First Concert in over Twenty Years

Dear Reader, I may have mentioned before in previous articles that for my many sins, and to curb my pride, I am a musician, and some might even go further still, and remind me I am a horn player.  As a musician, we can have a tendency to “do” concerts and play in them, rather than going along as a listener.  I mean, of course, that we listen to our fellow musicians, especially when playing that music together.  It is a team effort, after all.  But not as a spectator.

Little did I know that when I went to taste some homemade beer at my friend Hervé’s house, he would invite me to take some photos of a concert he was playing in, on the 18th of June.  I, of course, jumped at the opportunity.  An evening of taking photos and getting to listen to live music at the same time?  What a way to spend the hottest day of the year so far!

We were rehearsing together the following Friday, and he said to be at his house at such-and-such a time, and that I should just park up in the driveway.  There would also be my old and very much revered horn teacher, as in my previous horn teacher, and not my old new horn teacher, nor a teacher that is old despite his great wisdom.  But that is a story for another day.  Hervé was going to drive us to the concert.  Jérôme, my very much revered horn teacher, plays in the same ensemble as Hervé.  They are members of the Brass Quintet Arabesque, made up of instrument teachers from across my particular region of France. 

So, I got into the car, turned on the ignition, saw the temperature, and promptly melted. 44°C! For those who only work in Fahrenheit, body temperature is 37°C, and 44°C is 111°F. My point exactly. By the time I reached Hervé’s house, it was a mere 40°C. A tad warm, even for me!

I drove up, parked, saw my horn teacher in very summery attire, but always with a hat, saunter up, and Smaug, the family Labrador, who you remember from my last article, who does not know what sauntering is about, just ran around the car three times and jumped up to say hello, being as friendly as ever. Bless him! We quickly went inside into the shade and cool. I do like a bit of cool from time to time.

We eventually got all the kit together in the car, thanks again Hervé for doing all the driving, and set off. The way to Guérande isn’t very complicated, and it’s pretty plain sailing. We talked about everything and nothing, about my presence at the Wind Band next year, and what alternatives I could think of, about the photoshoot from the previous week, about the various instruments and would we change instrument, how much it might cost to change, and what newer instruments could bring to the table, or should I say rehearsal room…

Parking in Guérande was a doddle, and we headed to the Collégiale, or church inside the medieval walls. We dropped everything off in the church, and things suddenly became very serious. Where would we eat? The first place we tried, a creperie, was no longer serving food, so we headed to Plan B. Plan B was fully booked, but was able to fit us in. Five brass musicians, one organist, and yours truly. Luckily I don’t seem to take up much space. Simon said he had to go and shave and came back with blood on his face. Michel, the organist that would be playing with the quintet, told us that the organ in that building needed a makeover and was basically shite. Out of tune, and half of it didn’t work. That’s something you don’t really want to hear when you don’t have a huge amount of time to have the pre-concert setup and run through. Another thing you don’t want to hear is that you’re all going to have to tune your instruments up to 444hz. This basically means you’re all fecked because your instruments have been in slightly warm cars. After all, it’s boiling outside and you’ll just never make it. The brass expands in the heat and therefore will sound flatter, and at 444hz you really need to be on the sharper side. It’s a bit like me trying to walk past a slice of cake and a nice cup of tea; it’s just not going to happen… Luckily the food arrived, as did the beers, and the puds. We were happy. I had all my camera gear, and most importantly plenty of batteries in case the batteries inside the cameras gave up the will to live. Some lovely shots were begging to be taken outside the church.

What I didn’t have, especially inside the church, was a whole lot of light. For photography, light is quite important. Understatement of the year contender again… This was going to be interesting. I had been fed by Arabesque, and now there was bugger all light inside, so photography was going to be a tad tricky.

Luckily, somebody turned on the lights and I was saved. Who said miracles never happen in the Catholic Church? They did this evening. The only photos I could take were before the concert actually began because afterwards the church would fall into darkness as there was going to be drone footage shown on a screen behind the Quintet as they played, showing the church in which they were playing. This was the main idea behind the concert. Through music and film, show people the church they were in from a slightly different viewpoint. It was great just to sit and take in the music. And take in the music I did. I was always told the importance of concert-going to musicians and how it helps us develop musically in so many ways. I only had to make an effort to sit there, make no noise, and just listen and be captivated. And captivated I was! I thought the tuning was fine and not at all the catastrophe announced by the organist. But I was just here to listen to some quality sounds and not to be a critic from the Times

The first half finished with the Toccata by Charles Marie Widor from his Organ symphony number 5. Any pedal notes that were missing from the organ were amply covered by the bass notes of the tuba that seem to just go right through you. It’s also a piece of music that has, amongst others, the ability to make my eye become all watery with emotion. I’ll leave it here for you to listen to.

The interval arrived. I say that but it didn’t really make an entrance. It just happened. The public was invited to walk around the church and rediscover images from the film in real life. They could also purchase CDs of the Quintet. 10€ each, or 20€ for three. They could also subscribe and have a CD of the programme, as well as make a contribution to the Association Résonnance, who gave their name to the entire project. It also meant that I could take more ambience photos and not be in anybody’s way.

Up until then, I had been using the Canon 6D Mark II which makes a tremendous noise when the mirror moves up to expose the sensor. I was worried that I would disturb everyone and switched to the comparatively silent Fuji XT2 with the 18-55mm zoom lens, which is a 24-70mm full-frame equivalent, so a good all-rounder for reportage. During the second half, I could be seen trying to move silently the way Corporal McCune taught me to so as not to disturb my fellow concertgoers.

The second half started with the horn and trombone playing a one thousand-year-old tune for the Easter celebration. Unfortunately, the audience hadn’t cottoned on to the fact that the second half had just started and some were still talking! As soon as the other musicians appear and Hervé started introducing the next piece, they seemed to get the message and promptly shut up! They lead us through time through the Baroque, the Classical, and the Romantic periods. They ended up with Aaron Copland, and music from Grover’s Corner, whoever Grover was. I suspect it wasn’t the same Grover that lives on Sesame Street…

After the concert, we did the official group photo, and eventually said good night and see back at Hervé’s house. It was midnight, much cooler, windy, and felt as if a storm was on the way. Jérôme fell asleep in the back, and Hervé and I just chilled, talking about this very blog and photography, especially the differences between being a good amateur photographer, and a professional photographer and how the two are completely different, in the same way, that I quickly realised when doing my music studies here in France. You have to produce consistently good results, and the pressure is on. They were already doing the concert debrief about everything that went wrong. I tried to reassure them that it wasn’t a competition and that as an audience member, I had a great time. Basically, the same things that I had been taught by Jérôme. If the audience is happy, then the audience is happy.

On the way home, we saw the sky fill up with lightning and thunder. It felt magical, and also the temperature had halved. It was a mere 22°C. It felt wonderful. We got home first and had a beer whilst waiting for the others to arrive. The others arrived and there was still some English beer for them, and some homemade beer too. It received the seal of approval from everyone present. We ended saying what went wrong with the concert and how it was a learning experience. I still thought it was brilliant. So there!!

All I have to do is the photo editing…

Happy Birthday Wife!

Today is the 13th of May 2022 and is my wife’s birthday. It is also Friday the 13th, so I don’t know how I should be feeling, happy for my wife but slightly preoccupied by lady luck deciding to have fun at my expense. Strangely, in France, Friday the 13th is considered lucky. What a peculiar country!

But what a strange coincidence though? But little did I know that 30 years ago, almost to the day that we first met how many coincidences there actually were…

She is born on the 13th, and me on the 26th. 26 being the double of 13. As a Catholic, yes, it happens, I have have always felt close to the Virgin Mary. My mother is Anne, the mother of Mary, and my beloved Grandma was called Mary. My wife is called Virginie… But you could argue that a lot of Catholic women were called Mary or Anne. We also live in the Vendée which has the number 85 – 8+5=13.

Today is also the feast of Our Lady of Fatima who appeared to three children in Fatima in Portugal in 1917.

Can you see a pattern developing here?

Anyway, it doesn’t, in any form, detract from the fact that it is my wife’s birthday today. I used to be great at thinking of presents for everyone, be it Christmas or birthdays. I just knew exactly what to look for and where to find it. Now, as in a lot of things, I now know nothing. What do you get for the person who has everything, including Yours Truly? My dream solution, my daughter seems to have stolen my talent and also seems to be very good at spending my money, but this time it is for a good cause.

Tomorrow, we will celebrate in a dignified manner with friends and have a barbecue, with salads, meats, and sausagy things that have been drawn up on the famous shopping list. It is a long shopping list and in a sudden and surprisingly rare instant of genius, I dared to add, don’t forget the charcoal Darling. The charcoal had been forgotten? I had’t saved the day, but I think I scored at least one brownie point.

So now you know what awaits le this weekend. Last weekend was a little more musical. When I first arrived in Vendée just over 20 years ago I played the horn for the local wind band in Montaigu. It was local and it got me out of the house and introduced me to local people who would eventually become friends. After a certain amount of time I got bored and didn’t feel challenged which is not a good thing to happen. You find that resentment can build and boredom never helps. I eventually stopped playing the horn and felt I had had enough, and then in 2009 a friend from the band said that’s had started playing with the windband in Cholet and I played with them from then on, even getting to the point of trying to get my French teaching diploma, but with burnout, and a change of horn teachers, that idea fell by the wayside. I cut music right back to the basics.

Durning Covid, the old conductor from Montaigu died, and within the year his wife died too. At least they’re together now. The band in MOntaigu had wanted to have a concert to remember them by, and last Satudray, after a lot of work by the band committee, they managed it. As an old player, I was invited to join in, and it was a lovely experience.

During the rehearsals, I received news that my boss in Cholet was resigning at the end of the year. Certainly unexpected, but I think I know some of the reasons why. All of a sudden, choices opened up to me. The band in Montaigu found out, and I was told that if I wanted, they would be happy to have an extra horn player. Not an easy decision to make, and I will certainly think about it. It would certainly mean less driving, and with the price of petrol, that is one huge argument. I feel a certain loylaty for the boss at Cholet even more so than for the band itself. not only is he my musical director but has over the years, become a friend. I’ll keep you posted.

Sunday was going to be about rest and relaxation. I felt I couldn’t face Nantes, and would be going to mass there anyway later on. So I went to Clisson instead. We all have those pretty towns just near us. In Hull, it was Beverley, in Noisy le Sec, it was Paris, and in Saint Hilaire it’s Clisson. I’m not denigrating the places that I have lived, but they were also slightly cheaper places to live, but that’s by the by…

I seem to be getting back into using my Canon DSLR and loving it too. It’s the 16-35mm lens that does it. And as you can see in the photographs from that day, Clisson is very photogenic, almost more than Nantes, but let’s not tell everyone, or they’ll all want to go there…

February Continued…

In my last article Dear Reader, I promised you some colour photography and in this article, you’re going to get it.  The sun was still warming my back and it felt good to be alive again!  I talked about missing out on the Jaune in the Grue Jaune, but not this time.  Shorter article maybe but some great colour for you.  When I bought the Fujifilm X100f one of the things that had was the Classic Chrome film simulation, which was supposed to emulate Kodachrome which of course died in 2009 and can no longer be processed.    The X100f of course has other film simulations, which you can look up on the web, but that Classic Chrome look just got me.  A slightly more subdued colour range with a certain warmness and something that you just can’t quite put your finger on, which reminded you of an age gone by in photography.

I mean the whole camera seems to have a certain vintage vibe to it despite all the technology hidden away inside.  The little knobs and buttons everywhere just remind you of a film camera.  How was I supposed to resist?  As you can see in various articles and various photo galleries, I didn’t resist and I’m still OK with that!  I even went on to acquire an XT2 with interchangeable lenses, which offer me more variety in the kinds of shots I can take, as well as keeping the same feel to my shots. 

Everyone says to shoot in RAW.  I can hear them even now saying, “Shoot in RAW you fool!”  Well I do, but I also shoot jpegs to have those images already colour edited to fit that Chrome feeling.  It’s consistent and I still have my RAW files to fall back on if needed.  The Fuji Jpegs are amazing and it helps me to cut down on the amount of editing that I have to do.  I’m basically lazy, so if I can avoid doing something and yet get a perfectly satisfactory result, then I’m going with the path of least resistance. 

On this outing, I was using the 18mm (24mm equivalent) lens with the XT2.  Again, I’ve talked before how I decided to go wider instead of longer, and if any of you are laughing at this point, get your minds out of the gutter!  I’m talking photography!!

So without much further ado, let me present you with some colour photography taken on the XT2 in Nantes.  

P.S.  I think I found the banana….

The man with the cigar

Street portraits. He was smoking a huge cigar that I wanted to capture but the photo didn't please as much as this one. I liked the lights from the barbershop behind him. Just pressed the shutter and it seems to have turned out ok.

Street portraits.  He was smoking a huge cigar that I wanted to capture but the photo didn’t  please as much as this one.  I liked the lights from the barbershop behind him.  Just pressed the shutter and it seems to have turned out ok.

This is what WordPress calls a story, and it seems to be like posting on Instagram, but not posting on Instagram. Do you think, Dear Reader, that it is worth doing in here from time to time. Something like photo of the week? It certainly seems easier to this than write a 1500 or 2000 word article. Maybe just now and again eh….

The FED 5

Back in 2009 I had a camera that died on me.  It might only be a camera to you but to me it was everything.  It was my first camera.  I was heartbroken.  To those of you mocking me, just think back to your first car and to your first accident in that car.  Alright, you may not be shedding a tear you unemotive bastard, but you might just have the smallest of inklings about my loss.  It was my fist camera that had taught me the basics of photography, and since 1987 had been a relatively constant companion, and part of me.  My son now has it on a shelf looking pretty damn cool on one of his shelves.

It was at that time that I had come back to film from digital.  Why bother using filters that would emulate film photography when you could get the same thing straight out of camera without going through the rigmaroles of messing around in Photoshop to get that result?  At that time, although digital gave me a lot, there was something missing.  Like most of us I was looking for something authentic. 

I went to the camera shop to see if anything could be done to repair my camera and bring it back to life.  With hope I entered the shop that would become a familiar haunt, and had to face the brutal truth.  My Praktica MTL3 was dead.  It had passed on, this camera was no more. It had ceased to be. It had expired and gone to meet its maker.  It was a stiff.  Bereft of photographic life.  It was resting in peace.  It was pushing up daisies.  Its metabolic processes were now history.  It was off the twig.  It had kicked the bucket.  It had shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bloody choir invisible. IT WAS AN EX Praktica MTL 3!  Any similarity to a Norwegian Blue parrot pining for the Fjords is a mere coincidence!  So I asked him if I could buy the one in the display cabinet and he said of course I could and that yes it was a little expensive, it came with a 6 month guarantee, and here was a film for it, and no mention of Bolton or Ipswitch.  Although not exactly the same it was a purchase that set me off on a series of events that lead me to “collecting” a certain quantity of cameras.  It was either that or becoming a lumberjack. 

Through YouTube, articles on the net, and my own research, I learnt about some of the iconic cameras that I never had, and at that stage, the hipsters hadn’t bought up everything on EBay and you could still get something very decent for un £50, which now of course might set you back between £150 to £200!  So I was very fortunate to start collecting when I did.

On the famous YouTube, and its infamous photography videos that I still seem to watch on a regular basis, I went down the rabbit hole of specialising in film cameras.  There was one guy, called Matt Day, who waxed lyrical about his Leica M6, and how much he loved using it to take images from his everyday life.  I started thinking, could this be my next acquisition.  And then I started looking at the prices that these things cost.  Megabucks, which is something that I don’t have and even if I did, such a purchase would be grounds for divorce.  It’s cheaper to keep her, as the classic Rhythm and Blues (before it became R’nB) so wisely reminded us. 

Therefore, what is the difference between my new old Praktica MTL3 and a Leica M6 I hear you say. Well, both are German.  One is a classic camera from a West German manufacturer, and was the gold standard of 35mm cameras from pre war times right up to the modern day, and was a rangefinder, the other one being a relatively cheap and yet very solid SLR from the old East Germany.

So both were made by the Boche, one further to the left that the other.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so a video  must be worth two thousand words! Earlier I talked about a certain Matt Day, well here is a video of his from last year talking about the differences.  I’ll let you watch it, and then we will be both on the same page!  I can tell you’re impressed.

Soooooo, I wanted to learn about a rangefinder and see how they worked out in real life.  But, as I said earlier it’s cheaper to keep her, so I was going to have to find another way of doing things.  As many photographers on a budget but wanting to get some half decent materiel, I looked East, towards Mother Russia.  Communism is messed up, but it did leave some rather solid cameras, and to the rangefinder aficionados, the names Zorky, and FED will be familiar.  The Zorky looks very vintage, rather sexy and exclusive with its Cyrillic writing on the top of the body, but I was not comfortable about using a camera without a light meter.  The Sunny 16 rule should be easy enough to follow, and with the latitude that black and white film photography gives you, you shouldn’t go too far wrong, but I was being stubborn, which is so out of character for me. 

I moved on to looking at the FED 5, especially since I had found one for only 15€ imported directly from the Ukraine, which at the time was not at war or hadn’t been annexed either by Mother Russia.  Oh you naughty boy Vladimir!!

Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way first.  The FED 5 was produced in the Ukrainian city of Kharkov from 1977 until 1990.  It is a 35mm format rangefinder camera, with interchangeable lenses with a Leica M39 screw thread, (mine has a 35mm f2.8 lens, which is great for street photography).  It has a focal plane shutter, shutter speeds of 1 second to 1/500th of a second, bulb mode, and the flash sync speed is 1/30th of a second.  What more could you ask for.  The film loading is similar to the Leica where you remove the base of the camera, load your film etc. and then put that base back on.  Because you know that it’s about the bass, ‘bout that bass no treble…

To do the metering you have to put your faith in the selenium cell light meter, on the top right of the front of the camera.  This will give you a reading on an EV meter on top of the camera next to the “calculation wheel”.  One dial is for the speed of you your film.  Now don’t go looking for Din, ISO, or ASA, but look for GOCT, or GOST. 90 GOST is 100ASA, 180 being 200ASA etc.  For 400ASA I just turn the little dot to the S in GOCT.  It’s one of those Soviet things that is just a quirk of this camera. This will give me a reading on the outer dial with my shutter speeds and F Stops combinations to nail that exposure! 

As with other Soviet-era rangefinders, the shutter-speed selector rotates when the shutter is released, and this should not be changed “until after” the shutter has been cocked. If you change the shutter speed before you cock the shutter first, the setting pin can be broken when you advance the film and cock the shutter!  Don’t even bother trying.  I never have, and it still works today!

Focussing is easy which is always something that catches my eye, no zone focussing, and it’s slightly different to the SLR.  As you saw in the video, there is a ghost image in the middle of the viewfinder and as soon as that ghost image disappears, it means that you have focussed successfully. 

Anyway, I paid my 15 Euros and a Ukrainian camera arrived two weeks later in an original box which is still in a display cabinet in my hallway.  The leather case still smells of leather! So I tried the damn thing out.  Worked out how to load the film which as completely foreign to me but still doable and not too demanding even for me.  It is supposed to be the street photography camera par excellence for a few reasons.  Firstly it looks pretty sexy around my neck and the leather is top notch without necessarily having a leather fetish, but each to his own!  You can use zone focussing with the lens as you can see at such and such an F-stop, the part of your photo which will be in focus is shown on the lens.  There is no mirror that slaps up, and the camera is relatively silent, and can be used to close to your subject and get that trendy and yet timeless street portrait.  Shooting from the hip. 

I can hear you saying, well thank you Ian for all this information.  Really great, and almost useful.  But pray tell, is it any good?  What’s it like to shoot with?  Is it worth me looking into? Can I buy you a Leica M6 for your birthday? 

Well Dear Reader, let me address your interrogations.  Firstly is it any good?  It is definitely slightly sexy and certainly looks the part! I wasn’t used to the focussing of a rangefinder but found the focussing to be spot on.  I’ll let you have a look at the photos and let you judge!  What’s it like to shoot with?  Once you get used to the way a Soviet camera functions it’s actually pretty neat!  What I do like is being able to get my exposition without having to look through the viewfinder.  You know that you’re going to be spot on, and indeed I was.  That’s half the battle won, which is what we’re all about.  It works mate, it works!  You need to be able to get that sot that you want and I think that’s pretty simple to do.  Is it worth me looking into?  All depends on what you’re looking for.  If you can get one for a relatively cheap price then get one just to try out; you can always sell on.  I certainly have no regrets and it’s still in my collection which just goes to show you!  Can I buy you a Leica M6 for your birthday?  Who am I to refuse such generosity?

The photos in this article were taken in Montaigu, Vendée  in 2016 and feature my daughter.  The film is Illford XP, which is a black and white film that is developed with colour film chemicals and processes.  C41 for those in the know.  It’s always strange seeing photos from nearly 6 years ago and I remember that outing with my daughter as if it were yesterday.  It was one of the ways I used to cope with my depression.  I might not know what day it was but I remember taking each photo.  We all cope in our own individual ways I suppose…

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you!

Everything is in the title, to be honest. It’s Boxing Day today, therefore the aftermath of Christmas. I hope you all had a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas. I have a cousin whose plans were altered because of COVID. The post on Facebook showed a beautiful London living room decorated for Christmas and you could feel the deception in her writing. Thankfully Covid doesn’t last forever, and this new south African variant seems slightly less menacing than the one from India. Is the old Empire trying to get back at the Mother country for past wrongs?

At the end of each year, we all seem to have this primaeval urge to analyse the year just gone by. With Christmas just finished, you’ll realise this when you watch the news with all the look-backs on 2021. This year has been yet another year that I haven’t seen my parents. All this Covid bollocks is annoying the shit out of me! I haven’t seen them since August 2019, and it’s long. Too long. I’m fortunate enough to still have my parents still alive, and I know that so many people have been left without since this Covid. At first, I tried to joke about it, but it’s not been a joke for quite some time. Our lives have changed in so many ways and we have seen our leaders being completely defenceless against it. Policies have been brought out, each one being even less coherent than the last ones. Boris has been caught out not obeying his own rules and has so much egg on his face that he could prepare an omelette for the entire country. He appears to be finished as people no longer want a posh bawdy wannabe comedian; I mean Prime Minister, lording it over them. In France, it appears to be just as ridiculous, with the Président Macron contradicting himself all the time and just shouting loudly to show that he is “managing” the crisis. People might accuse me of being a tad conspiratorial when I say that this crisis has been used to erode individual freedoms and “track” us even more than before. The one thing however that is not codswallop is the vaccine which I would urge all people to get. “Big pharma” definitely is making millions out of it all, but do we really have a choice in the matter. I don’t really fancy dying just yet and feel that I may still have things left to do in this strange life of mine.

Now that my mini-rant is over, I suppose it is now the moment to tell you all how our Christmas went. This might take some time, so please try to bear with me. It might even be worth the read. As always, I will try to start at the very beginning, which is still a good place to start. ABC and Do Ré Mi etc. Get out of my head Julie Andrews!!

The factory shut its doors on Wednesday at 5pm, and we were freed. No need to come back until the 3rd of January 2022. Might as well go home and try to get into the Christmas spirit, whatever that is. My short-term memory seems to take the mickey yet again. I know I went out with my daughter to Nantes for the day and we ended up in the pub eating fries and having a quiet glass of something with friends and just enjoying being together, which is what pubs are for, after all. The drinks are just a side attraction. I’ve just looked at my phone and it was last Saturday. Thank heavens we have our phones to tell us what we did. Anyway, it was on that evening that I said to my friends that I would try to come along to say hello on Thursday night before they shut for Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. Back on track. I sent a text to my wife that since we were both on holiday, then we would go for a drink at the pub, and then attempt vainly to get a table at a restaurant for a nice little something to eat. Full of optimism, I even texted my son to say that since it was going to be -2°C the next morning at 2am when he goes to work, that I would take him in. Strangely enough, he took me up on my offer. So off to work we went, and I asked when the “girlfriend” would come over. That night I was sent out by Madame to do the Christmas food shopping, and take my son to wash his bedding in anticipation of the “girlfriend’s” visit.

Driving to the shops, he let slip that it wasn’t even sure that she’d be there for Christmas. Oh, clucking bell! Red lights just started flashing, and the drama was just beginning. He looked so despondent, and above all didn’t want to “talk about it.” So that was that. I don’t know if bullshit tolerance is at an all-time low because of my age, or that I simply don’t need this shit anymore. My daughter was amazing at helping me with the shopping, and even packing it all away in the car boot. I know she’s at that “difficult” age, so I was just enjoying being a good guy for once, instead of Papa, who just understands nothing! Small mercies, people, small mercies! We picked up my son and his spotless sheets and went home. He would shower and then just go to bed because of his early start the next morning. My daughter had prepared something to eat in the microwave and everything was hunky-dory, even though a little subdued because of the mal-être of my son.

I arrived home and dumped the shopping in the kitchen.  My wife was getting ready for our date night and looked lovely!  We don’t get much time like that so every minute is so special.  I couldn’t get my poor upset son out of my mind.  Well, stop talking about it then.  Well, sorry for being concerned about my son.  But merde, we never go out, and just let them deal with their own shit!  I had been told and remembered that is more important to be kind than right and to choose my battles well.  This was not the time or place.  I kept driving and shut the f up!  Probably a wise decision.  

We arrived at the pub and said hi to people behind the bar and to other people that can be found behind the bar but not tonight.  They’re all friends anyway, and I do enjoy their company but tonight is date night.  I had some vitamin G, and Madame had a Leffe.  The restaurant is just across the street and yes, they had a table for two. You know that funny feeling you get when you kind of recognise the person sitting at the table next to you, but that’s all.  No precise idea.  Little did I know that the lady lived in Newcastle the year after we did, and moved back to France the year before we moved to the Vendée.  It turns out that it was the mother of a young friend that used to work in the pub and whose girlfriend still does.  Definitely a small world.  It also reminded me not to diss the French too much when I talk to my wife in English when out and about.  Or even about and out.  You never know.  I know that the French need to be put right on a wide variety of subjects, but it was still time to be kind and not right again….  Damn you conscience!!!

I was allowed a pint before going home.  Wonders never cease!  I saw the weather for the next day and sent a text to my son telling him it might well be raining at 2am and would he like me to take him to work at 2am.  Again, strangely he took me up on my offer.  I can hear my father telling me what a big softy I am, and my mother telling me that I am too soft.  Ah well…  There goes a day….  Again….

On the way to work, my son seemed slightly better than the previous evening, so I supposed they must have “talked things through.”  I knew that it was a tad early in the morning or in the middle of the night depending on your point of view, but since he was finishing at 11am I could have a lie-in.  Or at least that I what I told myself.  Little did I know that he would phone me at 8am telling me he had finished and could I please pick him up!  Oooh, the little bugger!!  Give me 10 minutes son, and I’ll be on my way…  10 minutes later I was indeed on my way to get him.  However, it was his turn to be nice to his old man.  I didn’t care if he was going to see his girlfriend for Breakfast, he was going to help me finish the Christmas shopping in the market in Clisson.  He carried everything back to the car for me.  Bless his little cotton socks. 

So this all sets the scene for Christmas Eve.  Virginie, bless her, would tidy the downstairs part of the house, whilst I would take Kate to Nantes, and eventually find some stocking fillers for the children. I would then be in the kitchen preparing the Christmas meal.  Boeuf Bourgignon, from a vintage recipe by a certain Constance Spry.  Those who know will just know!  I was busy as a little beaver, ok, let’s be serious for one moment, a rather large, middle-aged, and ever so slightly rotund beaver.  I am always wary of skinny people who cook…

Everyone was there.  Well, my wife had spent time preparing the salmon, fake caviar, and foie gras.  The “girlfriend” was taking photos with her new camera and a rather snazzy lens.  Everything is always fine when we just talk about photography.  My daughter, or so it would seem, decided that she no longer wished to have her photo taken.  I know this is a cue for me to put my camera down and change subjects.  The “girlfriend” however, did not.  Oh, bugger.  Here we go again.  The shit storm had just been let loose and words were said and things just got shouty all of a sudden.  

I had an “Oh bollocks!” moment.  We had a situation Houston.  I had a screaming 12-year-old in the living room, two very young adults in my son’s rooms arguing about how Kate had been mean.  Female violence is not like male violence.  Men will just kick several tons of crap out of each other, and then go and have a beer and get over it.  It would appear that this isn’t the same approach with ladies, where one will talk about an unclean hob, and what happened to her brother.  I know it was low, but don’t go down that road.  It’s not good.  So my wife came down and asked what the hell was going on, and I had been in the kitchen creating culinary miracles so I only had second hand and possibly biased information.  

Situation report for everyone.  One 12 year old in her room feeling shitty for having ruined Christmas, two you adults arguing in their room, over analysing everything and getting everything wrong.  One furious wife, and how dare they ruin her bloody fucking Christmas, and they had bloody well get a fucking move on downstairs because everything was ready.  At the precise moment I was wanting to put on body armour, and a helmet and take cover.  I would have been quite happy to go and take cover in my own room and sod the food.  A cheese sandwich would have been fine, we could always eat the stuff on Christmas Day!  

It is better to be kind and not right, and it was time for a cheese sandwich however appealing it might seem at that very moment.  Who could imagine that some cream cheese on one slice of bread, Branston pickle on another slice of bread, and a couple of slices of mature cheddar, could make a rather large, middle-aged, and ever so slightly rotund beaver, rather happy and forget WW3 that was starting.  The children were told how furious my wife was and how they had better bloody well come downstairs this bloody instant.  The “girlfriend” said she was going to see her mother.  Oh clucking bell, here we go again but assured us that she would be back soon.  I took cover on the sofa, and eventually, the “girlfriend” came back, and my daughter had remembered how it had been decided that presents would be opened at the apréro.  The daughter went to tell the lovebirds that it was time to come down for the presents.  Two attempts were needed but her peacekeeping skills were amazing.  Five people around my table were no longer wanted to kill each other, but open presents.  Peace had come back to the proceeding.  Our own little Christmas miracle.

The youngsters spent Christmas Day with her family, and therefore not my problem anymore.  My daughter stayed with us.  I sent a text message to our neighbour asking if she wanted to come round for tea, or drinks.  Seeing what time it was I knew it would be drinks.  Ah well.  Into the breach once again!  It was nice.  I was calm.  I spoke to my parents who indeed told me how soft I am with that lad, and how Christmas can lead to a little drama.  I think that I am not a fan of drama.