Well after ‘bongostock’ had left its imprint in my mind, I was struck down by a mystery throat ailment. As it turned out it was a sore throat. Which I assumed was laryngitis, Cancer, the black Death and even my personal favorite…Throat aids. I spent the next few days kicking around the flat self medicating and attempting to find ways in which to fill the hours.
Frantic tea drinking, whilst people watching from my window did nothing to move forward the hands of time. It is truly astonishing to discover the length of a day without watching Television if I had been at home I would have channel surfed the day away completely oblivious to my I.Q plummeting like a bungee cord.
Television had been my best friend since childhood, hundred’s of channels all ejaculating their drivel into my face 24 hours a day, (I used the word ejaculate as I’ve just been reading some Kafka and it was a word he employed to describe conversational outbursts, much to my amusement) but since my move to a brave new world my televisual crutch had been cruelly snatched away from me, and replaced by a strange entity that appeared to be modeled on a cocktail of 1970’s sexism and misogyny coupled with the concept of the panel show with a modicum of Cbeebies thrown in for good measure?
French television is the most peculiar creature, almost as peculiar as my cat, and his new-found affinity for the music of Charles Trenet.
Instead of numbing my brain, and in between attempts to discover the precise amount of cups of tea it would take to drown, I decided to begin writing. Now having just finished an undergraduate degree I was no stranger to the written, or rather typed, word. What I intended to write was as far removed from the dry scientific papers i I ha written about at university. What I want to write about is my feelings and experiences in my new home country.
Being creative had always come easy to me for some reason (having had to fill out those little job search books for the job center had helped exponentially) I had in my mind a number of ideas that screamed at me to be produced. So as the cat entered into his second verse of ‘La Mer’, I settled in to put my ideas down for posterity.
My first idea was to write a radio play for BBC radio 4 about my experiences working in a cardboard factory shortly after I left school, I had this idea because, well, have you ever heard Radio 4, there are literally NO working class people on the channel, it’s painfully middle class. My work at the cardboard factory had allowed me access to some of the most colourful, outlandish, and in some cases just plain weird people you have ever met. The stories that I gathered from my multiple appointments at that place will, in my opinion, be comedy gold.
I say multiple appointment because I was sacked twice, but simply re-applied, sat the interview with the same boss that sacked me, then re-started the following Monday, It really was an incredible place.
Some weeks later the boss approached me and asked, “Haven’t I sacked you before?” to which I simply had to answer “Yes Stan, twice!” having not done anything wrong on this occasion I felt on safe ground to answer, and if the worst came to the worst I would simply fill out another application and begin the process again.
To give another example of the plain weirdness of this place, I was once caught smoking in the toilets with a good friend of mine called Tosh. We were marched through the factory by the boss, me on his left and Tosh on his right, to whistles and shouts of derision, all the while Tosh was making grotesque faces and hand gestures at the bosses face (He had a glass eye and had no idea what was happening to his right hand side a fact that would later terrify me when I saw him driving into work in his large 4×4) we were told to stand in his office, and this was the strangest part, while the boss composed a letter home to our parents? I had been there quite a while now, in fact I think it was my third stretch, I was about twenty at the time, and if his (the boss’s) intention was to have the piss taken out of me by my mum and dad then I am happy to report he was successful, they received the letter a few days later.
On my return home from work I was met by a bewildered look from my father, and the question; “Sooo you’ve been caught sharing a toilet cubicle with another boy, and smoking…anything we should know about?” To which i probably answered something along the lines of “Yes papa I love musical theater!”
The cast list for this production are 100% real with no embellishments from me, it is literally what you see is what you get, from the packaging operative (a man whose sole purpose was to wrap pallets of cardboard in cling film by walking round and round in circles for 8 hours) who used to set up his own sideline business as a corner shop on his work desk (honestly you couldn’t make this up later on in life he won the lottery? would you Adam n Eve it!)
To the ancient dirty old man who would physically attempt to violate your most sacred regions should you bend over anywhere near him, a man so old school that when tasked by the boss with cleaning the toilets, he’d use his fingernails!!! To the middle-aged waste cardboard operative from Leyland that lived in a caravan and moon lighted in a local night club as a cross dressing glass collector, This was the kind of place it was, an utter mad house, and this was my primary idea for creative writing.
I figured I would begin with 6 half hour episode, and take it from there.
Besides this biographical work, I had a number of other ideas that I needed to work out, my next was a children’s mystery tale set in a sleepy Cornish village, about a boy who is on holiday with his family who witnesses strange goings on in the local harbour, and decides to investigate the caves above the village only to discover that what lurks inside, is slowly sucking the life from the community…
Another idea I had brewing in my mind, and possibly the most demanding idea was a graphic novel about a hard-working yet down on his luck farmer, who is struck by a meteor whilst out in the fields and is bestowed strange and mysterious powers which he goes on to use against his crooked bank manager and other evil doers, this has the running title of ‘Red Eye’ but it may yet change once I begin to write the story AND draw the characters.
Other ideas bouncing round my noggin are, a Hitchcock style ‘when the animals turn against us’ story written from a first person perspective almost like a diary, but with flashbacks and a back story.
And finally I want to write a book about angels (i know this sounds sappy but not that type of angels) if anything it would be a slightly creepy tale about how they are able to watch us at all times without our knowledge, not really worked out the kinks on this one yet but i like the idea.
That was it for the moment, I did have all kinds of other ideas but sadly they would come to me at the most random of moments, in the supermarket, or whilst in the shower, it certainly wasn’t true in my case that man did his most profound thinking whilst sat on the lavatory.
I would spend a few hours each day running these ideas through my mind, seeing if they had originality and interest enough for me to pursue the project, happily I think they have merit so these are my babies for the foreseeable future, and I will report more about them as they evolve in my mind.
After a couple of days of self-imposed exile while my throat aids cleared up, I was ready once more to get out and see my City once again. Having done some research into the Parisian life of one of my literary hero’s, I decided to ask Sarah to be my guide and take me to Le Jardin De Luxembourg.. This was a place described by Ernest Hemingway as a haven from the sights and smells of the food stalls in the city during a period in his life when he was literally poverty stricken and so we found ourselves once again boarding the number 81 bus, for the perilous 40 minute journey into the belly of the Parisian beast.
At this juncture I would just like to add , that anyone who grows weary of the nanny state or the health and safety overlords of the U.K would find the nation of France a blessed release, the roads, for one thing, are for want of a better word, chaotic. How anyone manages to complete their business in this city without dieing at least once a day in a horrific pile up is nothing short of a miracle.
The highway code in France has been condensed down from the snooze inducing booklet we have in the U.K to a single sheet of A4 paper here in the French capital, on it written in blood-red capital letters are simply two things, firstly; “ARE YOUR AFFAIRS IN ORDER?” and secondly; “TRY NOT TO DROP YOUR CIGARETTE!” these are the only pieces of advice for the French motorist, and yet the system works.
So there we sat watching the bus filling with people until the ones trapped against the glass started turning blue, making our way into the city center, passing as you do, the magnificent opera building, along past the Louvre until we reach the terminus as Chatelet.
To amuse ourselves on the journey me and Sarah enjoy playing a little game called colour change, when we set off along the Avenue de Clichy the racial demographic is a melting pot of colours, creeds and religions but as you get past St Lazarre station at the mid-point of the Rue de Amsterdam you notice subtle changes.
The roads that have up until this point been normal sized one lane carriage way suddenly doubles in width outside the station entrance, the shops too take on a whole new look, instead of the independent small shops, boulangerie’s and butcherie’s selling wonderous and delicious smelling goods you are faced with the glamour brands of Dior or Chanel the people change from a mix of races, to a single race with some but not many variations (you think I am kidding but I am not, France doesn’t have a problem with racism….It just doesn’t see racism as a problem!)
Once past this point you’re in Hausmann’s Paris, wide rue’s with five or six-story sandstone buildings standing on both sides of the street, every designer brand and shop imaginable, and a distinct lack of social deprivation, it is said that in these parts of the city you can stand anywhere and within a fifteen yard radius of where you stand there would be a multitude of different languages this is most certainly true.
After alighting the bus at Chatelet and turning back towards La Rive Gauche (the left bank) passing over the Ill De La Cite, a small island in the river Seine home to the Palais De Justice. The Palais De Justice is a building that is so opulent it makes the old bailey in London look like a park toilet. Next door to this (if you count next door as being 800 yards further down the street) is the location of the Gendarme H.Q another stupendous ornate building adorned with statues and flanked by dozens of police vehicles.
On the next block is Notre Dame cathedral a Gothic cathedral that is arguably as iconic as any Parisian landmark. Passing these structures you cross onto the Boulevard St Michel which marks the border between the 5th and 6th arrondissment this area has a strongly studious influence, the boulevard is lined by small book stores selling second-hand books.
As the street inclines gradually towards the summit and the Jardin De Luxembourg, which is the home of the French senate (not a bad place to work, if you can call what they do work?) the boulevard widens out, and is flanked by some very exclusive looking cafe’s and salon’s de Te.
It was along this section of boulevard that made me think about Hemingway’s Paris, pre-war, and more importantly pre-car, just what did he see, what was it that inspired him about this area, how different was his life back then from mine now. Please don’t think I am in any way comparing myself with one of the greatest writers that has ever lived..One thing that had not changed in all those years was the expense of the Parisian lifestyle. This I felt was my only tangible connection with Ernest, from his humble beginnings he would become the darling of Parisian literary circles, from my perspective I just wanted to carve out a niche for myself that would allow Sarah and I a great level of independence.
The Jardin de Luxembourg is Paris’s second largest park, it’s avenues are lined by chestnut tree’s, which at this time of year are alive with the colour’s of autumn, Reds, yellows and browns abound, we spent the afternoon wandering around the Jardin, looking at the statues of the great and the good, sitting by the fountain in the autumn sun and watched as Paris rolled past before us.
The traffic rumble which is a constant in the city is some how silenced in the Jardin allowing the visitor time to relax and reflect upon nature. As the sun began to set, we stole away and made our way through the throng on our way home.
The Friday of that week Sarah’s uncle announced that he would be returning to the south of France, and he asked if we could help him to the Garre de Lyon with his luggage on the Saturday morning, this we agreed to.
Saturday morning rolled round and the journey to the station began, the bag given to me to carry was the heaviest luggage in the history of travel, after straining to get through the metro network, with a bag that seemed determined to remove the skin off my ankles, we arrived after much sweating and cursing at the Gare De Lyon.
All that was left to do was to exit the underground and enter the station itself. The dimensions of the luggage I carried meant that I had to use the disabled exit which i did, when the gates swung open, before my eyes came a short squat fat butt ugly blonde haired woman wearing a style of coat that was much favoured by the 1950’s detective, without a ticket she merely barged straight past me muttering obscenities in some language or other, one of which was ‘imbecile’ and it was upon hearing this dago uttered slur that my polite English demeanor slipped away and the red mist descended. Lurching forward as the barrier gates closed I pointed directly at the astonished looking woman and shouted “OI SHUT IT KNOB HEAD!” which was the first thing that came to mind! I was considering leaping the gate and taking her down, but I thought better of it. Not my greatest moment by any means, but happily despite the language barrier my message had gotten across as the woman looked rightly shocked at my outburst.
After depositing Sarah’s uncle on the train and stowing his bags safely in the luggage rack we made are way home via the metro system, only to discover when leaving the station that we had been caught in a vicious downpour, luckily we dodged into our favorite boulangerie, bought some freshly baked baguettes, which I happily stored under my jacket, whilst Sarah selected some heavenly patisserie as a special treat for all our hard work. After a short soggy walk home, we gleefully tucked in to our treats as we sat and watched the rain tumbling from the leaden skies.
Next week we visit the Eiffel tower and return to Blighty for a short break to celebrate my mothers birthday, And the cat gets a gig doing Edit Piaf covers!