And how did you spend your summer?

Everyone seems to ask that question after the summer holidays when we take leave from our daily toils and worries, and maybe for a week or two, we can create our own little paradise on earth. Some make it to a hotel next to the ocean and enjoy the sun’s warmth on their skin, whereas others will find a boat and spend time in the ocean trying to stay cool. Others will drive all over making that Grand Tour that the Victorians made. Others will be at work keeping the country going. Others will be fighting fires in the Gironde because of somebody’s carelessness in this heat wave, which I wouldn’t really call a wave but rather a smack around the face, with the heat taking away our comfort, our sleep, our water, our rivers, and our gardens.

Whatever your summer, I hope you could find moments of cool, in the figurative and literal senses. What can I tell you about my summer? In four days, I go back to work to start the humdrum of my daily life, and in these remaining four days of freedom, I seem to look back over the previous three weeks wondering where it all went!

It went off to the UK, that’s where it went. I haven’t been back home since 2019 and it was about bloody time that I got back to my roots. Living without roots or being able to feel rooted somewhere that one calls home is an idea that only immigrants can really get their heads around. They left their homes, sometimes forced by evil and unfortunate circumstances, and for others, it was for love and freely entered into. I was lucky to be in the latter category. But it’s still amazing to get back home.

With modern technology, I can call my parents on the phone when I want to, and do so a few times a week. I can hear their voices, but it’s not the same as taking them in my arms and hugging them and really showing them how much I love them. Only when in their presence can I do that. And as none of us is getting any younger, one has the morbid thought, will this be the last time I see them? I tend not to dwell on this rather disturbing question, but one still asks it.

I found a country where everyone speaks the same language as me and where my wife and daughter seemed to cope with what I do every day (ie speaking a foreign language) and maybe it gave them the chance to walk around in my shoes for a while, as Atticus Finch once said in a book a long time ago.

I found a country that had gone through Brexit, Covid, and yet further Tory government and it looked more or less the same. Tired, pissed off, but still exquisite to my eyes. And most of all, it was home. The Germans talk about this concept of Heimat, home, but not quite. It’s more akin to a motherland, or a place where you are rooted. Some could argue that after nearly 30 years in France, France should be my Heimat, and although I am very grateful to have been “welcomed” to France, it certainly isn’t home, despite all the best intentions.

Anyway! I saw my parents in Alnmouth and surprisingly took some photos. They haven’t all been edited yet, as I have to sort and edit them, which will be a hefty job. We didn’t really go wandering like we have in the past, but just tried to relax in the comparative cool of Northumbria. I wandered around the village and even was as bold enough as to go into Alnwick and let my daughter discover Superdrug’s cosmetics counter! Ah well, it was going to happen one day.

I had some time with my father as we drove towards Otterburn to get some landscape photos. It was lovely just sharing with him how I take my photos and seeing this part of me that few people see. We ate with my parents and enjoyed curries, Chinese food, and the tastiest of Sunday roasts. My daughter, that intriguing and sometimes frightening creature, discovered more of her father’s country and just how special it is.

As some of you may know, I am adopted and have been since three weeks after my birth. The story of all that, Dear Reader, is understandably only for those concerned, and during our time in Alnmouth, I had the good fortune to see my birth mother and my half-sister for the day. Afternoon tea and we even had crumpets with salted butter and jam, and tea. Coffee is fine, but tea in the UK takes you to what heaven must feel like!

On our way back south towards France, we stopped off to see my birth mother again. It felt so intimate being able to visit her in her own home. My half-brother’s daughters were there to meet not only me but probably more Kate, their half-cousin who by definition is exotic because she is French! They have, of course, received an open invitation to come over whenever they like. We even saw my Aunty Margie, whom I hadn’t seen for over 5 years.

Then down to Hull to see my father’s side of the family. My cousin Nick and his wife, Maria, received us like kings and I will be ever grateful to him for organising the family reunion where 23 of us gathered in his immaculate back garden. A couple of beers were drunk that day. The following day it was off to see Aunty Mon, and Kate was delighted to see me being scolded as I answered a question for her. Nobody messes around with Aunty Mon! We met up with Nick and Maria in the next village for a pub lunch, with the traditional and nigh quasi obligatory roast dinner! Those two pints of Yorkshire bitter just helped wash down the meal in the most tasteful way.

Sadly, we had to continue our voyage down South and ended up in Dover, where the next day, we were to catch our ferry back to France. We met up with my wife’s cousin for dinner in our hotel, and they discussed everything about family, from gossip to scandal, to the next generation who will carry the family name.

We arrived home and found my newly single son at home and Molly, the dog who have both been sorely missed.

As I read the article, there is one word that seems to stand out, and that word is family. These holidays had nothing to do with visiting tourist sights. It did, however, have everything to do about renewing connections to those most important in our lives after Covid had separated us for so long. That is what the holidays meant to me. I became rooted in my country, my culture, and my family. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t want to see old friends, but everyone knows that family has to come first. It’s what gives us our sense of being and belonging. It is the visible form of our roots on God’s Earth, however warm that earth might feel during an exceptionally warm summer.

May God bless you and your families, bring you together, heal the eventual discords, and give you too a feeling of being grounded after so long.

Glad to be alive

Yesterday I looked death in the face.  Whilst at work, yesterday at around 10 am, crossing from one building to another, I suddenly looked up and saw a big flash of yellow in front of me.  A forklift truck was just 3 feet away from me.  I was between the two forks.  Three feet between me and potential death, and a prison term for the driver. 

The driver has a certain “reputation,” and the guys from the workshop where he can be found the most say it’s just a matter of time until he actually kills someone. 

When it actually happens to you, it makes you think how much you would actually enjoy living a tad more.  Not necessarily an epiphany, but (going for the understatement of the year prize, 2022) definitely a bit of a shock.  Three feet, that were the difference between my wife with whom my first date took place 30 years ago to the day, becoming my widow!!!  My children were three feet from losing their father.

Fortunately, my plus 2 saw the whole thing and came storming out of his office saying that it was unacceptable that I should have to suffer being in such danger, and that the colleague would be suitably bollocked by plus 2 and the 2 plus 1’s that he frequently comes into contact during the day.  My plus 1 and the driver came to my stores, to say sorry, with smiles on their faces.  It was like being told by the teacher to see the child that they had just bullied and apologise.  I said that I would send them the cleaning bill for my underpants that I had just soiled.  There’s no point in going full frontal and yelling at them.  Be the better man and all that…  Also, I’m English in France, I’m fifty, I have a gammy knee, and despite everything, this job pays the rent!

Clocking in this morning, I saw the driver who had nearly taken me out and asked him if he wouldn’t mind not trying to kill me today.  When Plus 1 said good morning to me, I said that I was just glad to be alive and that I was hoping not to be killed today either. I also reminded them that had I been killed, then there would have been prison not only for the driver but for the driver’s boss.  Strangely enough, the driver has stopped driving so fast and seems, for the moment at least, to take his responsibilities on board. 

I will be the better man, I will be the better man, I will be the better man, and with the help of God, remain glad to be alive for a little longer.

The holidays

Hello. I have a friend called Julie Dodge and she is a photographer in Brooklyn NY. I have asked her to mentor me and maybe put me in a different direction with my photography and help me develop as a photographer. She’s full of talent and is somebody that I admire greatly. She suggested that I write this article.

Did you see what I just wrote there? I said the holidays, not Christmas but the holidays. Does that mean that I’ve become all woke and don’t want to offend? Not bloody likely. Christmas has come and gone and now we’re in that holiday limbo, before New Year’s Eve but just after Christmas.

Even during winter I sleep with the window open so as not to be too hot in bed (and don’t go reading anything unto wards into that statement, this is not that kind of blog!!) and we have just come out of the other side of Storm Bella. At least according the noise of the wind. and not that wind either!

When I think back to two weeks ago, Christmas felt so far away. I had 36 hours left at work and the whole holiday thing just hadn’t sunk in at all. Christmas could have been 6 months away and it wouldn’t change a thing. 2020 has been weird like that for everyone. The Christmas tree was up and running at the very end of November as was quite common. Maybe just a way of people trying to find a modicum of normality since normality just ran away with the light beer virus and some guys getting freaky with a bat in China.

I listen to the radio at work which is a wonderful and a great way to stay up to date with things happening at home back in Brexit land. On BBC RADIO 2 (that I can’t help hearing the jingle in my head when I say it) they had decided that they would play only Christmas music on the 1st of December to usher in the Christmas Season. Best day ever at work! I love it. You’re constantly listening out for Whamageddon or All I want for Christmas is You. That music would accompany me throughout December and keep me going.

The factory was going to shut for Christmas and I would finish work on the Friday lunchtime of the 18th.

I had been doing a whole load of product photography for the company. They have an excel file showing all the references of all the hardware that we use and a photo of each article. However the photos they have are not up to the required standard. Crap would cover it too. I told my boss about this and said I could do a better job of it. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and it would allow me to learn something new. I went onto Google, YouTube, and then on to Amazon to get a light box, which is a box of light which allows you to get a well lit photo of each screw, hinge, and other things that I don’t know how to translate into English. That’s not as bad as it seems. Everyone talks French at work. Strange isn’t it. The only English they all know is how to ask where Brian is. Brian is invariably in the kitchen. But not when I looked for him!

This also explains why I had my camera with me. As of the 15th of December we had finished with confinement and had now entered a new phase. No confinement but a curfew. They also said that the curfew would no be enforced for Christmas Eve which meant that people could spend Christmas together, but would be enforced on New Year’s Eve. This is despite our dear President’s love of secularism or the infamous French concept of Laïcité. Go figure. Maybe it’s a sick joke, or could it be that he knows that he won’t be voted in next time if he cancels Christmas.

But I digress, or in French, je diverge, parfois je dis bite! It was Friday afternoon and I was freeeeee. Yes. Freeeeeee!! I’m free, I do what ever I want, any old time…. I decided to head into Nantes to make sure that my family would have the same amount of gifts and therefore not be jealous. It was wonderful. This new found freedom and all I had to do was to be home by 20h! I of course had my camera with me and it was the closest I had been to normal for ages. My last stop would be the HAB Gallerie, which is on the Île de Nantes, and where there is a massive crane, but don’t forget that size does not matter. And a crane can be grey or yellow and that is fine too. It felt wonderful! This is where the photos in this article are from in case you were wondering. I think the photo of the huge crane give it away.

Christmas came and went as did the food, my son, his girlfriend, quite a bit of drink, and some great laughs. We are now in the Christmas anti climax. No church this year. Maybe Covid is laïque as well. All a bit strange really, but it was good to be able to celebrate as a family. But “strange” has been the bass continuo of this year 2020. 2021 is just around the corner and people are putting way too much hope into it.

With vaccines, time, and the continual social distancing, things will get better. Things will gradually become less strange. I even dare to think that people with rediscover social interactions and above all discover how important they really are. Some will look back and think I did well to get through this, some will regret not having done enough to help others. Some will have toilet roll till the ends of their days. But when we come out of the other side of this period, we will have all changed. Society will have changed. There will be a new normal, and not necessarily the one that that the hippies are hoping for, but a new one anyway, in which we will need time in which to find ourselves.

Thank you for still reading the drivel that seeps out of my mind on a more or less regular basis. There will still be photos to look at. Until that happens, I wish all of you a very Happy and Peaceful Christmas. May your God bless you.

Homesick, but not just.

If you have read my previous articles, you will know that I am not always bright or breezy, unless I have just eaten beans, then I can get quite breezy!  The other day, my boss came in and asked me how I was.  As any Englishman worth his salt, the answer to the phrase, « and how are you at the moment? » the answer should always be « Oh, I’m fine thanks! »  You might have just taken one for the team, or have just had your leg eaten off by a tiger, the answer should always be « Fine thanks » or « well, mustn’t grumble… »

I was a fool.  I fell into the trap and proceeded to tell him, sparing no details.  I think I must have scared the poop out of him.  I think he was visibly in shock.  I had obviously said the wrong thing.  Yes, people should be able to talk about mental health of lack thereof, but they should ask if they are not ready to hear the brutal honesty that can go with the answer.  To be honest I have a blank as to what I may have said, but left him in no doubt about how I was feeling, and that I was lucky, as I was rising up the wave once more.

He went on to say that he would have to talk to his boss, or my plus 2, and I replied, you have to what you have to do, not fully realising the bomb that I had just dropped.  It was too late anyway and out of my hands.  When that happens, you just suck it up and keep going.

The next day I got a call from my plus 2 telling me to come into the meeting room and asked if I knew why he wanted to see me. I was on one side of the desk, and my big boss, and that nice man from Human Resources was there.  They asked me the same question, and I answered them as honestly as I had my boss.  I think they were as shit scared as he was.  I explained that even though I had be harried by suicidal thoughts, that I was going to get through it, as we weren’t working for France Telecom, and I didn’t want to give them some extra paper work.   If there is a suicide in the work place then some very difficult questions are asked in the ensuing inquiry.  There might have been some nice flowers from the Company on my coffin, but it is not ideal.  I explained that I was crap at tying knots so hanging myself would not happen.  Saved by my own incompetence!

Strangely ever since having told them how I was everything in their comportment, or attitude towards me has changed.  Am I on suicide watch, or do they just think that I am mad and need shutting away? Now I am training somebody to do my job as if I have an accident or worse, there is nobody who replaces me.  I have told my trainee what happened so at least she knows.  The other colleague that I have on the phone every day, and orders all my stock, is up to date on the situation too. She is the person that often keeps me sane, allows me to tell my crap jokes, and actually laughs at them.  She seems to think that I’m fine, just different.  And, you know what, I’m fine with that. 

I do however feel like a criminal that is about to face sentencing by a judge.  I hope those nice gentlemen in white coats don’t try to take me away.  It is like having the famous Damocles sword hanging over you.  Thank heavens I still have my photography, and that I am still very capable of doing my job.

It’s at moments like this that I wish I could just go home.  Not just the country, but the year too.  I want to wake up in 1979 with all that I know now, and be a kid again, and tell my parents not to send me away to school, tell the guy that sexually abused me to bloody stop and go and get some help, tell the bullies to go and run under an oncoming bus, tell my teachers that they had no idea about what would be useful in my later life, right all the wrongs that I could have righted, and tell that kid, that despite everything, it would be OK, and give him a big hug.  He needed it…

I don’t know where I am at this very moment in my life.  I think back and wonder what if.  How would my life have changed?  I might have bought shares in Apple and in Google.  I might have learnt to drive earlier.  I might have drunk less alcohol when I was 16 and 17, and tried to find a different way to express myself and treat my many woes.  Thank the lord that it’s a nice day out today, and earlier this morning we even got a full double rainbow.  The little things keep you going.  Thank you for listening Dear Reader and I promise to try be a little more cheerful.

Some people don’t know how to handle mental health worries and managers need to be made aware of the problem, and take away the stigma that is the result.  Training, training, and even more training. It’s not a pleasant situation and even more so when you feel stigmatised.  Shit happens, but I’m not dead yet!

The confinement

If ever you weren’t aware, there’s this virus going around, that was named after a light beer, and then the producers of said beer went mad and told the scientific community to get their shit together and give it a name that sounded less like drinking beer out of a bottle through a wedge of lemon. COVID 19 was born.

It seems to be one of those Chinese exports that nobody wants, but it gets through anyway. If you listen to the conspiracy theorists it was created by the French and Chinese as a joint venture, without the joints, and tested on bats first. Maybe there were some joints after all…

I’m not a scientist, nor do I have scientific logic. I’m just a guy who writes stuff and takes a few photos along the way.

Things started off gradually at work. In my corner of France, when the shift starts, everyone says hello. Now the French are a bit weird about this, as they are on quite a few things, and I’m not talking about a drug crazed idea in Wuhan, where Jean Jaques smoked a spliff and got intimate with a bat. The rule is that you must go to each colleague and not only say hello, but shake that person’s hand, otherwise it doesn’t count. The same thing is true of the “bise” and is discussed at great length by a fellow compatriot, a guy called Paul Taylor in a video. I don’t know the bloke, but if you see him, tell him I said hi.

Anyway…

So this hand shaking thing was the first thing to go. And was to be replaced by hand washing and hand sanitiser. Then came the inevitable hand santiser and soap, or just one of the above, discussion. One of my colleagues got quite tetchy about the whole thing. Sharing a coffee together and having a chat at the coffee machine was over. You went to get your precious, and then had to go back to your post where you treat like a ring that makes you invisible and go mad….

Then one Saturday night, the French Pirme Minister, said that all social gatherings were to cease, and places like cafes, restaurants, clubs, and cinemas were to shut. And in one foul swoop, he only went and shut the bloody pub!!! Shit had just got serious.

You have to realise that the pub is not there to give me a place where I can be a socially acceptable alcoholic, but also a place where you can find my social support nechanisms. The people that work there and frequent this marvellous institution, are not just people in a bar, they are my friends. I’ll see you guys on the other side of this madness.

That next week, things seemed less funny at work. Social distancing came into fashion, as did saying hi to everyone, by just saying hi to everyone (see above about the handshakebusiness). There had discussions between Unions and Management about how they would treat a possible shutdown of the company of we had to go into confinement, people working from home, and how we would be paid if we couldn’t work from home. But it was still up in the air. People started predicting when it would eventually happen.

It happened on St Patrick’s day at 12pm. We all said goodbye to each other and left work as if we were going on leave, but it was more sinister than that. We didn’t know when we would be coming back, and we weren’t all going on holiday either. We would all be staying at home.

It’s now the 6th of April. We have been on lockdown for exactly 21 days.