Happy New Year?

Happy New Year Dear Reader, and thank you for continuing to read my twice monthly drivel that spews forth from my  obviously damaged mind. Maybe it’s reassuring for you to have somebody madder than yourself?  Or maybe I just admit it and embrace it!

I think at the beginning of any year we always look back to the previous year and basically just hope for the best. That’s  exactly what I did in 2019 and look where it got us!  So this year I’m going to look back and search for the great positivity from 2020. 

I think many of us would describe 2020 as the shittiest of years for a long time.  We were introduced to Covid and saw a lot of our everyday freedoms curtailed in quite a disconcerting manner.  Our dear President Manu, declared that we were at war with this deadly virus.  And made sure the press scared us into complying with some very draconian policies to “protect” us.  So to those who are still alive I say, well done!  To those of us who are still alive I  say, don’t forget those who didn’t make it.  I’m not going to go into inflated figures of Covid related deaths and all the conspiracy theories that might exist, because when you’re  dead, you’re  dead, Covid or no Covid. 

At the beginning of my year I am usually on holiday from work and will think how far away August seems until we get to go on holiday again.  I, like many of my colleagues with look to the month of May, and its streak of bank holidays, labour day on the 1st of May, VE Day on the 8h of May, even though France at best came in a slight second, Whit Monday, and Ascension Thursday.  We are looking to see if it is a worker’s year, or a year for the bosses.

Let me explain to the non French of you.  In France we have a concept that is a wonderful thing, called “le pont” or the bridge.  If a public holiday falls on a Thursday; we get the Friday off too, and the same for a Tuesday; we get the Monday off. If the holiday is on a Wednesday, you get the Wednesday off.  You can’t  win ’em all!

I’ve  just checked on the calendar, and this year it’s half and half.  The 1st and the 8th are on Saturdays, so tough!

Right, now that you know about the concept, you will realise that we look to the month of May as being a way to get a couple of long , and most importantly, paid, weekends.  The weather is usually good and gives us a foretaste of Summer.  Brilliant right?  It also helps “bridge” the gap between January and August, which can be very long otherwise.

Well in 2020 all bets were off.  We discovered a new concept that year. The concept of lockdown.  On the 17th of March, the country went into lockdown, which was basically house arrest, but you’re allowed out to buy groceries, to get one hour’s exercise a day, but that’s  it. Translated into reality the country pressed the pause button, and everyone was put on furlough, with 85% of net pay paid by the government, and the rest by the company.

House arrest isn’t a very positive term, so let’s  make it more positive.  At the Eve of Saint Patricks Day, my local supermarket stocked up on Guinness and put it on special offer!  Daddy was going to have some special Daddy time, and not have to worry about going into work the next day. My son had set up clandestine meetings with his new girlfriend, and despite our protests decided to go out and visit her.  Sex is a powerful driving force…  we said that it would be silly to pay a fine of 135€ just for that.  The following week she moved in with us and spent the whole of lockdown with us.  That brought a certain animation into our lives and despite the intensity of it all, it could have been a lot worse. 

It also afforded me time to rest. I mean proper rest.  A rest from everyday life.  Not like a holiday rest, but a rest never the less.  It made us realise how speical such a moment can be.  It allowed us time to be physically present with each other in a way that “normal life’ doesn’t afford us.  It allowed us to discover a new person. With faults, but also great qualities. The first being that she is a cheap drunk, which in our family who has had a great fondness for drink drinks for generations is really a blessing.  I’m  not saying that we are all alcoholics, despite our Irish roots, but we do partake and enjoy a drink drink. As opposed to a drink, which is left for total abstainers which are a curse on humaity. 

I discovered that my daughter has a fondness for making cakes, and not only just of making them, but is quite good at it.  This brings joy to my heart, as I too, have a fondness for cakes, especially eating them!

We lost track of time, and with hindsight, I realise what a luxury that is.  We all have our phones on constant alert, we all have things to do, we all like to consider ourselves busy, but there,  we were all on hold. Not just people like me but everyone.  Yes, I’m  talking about you, celebrities.  Those people on TV,   those people on our screens.  We saw them trying to prove how they were still relevant on various podcasts, and showing what they looked like without the glamour and  how like us they were, in their massive houses, with massive kitchens, and how in reality they look as shitty as we do on a morning after having had some drink drinks.   I think they burst the bubble and broke the illusion of magic that surrounds them. That’s  an other great thing about Covid.  It showed us the sameness of humanity.  People in my little council house were under the same restrictions as those in mansions. Money and fame couldn’t protect them.  Talk about a level playing field. 

It gave me time also to get back into film photography and my greatest achievement was to conquer my film funk.  I discovered what I had been doing wring and no longer make that mistake. 

Towards the end of that first month of lockdown, cracks were staring to appear, but we still managed to get along enough so as not to kill eachother before Covid would.

I came out of lockdown early in order to go back to work on the 20th of April. As you know I am a big lad, and my BMI is above a certain level which could have allowed me to remain on lockdown and not go back to work.  But as I said to my boss, I’m  not going to get any thinner by staying at home, and the idea of having somebody in “my” stores, not working the way I did was abhorrent.  At the time I was also the only person working in my stores that knew all the products etc…  I was therefore allowed back.

Restrictions were gradually lifted and we came out of our shelters with our masks on, and started to look forward to Summer.  A trip to the UK was definitely out of the question, and my little getaway to Hull, would be cancelled.  I negotiated well and got all my money back. I was one of the lucky ones.  By early July travel restrictions had been lifted and as I had some time off from work, I took my daughter to Paris for the Day.  I rediscovered the  capital after having beem away for 20 years.  I also got to spend some quality time with my daughter.  We had the chance to meet up as a wider family, so for the Fête Nationale, and met up with other membres of the French family to celebrate.  Thanks to Sean Tucker and his very educative videos, I had launched myself into the world of portrait photography and was fortunate to have some willing victims to be portraited…  We even celebrated the 60th birthday of a great friend too. It felt almost normal again. 

August saw me going back to Paris twice and loving the capital as much as ever.  I’ll be back!

Spetember seemed to be very normal, but mask wearing seemed to be coming back into fashion. This would not be your typical rentrée. Even in  the windband things were going to change as lockdown 2.0 came info force.  Lockdown 2.0 was an awful lot like what I lived through in April.  Everyday freedoms taken away, except I could still go to work, and al5hough regearsals, they had changed and we were spaced out in the rehearsal romsphyically I mean of course. No mushroomswere harmed in any way.  Come Novemeber concerts were cancelled and we discovered curfews, but only in certain counties.  But it was all just putting off the inevitable further lockdown. 

Christmas was relatively normal and we were allowed to go to the non essential shops again on the 15th of December.  The government installed a nationwide curfew, but would not enforce it for Christmas.  It was good to be together again as a family and celebrate a very special birth.  Don’t worry, I’m  not going to give my Christmas sermon about how God the Son, part of the Holy Trinity, allowed himself to experience a full humanity, and human fragility. Born not as King, despite being God.  Humanity, human fragility, and exceptional humility. 

New Year’s Eve technically was under curfew. My wife had decided to get the house looking ship shape for that evening’s meal.  That means that it is a wonderful opportunity to bugger off and not be there to annoy her by just existing and breathing. 

Last Year I had buggered off to Nantes and spent the afternoon and early evening taking photos of the Hangar  à Bananes, so this year decided to do something else. This might just be turning info a tradition…  possibly…

Over the two weeks of holidays, my sleep has gone haywire, and although I sleep enough hours it is a broken sleep. Today it would be different. I had decided to bugger off to the beach in Noirmoutier and would enjoy the sun coming up over the last day of this rather “particular” year. The alarm went off at 6am. You see how serious I was? My camera kit was in the car. I shut the car boot and my cup of tea fell off the car roof and broke. It was as if 2020 wanted to get the last laugh. Bitch! I still got off on time and the road took me past my factory. Thankfully I didn’t stop and kept going. I arrived at the supermarket in Noirmoutier at opening time, and decided to go and have a pee in the supermarket toilets.

I went into the toilets and discovered the light was broken. I wasn’t going to pee in the sink, which has been an option, albeit an emergency option in the past. Luckily I had my phone, and used the torch on that to light my way. I got my sandwich and went back to the car. Ate the sandwich, and headed off to my final destination. The rest as the say is history, and you will see the pictures at the end if this article.

So now you’re pretty much up to date. I have seen may Instagram stories being rather rude about 2020, and how shitty it was and how 2021 can only get better. But taking stock, 2020 was a good year. People got together against a common foe, people realised that life has more important lessons for than Facebook. People realised that there are so many more important things in life, like family, and freinds, and the importance of all these social interactions that have been withheld from us. I know now where my priorities lie, and how much I treasure them. Has it been easy? Not every day. But with vaccines coming out, maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe i will even be able to get back and visit the UK despite Brexit. Maybe Brexit might even work. A free trade agreement is all that Britain ever wanted anyway. 2021 will undoubtedly have its own set of challenges but 2020 has shown us that we can get through things that might seem impossible. Let us hope so anyway!

Merry Fu**ing Christmas

I’m presenting another entry for the « Understatement of the Year 2020” competition.  It’s been a strange kind of year.  I’m wondering how I am coming out of it.  Trigger warning, I may talk about mental health in this article so get over it pussies!  Normally at this time of year, I’m never really good and this year is no exception.

I think I may have given you the image of my mental health being like a wave.  At the moment I’m going back down.  People try to practice gratitude for everything as a way of ‘curing’ depression as if it were a rather fine ham for the Christmas table.  Well not me.  I should be happy.  I’m on holiday in 2 and a half days’ time for two weeks.  I should be happy, but I’m not.  I have a loving family.  I should be happy, but I’m not.  I have a roof over my head, and my family wants for nothing.  I should be happy, but I’m not.  When I think back to the ‘actual’ Christmas where Joseph was carrying his pregnant wife to Bethlehem, and couldn’t find a place to stay.  Air BnB hadn’t been invented, and he shouldn’t have been happy, but he was.  There was joy in his heart.  I should be grateful for all I have, and yet…

I have food from home.  The kind of stuff I can’t get over here, and I should be happy, but I’m not.  It’s awful.  Yeah, I forgot the Bisto for the Christmas dinner, you useless fool.  You have so much to be thankful for, and because you’re an ungrateful little shit, you feel even more guilty.  I can’t go to mass.  Last year I could and did.  I went to the Cathedral in Nantes and remember crying with joy at hearing the beautiful music from the organ.  I remember feeling physically moved and the music just passed right through me.  But not this year.  A Rawandan immigrant had been refused a residency permit, and the Bishop though he would employ the man as a janitor, and the guy who would lock the place up every evening.  The guy got rather upset about getting kicked out of the country and decided that he would burn the place down.  That beautiful 400 year old organ is no longer there and it breaks my heart.   There’s an article about that somewhere here.

That was last year.  This year is slightly different.  This year we discovered a virus, named after a light beer, and then the aforementioned beer producer found an other name that wouldn’t hurt its brand.  I present COVID 19.  A crappy name with an unobvious prime number.   We found out what it was like to be under house arrest, I mean lockdown.  We were told not to touch people and avoid people.  An introvert’s dream you might say, but I still maintain that we are a social animal, and when you take that away, we suffer mental health consequences.  Then they decided that, “oh shit, the economy is going down the drain, so you all have to go back to work, but have to wear shitty masks that you will end up becoming allergic too, whilst looking as if you have a speedo on your face, and when you beard pokes through, it looks as if you have pubic hair that needs clipping.”  You are not allowed to congregate at the coffee machine, and not allowed to stand next to eachother.

Then Summer came along, and the government said you can all go off on holiday, and so it seemed that the virus had done the same.  People felt as if the phoney war had ended and that it would all be over by Christmas.  I still can’t remember what I did this Summer.  Not because of Covid, but my brain just went on strike.  I know I got some good photos, and apparently, I went to Paris, but it’s all a blur, and I’m not talking about the band from the Nineties!

We could even go to the pub.  Then they said, that you still had to wear masks, but as soon as you sat down you could take them off etc.  This Covid Prime can’t infect you if you’re sitting down, having a pint and financially supporting the Guinness family!  Height restrictions and all that.  They had to move tables further apart, and then the Government said you had to close at 10pm and take a register of clients, with their phone numbers.  This was of course done, and then the G man said, well, you’re going to have to close anyway.  We’re going to launch the sequel to Lockdown, to be known as Lockdown II, the Sequel, not coming to cinemas near you because they’re shut too!  But for all those people not working in offices, you can still go into work but you have to come home straight away afterwards and you can’t meet up with your friends, etc..

Then they said OK we’ve finished messing with you.  Lockdown II is over.  Yayyyy, I can go out where the heck I like and don’t have to have a piece of paper saying where I’m going.  I can go to anywhere in the country I like.  I still can’t eat out of have a drink, or do anything remotely cultural, oh and the twist is that I have to be back home by 20h and can’t go out before 6h.  Bastards!

In other news recently in, a vaccine has been discovered.  Hang on, no that’s not right.  Three vaccines have been discovered.  The Chinese and Russians even have one, but they don’t count apparently on the news.  Not only have they been tested, but they have been approved!  But you can’t have one you fat slob.  Stop eating, and exercise, and loose weight!  You’re way down the priority list.  Nope, they’re for care workers, old dying people, the older people who aren’t dying yet, and then slightly less old people that aren’t dying, but not dead yet, and so on.  If you’re already dead, then you’re not eligible, oops…  #toolatemotherfucker  It’s either a very sick joke or somebody, somewhere, knows something.  And what is Bill Gates going to gain by being able to remotely control old people from a distance anyway?  Are they going to get uppity and rebel when the tea trolley doen’t have any more Chocolate digestives?  Other digestives are available, just not for the old people!  They’re probably going to go strike and die just out of spite.  We went through the war etc!

Now they’re talking about bubbles.  Bubbles are no longer about blowing, but are about families without the blowing.  All depends on the family I suppose.  I can have people in my bubble over for Christmas.  But not because the government said so.  I live in France, and they said that the curfew wouldn’t be enforced on Christmas Eve so people could gather, but only six adults at a time.  But if you think you can meet up for New year’s Eve, then you’re buggered!  So, you can officially celebrate a Christian Religious festival, and yet not the secular piss up at the very end of the Year.  And all this in an extremist Secular country, that is being mean to the Muslims, to stop those naughty Islamist shooting an beheading us when we make a joke about the Prophet (pbuh).  Double standards or what, even for French politicians.  But as that Luvvie Noël Coward said, there’s something Vichy about the French.

Don’t get me started about Brexit!  Biggest mistake since the French thought they could fish in another country’s Sovereign waters and get away with it.  Oh wait…

On a more positive note, Trump has officially been voted out by the Electoral College in the United States of America.  Let’s hope that the new guy will be better than the last President.  

I still feel pretty shitty despite the Christmas music on BBC Radio 2, but at least I managed to get some of my frustrations down on paper.  It’ll get better by Christmas…