La Rentrée 2021

My Dear Reader, welcome to yet another article where I will try to find something interesting or witty to tell you.  I have neglected you over August, but as most French people do, I closed shop and was on holiday.  Since Covid and the world going base over apex, my company has decided that we only need three weeks’ holiday in August compared to the more traditional four weeks.  I am about to sing the praises of my wife, so for those of you who hate the luvvy-duvvy side of things, turn away now.  I take it you have all turned away.  

For the first ten days of my holidays, I was camping in my living room. My wife and I literally carried our bed downstairs and set up camp.  That was the less agreeable part of those first ten days.  However, my wife had decided to decorate our bedroom and change all the furniture and replace it with nice new furniture from the infamous Swedish flat-pack place that we all know.  I have a love-hate relationship with flat packs.  Firstly, they’re heavy and hardly fit into the car without all the seats down and your wife in the back of the car telling you how to drive, you bloody moron!  Secondly, they take up an awful amount of space in the garage whilst your wife gets to grips with decorating the room.  Painting the ceiling, putting up wallpaper you agreed to ages ago because it’s easier and you love avoiding conflict.  You don’t sleep well because everything feels strange in the living room and it’s hot too.  Thirdly, they have to be taken upstairs to be put together and there’s always something missing, and you know it’s going to be your fault, you useless fool!  

Anyway, with the help of friends, my son, and a mad screaming bitch, sorry, wife, we now have a haven of peace.  We not only have a haven of peace, but fitted wardrobes that took three days to put together, but look great, and I have a cabinet for all my photography gear and, most importantly, a desk.  

She is a champion, and let me assure you all, she has become human again!  It has been a life-changer.  

During the pre-let’s get this done otherwise I’ll go mad, clear out, we found some films that needed to be developed.  You do not know what might lurk on those reels of film, but you tell yourself that you must have taken them, so it shouldn’t be too bad.  I took in 9 rolls of film in.  I was told by the amiable lady that if any of them hadn’t been exposed that there would be no charge for the development.   Seems fair.

I returned to get the films and the contact sheets.  That still sweet lady told me I would be in for a surprise!  She was right.  I looked through the sheets of paper and saw images of my son, who was still a toddler, and having baths, and being dried by his mother and his godmother.  It took me right back to the end of the last century!  My beard was in colour in those days!

Encouraged by all this photographic success, I went out and took even more photos.  For those of you who follow me on Twitter, or Instagram you will have seen the stories and saw the cameras for the day: the Mamiya C220, and the Pentax ME Super, which were both gifts from a former teacher, and now a friend of mine!  Merci Mr McM!  

I do like taking photos and using cameras.  There’s something I don’t think you knew!!  It was good to be back out.  I am now double jabbed. Thank you to that lovely lady at the chemists who reassured me and said that I wasn’t the only guy in the world that has a phobia of injections.  Not only am I double jabbed, but I also have my Covid Passport, so I can go to the pub again without having part of my brain scraped out by a nurse with a long plastic thingy!  I have rejoined the general population.  

If you’re wondering what the French title of this article is doing there, let me explain.  Quickly though, I’m already at 750 words here.  The Rentrée is the re-entry into normal daily life after the summer holidays where people just weren’t there.  The children go back to school.  Those of use in employment, go back to that employment.  Our extracurricular activities start again.  Last night was my first wind band rehearsal in over a year (thank you, COVID), and it feels as if some relative normality has come back into my life.  

Back to the photos.  I shot the square photos on the Mamiya C220, using Ilford HP5+ film shot at box speed, developed in Ilfosol 3, and I took the other photos on the Pentax ME Super, using Fomapan 100 film developed in the same chemistry.  Fine grain with the Fomapan and not something I’m used to, but a change is good, right? Oh, and I took them at the Hangar à Bananes, and HAB Gallerie in Nantes.

Persona Non Grata

This article is an opinion piece and might be contrary to your own opinions. If that is a trigger for you, then wait for the next article where I will probably talk about walking the dog and show photos from the village. If you’re fine with that, however, then read on.

In many ways, this will be a mere annoyance. If I really want, I can have the famous PCR test and have a probe inserted into my nostrils and then receive a code that I can scan into my phone, to show everyone how safe I am. I can then go to the pub, and even have dinner in a restaurant. Not the most pleasant of medical procedures, but it will afford me a certain liberty and normality. But I also have a healthy disrespect for authority. Sorry Mummy!

For the moment, these nasal insertions have been free, or rather covered by the Social Security and Health Authority contributions that come off my salary each month. Also, it has allowed people to be tested for Covid and know if they are infected or not. As the President said on the 12th of July “Cet automne, les fameux tests PCR seront rendus payants, sauf prescription médicale, et ceci afin d’encourager la vaccination plutôt que la multiplication des tests.” This Autumn, the infamous PCR tests will be charged, except with a medical prescription, to encourage people to vaccinate instead of having multiple tests.

I get the logic behind this. They will bill each test 50€ to the Social Security, and they want to reduce costs and get people vaccinated. I, unlike others, have nothing against vaccines, except for Astra Zeneca and Johnson and Johnson, where being a Catholic I can’t support something that used aborted foetuses to make them. However, I am against the obligation to vaccinate, and wish it could remain a choice. In France all Medical staff will be required to be vaccinated by law and those who wish to exercise their right to refuse a medical intervention, will be declared inapt to work, and will be eventually fired.

It’s so easy to get on your soapbox and talk about all kinds of codswallop. Words like dystopian society spring to mind when I read governmental policy. Another would be coercion. The authorities can be there as a guide, but as soon as that guidance translates into a more interventionist policy, maybe the authorities have overridden that guidance role. When governments get that far, are they serving the population that voted them in, or are they serving themselves? I’m not just accusing Macron and his government. The finger could be pointed just as well to Boris… then there was the evil villain Trump, followed by the rather weak Biden. I am worried about this becoming a global political trend.

The next statement will be the most controversial in this article. I believe most of humanity has the same goal, which is the desire to look after his family in the best manner possible. I am a father, living in France, and I bet that a father living in Afghanistan just wants the same thing for his children that I do. IE that they will be happy and live in a world of peace.

Wow, that wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be. For the more liberal of you, you could insert community, etc for family. I’m a moderate conservative. I like to think that just because I don’t fully espouse your views; I don’t hate you. This can be quite a radical notion in a society that likes to pit people against each other. Read a newspaper and you will see that through its reporting of events that it is trying to divide more than unite. This is impervious to the political leaning of the publication. I think it’s even worse on the Internet. There are so many videos from the very conservative that are there telling how to destroy a liberal through argument. How awful is that? Why should I seek to destroy my opponent? Should I not try to convince him of my position respecting him as a human being, just like me, with dreams and hopes for the future?

Hello Dear Reader

It has been a quiet three weeks over here in France.  I went to see my wife’s family in Brittany, and strangely enough I could go out, take some pretty photographs, and not get any grief from my mother-in-law.  Yes, miracles can happen. 

England and football had definitely come home just before buggering off to Rome.  Those three poor lads who missed penalties and got so much flack for it.  Disgusting.  I listened to the match on the radio in the car on the way home, but got home before the penalties, which would have been too horrible to listen to.  At least we got further than France, and beat Germany.  Small mercies, people, small mercies!  

My eejit son got back with his ex-girlfriend, but apparently with “different rules,” and “different bases,” and asked me to accept everything wholeheartedly.  Very optimistic, that boy!  There are more red flags in that relationship than in the last Congress of the Chinese Communist Party… And to quote the genius that is Forrest Gump, “and that is all I have to say about that…”  I’ve been forbidden from saying anything else. It happens, I suppose…

They have jabbed once me.  I think there is definitely a conspiracy about the COVID vaccinations.  Why don’t the injections hurt like hell, the way they used to when I was a child???  What is this utter madness?  As of the 21st July, the “passe sanitaire” has been imposed, firstly on theme parks, cinemas, and libraries, where more than 50 people can gather.  As of the 1st August, you cannot go to restaurants, cafés, shopping centres, and basically anywhere where everyday French life happens.  The President sounds like a scratched record, vaccinnez vous, vaccinnez vous!  Strangely enough, people are starting to feel a little iffy about the whole situation.

There are now huge demonstrations against this “passe sanitaire” and people are comparing it to the “Ausweis” that people had to carry about during the Occupation.  Has Macron committed political suicide?  Many are hoping so.  I’m for people being vaccinated but want it to remain a choice.  Aren’t we free to refuse a medical act?  Have Liberté, Égalité, et Fraternité, just disappeared from France?  Many think so.

A friend had his 26th birthday, so the weekend before, I took him up to Nantes to buy him his present.  As we are still allowed to frequent cafés etc, we enjoyed ourselves and only had two teas, and one visit to the pub.  Such restraint!  I was amazed.  I could have taken him to at least another two places.  He dared to tell as we were ordering tea number two, that he was no longer hungry!  I quipped, you don’t need to be hungry to eat this…  These youngsters!

I am still allowed to wander the streets of France, and might keep doing it and my goal, this week, is to take some photos of the Voyage à Nantes Art festival!  I might not be able to sit down and have a pint, but I’ll be a brave boy about it! Yipeeeeee!

The Father

I’m not going to talk about the new film with Anthony Hopkins, where we see the effects of Alzheimer’s on an elderly man.  No, I am going to talk a little bit about my own father, as everyone in the family knows, is destined for the Sainthood.  I have been made to swear by my mother not to talk about private lives of family members, so I will try not to give too much away.

I phoned my parents on Friday and everything was great at home, my mother going out to play golf, and my father going out to play bridge with the boys.  I said I would phone them later during the week. I hear people complaining that they haven’t seen their parents for x months over COVID.  I haven’t seen my parents since August 2019, so please, for the love of God, stop complaining and count your blessings!

On Tuesday night, after work, I called home.  My mother answered the saying how they had had a bit of an“eventful weekend”, and that my father had had a heart attack.  So having stolen my father’s thunder, she said she would pass him over; John do have the phone upstairs?  He did, and we started  talking.

As you may know, I live in France, and I don’t think I’m giving too much away saying that my parents live in the UK.  In some respects it could be on the other side of the world, seeing as how we can’t see each other.  But over lockdown we have “heard” each other.  But what about the now ubiquitous “Zoom” meeting I hear you saying.  You can “see” each other with that.  My mother, bless her, is a technophobe and zoom is something from the realm of science-fiction. 

So, I was allowed to talk to my now thunderless father, and asked, what did I just hear?  Have you been trying to be interesting again?  I was given the low-down and got all the medical details.  I still don’t get it.  He was a high level athlete as a young man, not a huge drinker, nor a total abstainer, we seem to mistrust them.  He is not what one could call a “big lad” as I am.  He eats very healthily.  It was just bad luck, and blocked arteries.

It’s the kind of situation that puts you right up against your own mortality, and I have friends of my age who have lost their parents, and not in the fishing aisle in the sports shop. I am constantly aware of how far I am and how helpless that makes me feel. I love both my parents with all my heart, and dread “that” phonecall and hoping that althought enevitable, I will never have to face it. I asked as politely as I could if he could possibly refrain from dying please, until I actually manage to get over to the UK for my next visit, next summer.  He said he would try and I hung up, knowing that everything was fine with him.  It was as if the weekend had been less eventful, verging on the boring.  But it does give you a bit of a scare.  It’s not always nice living so far away.

Post Scriptum

Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

A certain Ben Franklin

The envibility of death is ompnipresent in our world, some being closer to it than others. Do I want to die? Not really. Am I ready to die? As a Catholic I woud prefer to get to confession first. Some see death as a deliverence, and I think it was Voltaire who said, “The man who, in a fit of melancholy, kills himself today, would have wished to live had he waited a week.” I think he also said it was the only real way to say Merde, to God. Death is part of life and I think not to be feared. But I would prefer that certain people would hang around for a little longer so they can share even more of their wisdom, their sense of justice, and above all, their love!

 

It pays to be a winner

At school I wasn’t a winner.  Not really.  There was one time at prep school when I won the First form prize, which was a book about birds.  I still have it! I once entered a competition to win a first day cover of stamps featuring various fish native to British rivers, and won the first day cover as well as postcards of the stamps.  I wasn’t a great sportsman, something which seems to have followed me through my life and therefore didn’t have the chance to win a cap for my school.  Whilst I used to wear green for a living, I would often hear the phrase, “It pays to be a winner gentleman,” being yelled by certain junior NCO’s.  I was of course never that winner, so would have to repeat the exercise with all the other losers.

You get used to being a loser.  In certain respects, it’s great because you don’t have to bother yourself with that maternal ambition that was imposed on you.  It lowers your expectations and you get used to accepting your fate in life.   You ramble along, as you may have seen and read Dear Reader, I am a rambler.  I was fine with that.

Then of course I moved to France.  Try being English in France.  Then again maybe don’t.  It’s worse than being French in the UK.  They lost WW2, yet celebrate VE Day every 8th May.  Oh sweet Caroline, I mean irony!  But that’s fine.  It’s in their mind-set of being the inheritors of the Glory of France.  Then the bastards went and won the World Cup in 1998.  They are ghastly when victorious, and I remember saying to myself, they’re going to talk about this for 20 years…  20 years came and went, and they only went and won the bloody thing a second time!!!

Whenever they beat us at rugby, I am inundated with mentions of how great they are, and yet when we beat them, I am allowed to remain silent and hide in my office!  This losing does have a tendency to teach you about humility.

Now I will talk about the B word, yes, Brexit.  As I may have let slip, I am a remainer, and therefore “lost” the vote in 2016.  Since that time, my life here in France has been in suspended animation, suspended rather than animated.  My future was dependant on a “deal”.  Then Boris came along.  I was going to be buggered one more time, yet despite the odds, we “won” an agreement that would allow me to stay here.  But knowing the French, nothing was certain.  That uncertainty doesn’t help a guy’s mental health and Brexit has taken it’s toll on me.  But less of the grumbling. 

On the 22nd June, 2021, I receive an email from the prefecture telling me to come and see them on the 9th July, with this mail, my old carte de séjour, my residency card, which allowed me to remain in France, and will allow me to remain further.  I arrived here in France on the 9th of July 1994, to start the rest of my life.  I got that mail, read it, and had tears welling up.  For the first time in 5 years, I was turning into a winner.

That week I entered a competition on Instagram.  One of those things where you win a basket full of samples from a shop, and you have to like the post, post the names of two people on the comments, and they will announce the winner in a story.  This was for a shop that sold CBD products and I thought why the hell not.   Well when the story came out announcing the winner you’ll never guess who won.  Yes me!!!  So for a perpetual loser like me, this was amazing.  I was high on the positive vibes.  Things are calmer at home and at work, and I have less pain in my arthritic knee.  Maybe it does pay to be a winner after all. 

I am not a fan of Shadenfreude, except when France is the cause of it.  In the Euro 2020 competition, happening in 2021 because of Covid, no winners there really, France was knocked out of the tournament by Switzerland. I haven’t said a word about it at work.  Wouldn’t be cricket after all.  Oh and we beat Sri Lanka in the Cricket too!  On Tuesday night there was the fateful match, between Germany and England, and I don’t want to hear anything about two world wars and on world cup!!  Even though…. We beat them, for this first time in a tournament in the knock out stages since 1966 when we beat them in the world cup…  The English side of me was very happy, and yet I have been gracious in victory and not mentioned it at work to my French colleagues despite the desperate urge to do so.  Even if I were to mention it, it would be wasted on them and wouldn’t be cricket!  Damn you gracious VICTORY!

The Natural History Museum, Nantes

The following story is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  It is all lies.  Who was it that said; never let the truth get in the way of a good story?  As with most good stories, this one is about a group of friends that met in a pub.  One was an English Irishman, or Irish Englishman, I haven’t quite made up my mind yet, a Welshman, who we shall call Dafydd, a Frenchman we shall call Thibaut, and a half Spannish, half Colombian girl, who lookd like a super model and who tried to convince me to take up Keto.  Later we were joined by two Albanian girls, their brother, and the dog, who was a boy and not a girl, as my Welsh friend Dafydd thought.  Throw into this melting pot, a French Artist, that we shall call Lucy, anything to protect the innocent, and we have all the characters!

My mate Dafydd, had been trying to get me down to the pub for a week, and for some reason, and against all my wishes, I couldn’t.  However, the evening before Father’s Day was the perfect opportunity.  Son was off with friends having a party and somebody’s house, and I don’t even want to know any of the gory details.  But, as the big softie that I am, and because it was raining like a cow having a pee, as they say in French, who had obviously been having a great time drinking beer, hadn’t found the toilets, and just as he was arriving in the barn needed to pee and couldn’t hold on, and just let go, I took them in the car and dropped them off.  No cats and dogs here matey!    My daughter had been very persistent in asking her mother to go to the cinema to see a Japanese manga cartoon, and my wife had obviously been softer than I had, and had agreed to take her.  Offer it up to the Holy Souls Darling.  Kate loved it which is a good thing I suppose. 

I was on my own and decided to take up my friend’s offer of meeting down the infamous pub in Nantes, where my nose just seems to lead me every time.   I was suitably smart casual, and the beard looked better than Papa Smurf’s!  I reached the pub, said hi to everyone, bought my over priced, but never the less, wonderful pint of Guinness and sat down at my friend’s table.  Introductions were made, and the evening had started.  Dafydd was on great form, and jokes started flying, not all of which I could repeat here, in order to protect your chaste ears Dear Reader.  We discussed the origins of sheep jokes, which we all seemed to find ball breakingly funny.  Apparently, the Welsh would steal sheep along the English border to annoy the English.  The punishment for which was having your arm cut off.  The punishement for shagging them was only to be severly whipped, so the Welsh would slyly say that they only wanted to have sex with them.  Laughs, were being laughed, and being as infectious as the dreaded lurgey.  Laughing turned into Dafydd flirting outrageously with the Albanian girls and us teasing him, but gently.  He “is” our friend after all.  Apparently three minutes of heaven is better than two minutes of heaven!  All of a sudden, this young thirty something pretty girl walks up and sits with us.  To me, anyone in their thirties is young.  She was a friend of Dafydd’s.  I will call her Lucy, so as to protect the innocent. I learnt she was an artist and we started talking about her art.  She had an expo on at the Nantes natural history Museum, allying art and science.  I said I would have to go a long the next day and see it.  I don’t think she believed me.  It was one of the last days of the French curfew, so at 23h Dave came along and said we needed to finish our drinks and go home.  So, we did!  You don’t disagree with Dave!

Fast forward to the next morning.  The morning of Father’s Day.  That one day of the year, where my kids feel guilty and are nice to me for the day.  Kate came up asking which tea I wanted.  This was turning into a very agreeable morning.  Themnall of a suuden, my daughter turned into a she-devil, and started yelling that she didn’t like caramel, and stormed off into her room slamming the door.  Well that was unexpected.  It transpired that my son had been to the bakery, and had got her a little something. That something was based on caramel, and she threw the something into the bin in disgust.  My wife and son might quite have liked to have tasted this caramel thing and were equally as disgusted with Kate.  Welcome to my perfectly dysfunctional family!  However, he came up stairs with  a pain au chocolat aux amandes, which as I may have explained before, is the crack cocaine of French Patisserie, and also a favourite of mine.  You can diabetes just by looking at it!

Eventually Kate calmed down and became human again, and by the time I was ready to go out, she was fine.  I took my camera, my daughter, and the car, ventured into Nantes and even found a parking space.  Now my daughter is 11 and has been known to be a little “difficult” with the kind of places we visit, but everything seemed good for the moment.  She enjoyed the fossils and the different kinds of rock and stones, and we both agreed that one actually looked like a willy.  Hey, it made us laugh. We saw skeletons, and the massive collection of taxidermy.  Towards the end of the visit, we arrived at the exhibit I had wanted to see the most. The young thirtysomething’s exhibition.  To say I was blown away would be putting it mildly.  Her art was amazing and can be seen in the gallery below, or you can visit it like we did at the Natural History Museum in Nantes.  I can’t sing her praises loudly enough!

We finished our day by going to my favourite place in Nantes, the John Mc Byrne Irish pub.  We came out of the car park, looked up at the sky and thought, hmmmm, it won’t be long before it rains.  I saw a flash and three seconds later heard the deafening thunder.  Strangely enough, our pace quickened slightly.  We got to the corner of the street where the pub is and the heavens opened up on us.  The umbrella, which was there to give us a false sense of security, and maybe even keep us dry, was a complete fallacy, and proved to be bloody useless, I mean unfit for purpose.  We arrived at the pub, and were soaked through.  As we looked out of the window, there was a small stream forming in the middle of the street.  You had to be there to really grasp the severity of that poor cow that needed to pee…

We eventually made our way home and finished by getting for Monday morning.  Yes those Sunday evening blues.  The photos from that eventful day, were taken on the Canon 6D Mark 2, with the Helios 44-2 analogue lens, and then I switched to the Canon 16-35 F4 lens for those super wide shots.