesting business in the early stages of deep trouble. It's also based in Trowbridge, which makes a nice change from London.

Talking of not doing things on the cheap, it's the 10th wedding anniversary of me and the missus this week, and she has, bless her, booked us into a fantastic fish and seafood restaurant in Cancale (a major oyster-producing area) on Wednesday lunchtime, followed by a night in a local chateau. I suspect that'll be much more up my autoroute than the last 24 hours, which she probably knows. She also knows, tolerates and forgives my many foibles and idiosyncrasies, for which I am eternally grateful.

And talking of being grateful (the segues in this post are getting more predictable that a local radio dj), Son came out to France last week for six days, and spent some of his time here assisting in the prep of the new place next door. He also left me with two things, one of which I'm grateful for, the other less so. The one I could have managed without was a short-lived, but nasty summer cold, or some suchlike. I awoke on Friday with every part of me aching, including my eye sockets (never a good look), along with general snottiness and gastric misadventure. Travel was an impossibility, much less standing in blazing sun watching rock music for 12 hours. I'm also not doing that today, even though Hellfest continues, principally because the big name acts were frontloaded in terms of the scheduling, shall we say. Cock & Ball Torture anybody? No? Biohazard perhaps? You get the idea...

Oh yes, the other thing Son left me with. Well, it was opinion that he enjoys my more current affairs-geared posts on here, and I should do more of them. So I might. In the meantime, I'm off to enjoy Fathers Day by having a ride in the Breton sun.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Postscript....TdF route excellence

So the detailed routemap of this year's Tour de France has been published. On the second Saturday (11th July) it's in Brittany, and it's a dream route:

- Mr. Prudhomme obviously got my letter - I've been telling him for years they ought to climb the Col du Mont de Bel Air, my favourite training climb, and from where over the last five years I've posed countless pics of an idiot, much like this one in fact:

- anyway, they're doing it - it's the first categorised climb of the day, even if they are doing it from the easy side, lightweights
the intermediate sprint of the day is right outside my favourite pizza restaurant and micro-brewery. I'll be having a word with them on Saturday to bag a place outside...
- the route then bends close to our house, passing 2 miles away at its closest point
- best of all though, because the riders have to do a big loop south we'll be able to both watch the intermediate sprint, then bike over to the hilltop finish at Mur-de-Bretagne.

As you might be able to tell, I'm quite pleased, and not a little excited.

Better go and do the last couple of days work to be able to afford the time off....

Monday, 1 June 2015

Here comes summer...

Two years ago I had five weeks off work - unpaid, slightly involuntarily - starting from the first weekend in June. Last year I had five weeks off work again - still unpaid, but totally voluntarily, as I was by then self-employed - and it started from mid-August. I enjoyed both, but I preferred the earlier break - last year I felt as though summer was passing me by as I watched tourists boil on the streets of London from my overheated work cell.

So, this year I'm having at least five weeks off again, and it starts - again - from the first weekend of June: i.e. this coming weekend. Wednesday is my last day on the current assignment, and Thursday is the second delivery of the one-day Peoplemad course for Business Wales. But then on Friday I'll be up with the birds to drive down to Portsmouth, and the ferry to France.

I'm not exactly going for a rest - in addition to continuing the garden taming project, the new house has got to be habitable by 24th June, which is when the old place is booked out to paying guests. This means a partial re-wiring, bathroom replacement, and total redecoration (only the last of which is being done by us to be fair).

We'd be busy enough if that were the extent of our ambitions, but we've also got two music festivals, one local with mainly French acts (though if anyone remembers Sparks, they're on the bill too), the other the renowned Hellfest, complete with ZZ Top, The Scorpions, Marilyn Manson, Alice Cooper, Motorhead, Slash, and many other rock gods. We've also got Son coming out for six days - though I hope to benefit from his labours - a night away for our 10th wedding anniversary, the local races, the women's Tour de France locally, and friend Neil coming out for the three days the male Tour de France is in our vicinity. Phew. And even when I leave to come back, when I drive off the ferry at Portsmouth on 13th July at 7.15am I'll be racing to Exeter for the late morning graduation ceremony of said Son that day.

So, much to do and not much time to do it in. Training takes a backseat for a while, and anything on here is likely to be a tale or two of la vie francais. Hope that's ok........
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