Rural Spaceman in Paris

After all these years, Lady Barton St Mary managed to persuade me to visit Paris.

I’d visited Paris many years ago, when I was a skinny, long haired, unwashed student, in the company of an American flatmate called Dan. We’d taken the advice of another American who had ‘done’ Europe and booked a really cheap hotel in the Pigalle area of Paris. Now, our room cost 6fr a night and contained a double bed, an old wardrobe and a pot, presumably for pissing in. Sleep was almost impossible as a constant stream of customers stomped up and down the stairs to be ‘entertained’ by the professional ladies in adjoining rooms. We were both 20 years old; the constant thrumming of bedsprings and the appreciative grunts of the menfolk were not conducive to sleep. For those of you that don’t know, Pigalle is the red light district of Paris: full of sex shops, strip clubs with suitably seedy men standing outside inviting you in. I’ve always found this intriguing. Why put a greasy haired, anorak wearing, Jeremy Kyle Show candidate outside your establishment as an enticement?

Anyway, we saw things in shop windows and street corners that were completely new experiences. Remember, this was a long time before the internet. Our time in Paris was spent eating french bread and cheese down by the left bank. The locals were surly, impatient and very keen to take as much money as they could from us. The 2 hour grilling in customs on the way back (I was travelling with a citizen of the USA and UK immigration gave him a particularly hard time) made up my mind. Paris was not for me.

But, as you well know, Lady BSM is a persuasive creature. It was our 32nd wedding anniversary and her last visit on business to Paris for a while.

“Please – come and spend the weekend with me in Paris,” she asked, using her beautiful blue eyes and hypnotically soft, posh voice to persuade me. So I did.

I arrived late in the evening, straight from work, striding out of the airport and straight into the first taxi I was offered. Mistake.

“How much is it to the hotel?” I asked in my best French, which is crap. He waved his arm about a bit and said, “Don’t worry, normal fee”, which didn’t fill me with confidence. During the trip from Orly to central Paris, I exchanged texts with Lady BSM. ‘Pay no more than €30’, she texted. I sat back and listened to the PSG football game on the radio. I continued to ask with the vaguest of answers. My anti-Paris radar was pulsing, a faint dot growing stronger and redder as the journey continued. We arrived at the hotel.

“fifty five euros!” he beamed. I blinked.

“Where’s your meter?” I asked. He frowned.

“No. It’s standard fee.”

I proffered €30. He stared at it. I channelled my dad.

“That’s all your getting,” I explained.

“No. Give me €50, or you don’t leave.”

My dad came through strongly.

“Right, mate. Here’s 30 euros, take it or leave it, fella.”

He looked in my eyes and saw the angry cockney within. I don’t know what the French equivalent of a right hander is, but he suspected (wrongly) that I was capable of it. He took the money, let me out and roared off. At that point, it appeared Paris hadn’t changed.

I was greeted by the lovely Lady BSM and we ate in a busy restaurant just up the road from our hotel in the Bastille district. It appeared to be a popular haunt for students and young people, so we fitted right in, as you can imagine.

Tourist Attractions

Lady BSM was already familiar with the Metro system. I was familiar with an app called ‘Citymapper’, introduced to me by one of its designers on a train to London. It’s brilliant; it helped me get around London and there is a version for Paris. You can get advice on where to travel from one place to another using this app. The Paris Metro system is also brilliant, but then, like  other European countries, it proves how efficiently a nationalised public transport system works. We made our way towards the Eiffel Tower, but appeared out of the station slap bang in front of L’Arc de Triomphe. We stared at its magnificence. Some people were on top of it looking out. Did we go up and join them? No. The queue was enormous, so we trotted down the Champs Elysee to the Eiffel Tower. Another magnificent example of architecture and humans queuing. If you want to know more read my Rural Spaceman in Paris – Trailer.

The Louvre is a big building – Lady BSM visited earlier the day before, to view the Mona Lisa of course, but she enjoyed the other works of art. She was rather disappointed by the number of people taking ‘selfies’ with her.The Mona Lisa, I mean, not Lady BSM. It was almost like that was more important than looking at one of the most iconic and famous works of art ever produced. The Mona Lisa, I mean, not Lady BSM.

Sacre Coeur – a beautiful church adjacent to the aforementioned Pigalle district – allows views across Paris. Again the queues were horrendous, so instead we took a cute little road train that gave us a tour of the region, including Pigalle, which, since the advent of the internet, seems less motivated to show as many photos and images of human beings in various stages of coitus.

Notre Dame – Another queue, but this one was fast moving. Being a Sunday morning, there was a service, with a choir and all the incense waving. The music was quite captivating and eerie – a version of religious progressive rock. Lady BSM mentioned that the Notre Dame museum had a few amazing artefacts – a nail and a splinter of wood from the cross and, incredibly, the actual crown of thorns worn by Jesus. I paid my five euros to have a look. The splinter and nail are very small; the crown is in a closed box in a glass cabinet. I wondered whether I could ask to see it. Lady BSM was doubtful.

“But how do you know that it’s in there?” I asked her.

This is where the crown of thorns is kept, absolute proof of the crucifixion story. But obviously you can’t see it.

“You have to have faith,” she explained.

Clearly.

Musee D’Orsay – woohoo! Lady BSM wasn’t getting caught out having to queue for this venue. She’d bought advance tickets that meant we had priority to enter this famous art gallery. We skipped past all the losers standing to get in at entrances A-C, line upon line of tired looking tourists, staring at us with jealous eyes. We laughed as we made our way to entrance D. Whereupon we found line upon line of tired looking tourists, feeling our pain as we realised we’d been duped. Half an hour into our queuing experience, I desperately needed the toilet, prompted by the tannoy announcement informing us not to worry, once we’d actually queued into the building, there was a further 25 minute queue to get in. I skipped out of the queue and ran around the streets, getting more desperate by the second. A man hosing down the pavement didn’t help. I finally sneaked into a crowded restaurant to make my ease before returning to queuing duties. Finally, we got in. That’s when I discovered I’d lost my priority ticket. Don’t ask. We spent all our time on the fifth floor, looking at the impressionist paintings. The gallery closed at 6pm, but staff started to ‘kettle’ their visitors at 5.15pm and chucked them out at 5.55pm, unless they could extract more money out of you in the shop until 6.30pm.

Pompidou Centre – great design. We saw the outside on a bank holiday Monday, when it was closed.

Food and drink 

The food was wonderful. Bizarrely, I ate quite a few burgers, which is unusual for me. I don’t mean the mass produced, brightly coloured globally marketed burgers, but French burgers. I also ate game pie, oysters, Lebanese food and cake. All lovely. As were the staff and people in general all over Paris. The beer was eye wateringly expensive – expect €7 or €8 for a pint of lager. Lady BSM’s cocktails and wine were about the same price.

One bar was a little cheaper but with its own appeal. An old hippy known as Cisco entertained the alcoholic regulars and homeless people sitting on the street corner, whilst the regulars did their best to encourage the various european customers to dance with them. It was just like a Saturday night in town back home.

Even the policeman, magnificent in full riot gear, who helped us to get from one side of the Place de la Bastille to the other. He was a very tall man, about 7 ft in his riot helmet, with vague resemblance Vladimir Putin.

“Notre Hotel est la ba,” I explained in my best Frenglish, “comment moi get there?”

“My English not a lot,” he explained, “wait here.” He strolled off, giving a cursory cuff around the head to a young, enthusiastic, flag waving demonstrator. We waited.

Bloody crows!

He strolled back and loomed over me. I blinked rapidly. He told us to move 200 metres up the road, where we would get safe passage. On return to our hotel, the taxi we’d ordered was stuck in the gridlock, so we were advised to take public transport. Again, it didn’t let us down.

My opinion of Paris has changed completely. Perhaps the long haired, unwashed youth wasn’t as easy as the grey haired, rather more hygienic old man. Viva la France. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. Je suis European.

I’ll be back. But I won’t queue.

 

 

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Rural Spaceman in Paris – Trailer

Finally, we find it.IMG_4658.JPG
‘Would you like me to take you up the Eiffel Tower?’ I ask Lady Barton St Mary. She looks at me balefully.
‘So, we have to queue to get through the security gate?’ she enquires.
‘Yes,’ I reply.

‘Then we have to queue again to get in the lift or go up the stairs?’

‘Yes.’

She thinks for a moment.

‘How long will that take? Three hours? Three and a half?’

‘Probably,’ I confirm. She puffs out her cheeks and emits a small chuckle.

‘I’m not sure I could be arsed,’ she says in her crystal clear, properly pronounced English accent. A worried look passed across her face.

‘But we’re here, under the Eiffel Tower and we’re not going up to the top.’ We both ponder this for a moment.

‘Never mind,’ I say reassuringly, ‘we can always look at the view on the internet.’ I make a few taps on my iPhone.

‘Look! There’s a 360 degree panoramic view which we can watch through our cardboard virtual reality viewer when we get home! Job done!’

‘Yes, I suppose,’ she replies, looking at the long, winding snake of miserable people underneath the tower, behind the wire mesh of the security fence.

‘Besides, we can use the 34 euros we would have spent to queue up for half a day to buy gin, pastis and macaroons,’ I explain.

She’s already heading back to the Champs-Elysees.

‘Come on,’ she says, ‘ I know a lovely cafe that sells delicious cakes not far from here.’

She’s starting to come around to my way of thinking when it comes to city breaks

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I’ll Play What I Like – Paul Weller at Bristol Colston Hall

I’d been quite excited about seeing Paul Weller at Colston Hall, Bristol. The last time I’d seen him was with The Jam back in the early 1980s, before he adopted  floppy hair and a stripy blazer with The Style Council. As a former punk who saw Weller adopted by mods, this change of style was not to my taste. Conversely, Lady Barton St Mary loved The Style Council and bought the cassette, which she played constantly, allowing me some familiarity with their tunes despite the constant reminder that, as far as I was concerned, Weller had ‘gone soft’. His later solo albums were a redemption in my mind, especially ‘Stanley Road’.

I was accompanied by Lady BSM, Nancy Cuticles, Pen,  Steeley the Tinkers’ Friend and She-La! (who had a hit in the 1980s called ‘Touch Me – but not there’). They had seen him at Westonbirt, a lovely wooded musical venue in Gloucestershire, a couple of years ago. I am not a fan of Westonbirt, since it is open air in the evening, you are usually miles away from the stage and the audience usually consists of punters called Toby and Jocasta with children in 4 wheel buggies who leave half way through the set when they have enough material to pontificate at length about seeing Paul Weller at their next dinner party. Blimey, I’m such an inverse snob.

The Colston Hall is a wonderful venue for music. Not a pushchair in sight, in fact a couple in Stranglers t-shirts who were happy to engage in conversation about their appearance at the hall a week earlier.

Anyway – Weller. What a back catalogue of music he has, a prolific writer. He started with White Sky, a cacophony of guitars and rocked the place, moving on quickly to Long Time and I’m Where I Should Be before the first Jam song. Guess which one? Ghosts. Yes, I struggled too. Was it from Setting Sons? I couldn’t remember. Then two Style Council hits – Ever Changing Moods and Have You Ever Had It Blue? – which, to be honest, were really good, because they were played with a little bit of edge and Paul didn’t have floppy hair and wasn’t wearing a yellow and red striped blazer. (By the way, the Weller hair has also improved. Still quite ‘youthfu’l but a little less like a trendy granny hairstyle).

Then back to the album tracks. Hardcore Weller fans would have loved this gig, whereas everyday Weller fans would have struggled to recognise the songs. Wonderfully played, great musicianship, but not familiar. Hence the cheers and relief for Peacock Suit, Guilded Splinters and, for the first encore, Wild Wood.Even for the encore, Paul plumped for The Ballad of Jimmy McCabe and a number from the latest album.

Of course, he left on a high with Start! and Changing Man.

Lady BSM commented afterwards that he seemed to play what he wanted to play, rather than what the audience would prefer. I agreed, but then another musical snob would categorise me as another Toby/Jocasta.

And it is Paul Weller. He can play what he likes.

 

 

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Rural Spaceman versus The Robot Till Operators

Word pretzels, no doubt you all at some point have to go to a supermarket to go food shopping. I do quite often, almost every day, in fact. Mainly to get lunch, or, once or twice a week, to get the weekly food shop.

Once upon a time, when Master Johnny and Miss Katherine worked for Waitrose, we had the pleasure of strolling up and down the aisles, considering all the exotic foods and brands this posh shop had to offer, with the added luxury of 15% family discount at the check out.

Sadly those days are over, which is a bit of a blow; although, to be honest, it was Lady Barton St Mary who had the family discount card and she tended to buy only gin and chocolate, mistakenly thinking that staff below stairs were adding to the bi-weekly organic vegetable delivery.

However, there are the rare occasions when we food shop in the supermarket together, a form of retirement practice. These trips tend to follow the same pattern; an hour before we are due to leave, Lady BSM gives me the option of staying at home whilst she shops, but adding it would be nice to have my company. I, of course, love to be in her company, so agree to accompany her.

After half an hour in the supermarket, still in the first aisle where she’s reading every ingredient in a jar of ‘All Your Shakras’ highly organic free range chicken stock’, I’m starting to wish I’d stayed at home, knowing that either an argument or a spate of self harm could break out within the next 2 hours. Of course, we do have a special arrangement when it comes to food shopping; I pick up products and put them in the trolley. She then carefully removes and replaces them with identical items that she has chosen. It’s a jolly game.

Anyway, that’s not the fault of the supermarket, but those self service till operators are. I’m sure you know what I mean. The machines where you scan your items yourself before

Exterminate! Exterminate!
Thank you for shopping with us!

paying. They’re there to save time and money. For the supermarkets, of course. Why employ till operators when your customers can work for you for free? They’ve also introduced a new phrase into the English language: ‘Unexpected item in bagging area’ -everybody’s favourite. This has also spawned the special ‘Unexpected item in bagging area’ dance for customers: a swaying movement with a vague waving of the arm, raising of eyebrows followed by a nod at the robot till operator. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a member of staff happy to wander over and tap a few numbers into the fussy machine in order for you to continue working  shopping. If you’re unlucky, Mavis has gone for a fag break or Jarmelle is too busy chatting up Alicja on fruit and veg to notice the smoke coming out of the ears of happy shopper on till #3.

Of course, when you’ve finished scanning all of your products, you can then have the pleasure of paying for all your goods. Do you have a loyalty card? Robot till operators in certain supermarkets have their own catchphrase.

“All your club card points add up,” it tells you, which is nice to know that my loyalty card is proficient in at least one numerical operation. This is usually at the point it’s spewing out a long roll of meaningless vouchers (“spend £40 on Peruvian weave rugs and get 20p a litre off your fuel bill!”) followed by your receipt.

But that’s not the worst habit of these mischievous machines, not as far as I’m concerned. Their worst offence is when you’ve popped in for some lunch, spending a small amount and paying in cash. One thing is guaranteed. If you feed your robot till operator some paper money, in return it will give your change in the most awkward way possible. For example:

Lunch costs £2.75.  You feed a £5 note into the machine. Machine returns your change of £2.25 in this form: 1 x £1 coin, 1 x 50p, 5 x 10p, 4 x 5p, 1 x 2p and 3 x 1p. Which you then have to scrape up and shovel into your pocket. Given half the chance, these robots will throw more shrapnel at you than a world war 1 shell. It’s sad watching workers visiting the supermarket for their well earned food break, spend 10 minutes working for the shop before leaving with green hands and a limp.

Don’t get me started on the carrier bag conversations…

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Life After Deal Or No Deal

As you all know, 2016 didn’t cover itself in glory when it came to the demise of great things; iconic figures from music, stage and screen, TV and radio; the incredible and divisive political shifts in Europe and America.

But something else happened in 2016 that, in my world overshadowed all of these events: the decision to axe Deal or No Deal from the TV schedule.

When I first heard the news I thought that it had to be scaremongering. The greatest TV show about opening boxes in nearly 50 years could surely never disappear from our screens. It had everything.

21 contestants, who appeared every day until they were called up for their special moment in the limelight, with an opportunity to win £250 000. With the introduction of the ‘Banker’s Button’ and box 23, a chance to win £500 000. All perfectly controlled by the master of the game show, Noel Edmonds. Noel had a witty quip for everybody, using that effusive charm honed as a DJ in the 1960s and 70s, something he’d never lost. Or changed. His beliefs and opinions may be a bit wacky, but then, most 70 year olds have a touch of that, and Noel’s misdemeanours were trivial compared to those of some of his 1970s Radio 1 DJ counterparts.

But it turned out the rumours were true. Deal or No Deal turned out its last few episodes before Christmas before disappearing without so much as a tearful farewell addition. If you go to the Channel 4 website now, all you can find is a few historic games. It’s like visiting your favourite shop after it’s closed down, leaving just a few items behind to remind you of its greatness.

Deal or No Deal was a soap opera. You got to know the characters. The weird ones, the annoying ones, those with a sad back story, the real entertainers, the cocky ones, the shy but brave ones. Their stories built up slowly, Noel engaging them in conversation and occasionally giving them nicknames. Of course, from time to time these nicknames could be politically incorrect, but Noel was allowed to carry on, the way you forgive an elderly relative for their casual racism.

Deal or No Deal was a metaphor for life. You existed to help the group, your chance would come and the decisions you made decided whether you were successful or not. Like life, sometimes things didn’t unfold (or in DOND’s case, open) as you would like and you had to make the best of things.

Deal or No Deal was a metaphor for religion. You did your best to help others until the glorious day when you made it to the front and claimed your reward, with a kindly and supportive god in the form of Noel; bearded, gentle, supporting but ultimately in control. Add in the unseen banker and the religious overtones continue.

By mid -January, I realised that Deal or No Deal was not returning. With a heavy heart, I wondered what could take its place. There was always Pointless, a very entertaining programme, but I felt like I was intruding on a couple of public schoolboys having a jolly jape. Unoffensive but somehow not satisfying my game show craving. For the opposite reasons, Tipping Point, a strange quiz game based around the penny falls machine found in an amusement arcade, seemed slightly low brow. Yes, a game of chance, but not on the high standards set by the sainted Noel.

Then I discovered The Chase, a quiz show presented by Bradley Walsh, the comic and actor. The Chase involves 4 people trying to ‘outrun’ a nominated quiz champion to get ‘home’ and help their team to win money. The contestants change every day, but there is a rotated team of ‘chasers’ who have their own characteristics.

noel-edmonds-presents-deal-or-no-deal

The Sainted Noel

images

Bradley Walsh, cheeky chappy

After a few weeks, I found myself regularly watching it. It’s enjoyable and exciting, especially when the contestants have a chance of beating the chaser; infuriating when the contestants are particularly dumb and shout out loud annoying when a particularly useless one takes minus prize money with the intention of relying on somebody else to win some for them.

 

Occasionally, I pause and think wistfully about Deal or No Deal. It’s like losing the love of your life through no fault of your own and having to move on, finding happiness with somebody else. You can’t help but compare the two and feel slightly guilty for being happy with your new partner.

 

Bradley is engaging and amusing, younger than Noel; both have had chart success, Bradley with an album of easy listening songs, Noel with a pretend children’s character called Mr Blobby. Bradley likes music and football, Noel doesn’t.The Chase involves knowledge and skill, rather than dumb luck like Deal or No Deal.

My mum would have liked The Chase. She loved Deal or No Deal. We’d talk about it during our weekly phone calls and got to watch it together on several occasions. I suppose it was one of those things that was a happy memory of her. But as she used to say:

‘One door closes, another one opens.”

Which always made more sense than ‘Honky Donkey”…

 

 

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Eye Eye – We Have Contact

As a football referee, I finally had to give in to the helpful advice given to me by friendly spectators on a weekly basis and take a trip to SpecSavers, the opticians. My long vision has been deteriorating as I age, along with everything else, except my ability to grow nose and ear hair  at an alarming rate.

yes I can do it I can do it...

yes I can do it I can do it…

Just to let you know, I’ve had to wear spectacles for reading since I was 11. My mum’s reaction to hearing I had myopia was greeted in  similar fashion to the discovery of my colour blindness, namely complete denial and accusations of me ‘showing off’. I assure you that in 1971, wearing specs was not fashionable. Hardly any children wore them, since MTV, Nintendo and the internet were far off futuristic dreams.

“Don’t worry,” said the 1970’s optician, “when you’re old, your eyes will change shape and correct themselves.”

I had to wait nigh on four decades to find out 1970’s optician was lying. I kept my short sightedness and combined it with long sightedness. Now I can’t see anything near or far. I might as well buy a bloody dog.

However, I am out there refereeing, it was time for new glasses. My last test was five years ago, which, compared to the gap of ten years without a test, seemed reasonable. But this time, I thought I’d get myself some contact lenses for my refereeing duties. You see, the problem with refereeing is that you’re supposed to be able to see distance and close up; for example, that no so clever raking of the achilles tendon with a heavy boot by the incumbent ‘enforcer’ on a team must be spotted and recorded in my little black book with ease. Unfortunately, the foul play can be dealt with – the writing down of a name is more challenging. I have to be careful not to appear to be playing an imaginary trombone as I write some scrawl I can’t see on the page.

Wearing glasses on the field of play is of course a no no. I hardly need another weakness for the assorted cheats and liars to take advantage of.

It wasn’t as hard as I imagined. The opticians were happy to oblige me with ‘mono’ lenses – one eye sees distances and the other close up when fitted.

I’ve just returned from Contact Lens School, where a young lady called Sophie (they all look so young. She could have been on half term break) taught me how to fit my contact lenses. Now, I’m quite a squeamish person, the idea of rubbing my bare eyeballs with a finger didn’t appeal. But Sophie, my schoolgirl helper, was excellent, telling me exactly how to go about it, with the odd admonishment:

“We want to get those eyelashes out of the way, don’t we?”

“Look straight ahead, no, don’t close your eyes, we won’t be able to get your lenses in, will we?”

As it turned out, I was pretty good at it. Sophie said I was excellent.

“Well done, you were excellent.”

“We were excellent.”

“Pardon?”

Then she patted my arm and gave me a sympathetic smile. I almost expected a lollipop and sticker. She went through the health and safety aspects: no torn lenses and make sure they’re not inside out.

“How do I know?” I asked.

“Well, the lens has a little cuff around the top of it,” she explained, showing a diagram.

“Oh! So it look a bit like a…” I hesitated. She waited.

I was going to say condom, but at the last moment decided that wasn’t a simile I wished to share with a 14 year old. No doubt me alluding to prophylactics would be enough to make her nauseous.

“A bowl with a cuff. A cuffed bowl.”

She frowned.

“Ye-ess,” she managed.

So, off I went, with a trial pack of daily contact lenses, with instructions to return in another week to be checked by the senior contact lenses operative, who seemed a little older, at least old enough for lower sixth, anyway.

But the moral of this stream of consciousness? How brilliant is it to have contact lenses? WOW. I can see. I realise that my readers, both of you, probably know the benefits of contact lenses already, but please, humour me.

PS – When I had my eyes tested, the optician asked when I wore glasses. For reading and driving, I told her. “Oh – but you come within the legal limits for driving without glasses,” she told me. If only somebody had told me that 40 years ago…

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Then 100 Hell’s Angels Stood Up …

ruralspaceman

August, 1979 was a pivotal year in my life. It was the year I’d taken my ‘A’ levels and managed to get an offer from Sussex University. I can’t remember whether I knew that I’d been offered a place at the time of going to Reading Festival, but to be honest, it didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was I was going to Reading Festival, especially since the headlining band on the Saturday night was Thin Lizzy. I’d cut the application form out of the back of Sounds magazine (which was more like a newspaper), filled in my details and sent it off with a postal order. This was in the days before home computers, kids.reading festival 79

Of course, I wasn’t on my own. Three of my school friends (who obviously by now were my former school friends) were sharing the adventure with me: Eggy Howe, Beany Green and Alan…

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