Out and about today, I saw…

On a gig poster, a band called ‘The Chip Shop Boys’.

Also, a personalised number plate:

P1DLE

Random wafflings

Back to the UK tomorrow to see family and friends for a week or so and also stock up on various things.

We’re feeling a bit ambivalent about the trip.

We’ve really taken to France and whilst I’m absolutely not in the business of running down the country of my birth, I’ve found life here to be far more relaxed and there’s a certain ‘respect’ that everyone seems to have for each other – not to mention a lack of chavs, soapdodgers and pikeys. That’s not to say that France doesn’t have its share of these, but there don’t seem to be any remotely near where we go.

There have been hassles over the last few months, but I think I’ve found the answer when it comes to the dreaded French bureaucracy.

You simply do what you can to sort things out your end and then you just wait. Everything eventually gets sorted out and kicking up a stink about delays will probably get your paperwork sent to the bottom of the pile. So, you just wait.

Of course, being retired helps, but my work never gave me any stress anyway, so I don’t think my relaxed attitude to virtually everything is all down to that.

The cats are going to be lodged in a cattery which I have no misgivings with, but it will be the longest they’ve ever been away from us (8 days)and we’ll miss them. I never thought I’d say it, but leaving them will be a real wrench because they’re more than pets. They’ve become really good companions and having brought them along on this late ‘life adventure’ they seem to have adapted really well.

So, although we’re desperate to see our children, our grandson and other family and also our friends, I reckon we’ll be gagging to come back to France in a week’s time.

It feels like home here now.

I’ve been wondering what to do about this blog. I’m starting to think about having another blog that will deal with matters French and keeping this blog for non-French specific subjects.

At present it’s frustrating enough with a 35 Euros for 12 hours 3G stick being the almost the sole means of internet access (free wi-fi fucking rocks!) and this won’t be remedied until we make a permanent move to the new house later this year. This will remain my only blog and no decision made until I get broadband access.

Certainly I have nothing but praise for Microsoft’s Live Writer in Windows 7. It enables me to write blog posts offline and with many of the facilities that the WordPress admin panel gives me.

Come to think of it, the whole Windows 7 experience has been excellent on this new laptop, although I hate having to rely on a pre-loaded OS. I’ll probably buy a Windows 7 disc when I’m over in the UK next week, Another advantage is that it’ll purge all the Samsung crap from this machine.

Blogging may be erratic for the next week, although my iPhone will come in handy for blogging via email, not to mention tweeting, which I really miss.

One thing I’m going to have to be careful with is making sure I drive on the left back in the UK. I’ve got to the stage where I see a TV program set in the UK and think it looks odd when I see people driving on the left…It also occurs to me that I’m going to have to get some headlight adapters because we’ve had our lights changed for driving here as part of the re-registration process.

Packing the car – a Ford Fiesta – is going to be interesting. We’ll be leaving tomorrow with two cat cages full of cat, many, many bottles of wine, gifts and our luggage…

Then we’ll be back with books, more books, Cheddar, washing tablets, Pimms (not easy to get here), curry paste, cat treats and Twinings Everyday teabags – plus the cats…

The vibrato still sings

My recent 100 favourite albums posts inevitably allowed many of my favourite musicians and bands to slip through the cracks. In order to pay them the respect they deserve, and also to perhaps introduce readers of this blog to some new listening experiences, from time to time I’ll be featuring one of them.

I feel very lucky to have my formative musical years quite firmly placed in the mid to late 1960s. In a nutshell, pop and rock music was then very much steeped in the blues. I suppose it all really kicked off for me with the Rolling Stones. I was starting to play guitar when I first heard them, and having heard a strange sound on one of their records, which a guitar playing friend informed me was a ‘bent’ note, I was up and running; listening to records with the guitar handy and working out pentatonic scales and licks for myself.

Chief amongst my listening around that time was John Mayall and his Bluesbreakers. If anyone deserves the title of Godfather of British Blues it’s Mayall. Sure, Alexis Korner was a very influential player and bandleader but when you think who passed through John’s bands and what they went on to do, he has to be the Daddy of ‘em all!

Naturally, as an aspiring guitarist, it was Mayall’s axemen who caught my attention. Starting with Eric Clapton and the seminal ‘Beano’ album he attracted some fabulous players. After Clapton came Peter Green, who went on to form Fleetwood Mac before succumbing to drugs and mental illness. Then after Greeny came Mick Taylor and he’s the subject of this piece.

Mick Taylor MICKTaylor Mick with a fan

Having sat in for Clapton at one gig the very young Mick Taylor (15 at the time, I believe) missed out to Green as Slowhand’s successor but got the job after Green left to form Fleetwood Mac.

Blessed with a beautiful wide but controlled vibrato and a creative way of putting licks together, Mick fitted into the Mayall band seamlessly and responded very well to the increasingly rock-based direction that Mayall was taking. With less and less reliance on 12 bar blues the band began playing some adventurous material and John seemed quite happy to let Mick stretch out and take extended solos. Not much of this work exists to hear today, but the two albums that Mayall recorded (rather poorly it has to be said) at live gigs are still available.

‘Diary of a Band Volumes 1 & 2’ have some fantastic playing from Taylor on them. In particular, ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’ has some soaring slow blues guitar from him which still raises the hairs on my neck when I hear it and the instrumental medley of ‘Anzio Annie/Snowy Wood/The Lesson’ has less structured playing with lots of feedback and space and Mick showing you how sometimes not playing is the best thing to do for the music.

Above all, Taylor has always had tone – a sound combined with a feel that makes every note count.

The studio albums with Mayall – ‘Crusade’, ‘Bare Wires’ and ‘Blues From Laurel Canyon’ all have plenty of superb examples of Mick’s very precise but exciting playing.

Of course, a call from the Stones to come and join them caused Taylor to leave Mayall and embark on a stint with the band that produced, in my view at least, their finest hour both live and in the studio. With Keef chording and riffing away behind him, Mick’s fluid guitar worked really well and the classic albums ‘Sticky Fingers’ and ‘Exile’ have many great examples of the interplay between the two.

Unfortunately the best example of the Stones live from this era is unreleased, although the recording is top quality. The benefit gig at Brussels for the Nicaraguan earthquake victims (organized by Jagger’s wife Bianca) was recorded, broadcast and subsequently bootlegged.

It’s an amazing recording of the Stones at their peak and is a ‘must hear’ for anyone with the slightest interest in rock music. Fortunately it’s readily available on the internet. Usually called ‘A Brussels Affair’ it can be found on all manner of torrent sites and music blogs.

Get it!

Now!

Although the truth has never really been revealed, Mick seems to have had the shit end of the stick as far as songwriting credits are concerned. Only receiving one co-credit with Mick ‘n’ Keef – ‘Ventilator Blues’ on ‘Exile’ – although claiming far more, Taylor left the Stones in 1973 with a smack habit (since kicked) and from that time to this – although playing in Bob Dylan’s band, with Jack Bruce, Mike Oldfield and many, many more luminaries, releasing several solo albums and gigging all over the globe – he’s languished in increasing obscurity.

I can’t for the life of me understand why.

When you consider his peers today, Taylor still offers originality and a freshness to his playing that they mostly lack…

Clapton – pumping out the same old same old with all the passion of a dead slug…

Green – really not the full shilling and incapable of playing with the sensitivity he once had…

Page – Led Zeppelin then nothing until…er…Led Zeppelin and currently inactive as far as I can see…

In fact, it’s only Jeff Beck from that era who still seems to be prepared to take chances and try new things.

Apart from Taylor, that is.

I have many (about 150) bootlegs of solo Taylor live – from the mid 1980s to the present day. He’s evolved into a quite stunning player. Throwing in licks that someone like Clapton couldn’t manage to even think of whilst stuck inside his pentatonic prison and combining standard fingering and slide often in the same line, Taylor is today a quality player who still has a great deal to offer anyone who loves rock and blues guitar.

It’s only speculation, but my best guess on why Mick Taylor isn’t a bigger name today is that his experience with the Stones soured him, and problems with various substances didn’t help this. Apparently, he’s writing his autobiography and it’s rumoured that he’ll ‘tell all’ as far as the Stones are concerned, so perhaps we’ll find out then what lies behind his relative obscurity.

Meanwhile, as ever, the music can do the talking. Get the Mayall and Stones albums with Taylor and also any live solo stuff you can. Bootlegs are freely available via certain torrent sites and I’ve even seen live boots on Usenet.

As someone once said of Taylor, ‘the vibrato still sings’ and it really does too.

To sum up, a fabulous player and one well worthy of any music fan or guitarist’s attention.

Last night I saw an elephant…

If you’re a Groucho Marx fan – I am! – you’ll probably finish this sentence off with something like ‘…in my pyjamas – why he was wearing my pyjamas I’ll never know…’

However, after last night I think I’ll go with ‘Last night I saw an Elephant Hawk Moth.’

I was out closing the shutters when I became aware of a large moth. Mindful of the fabulous Emperor Moth that Oscar caught a few weeks ago, I rushed inside, grabbed a torch and saw this fantastic creature:

P1010153a

Although they’re quite common, I’ve never seen an Elephant Hawk Moth before and with its pink colouring it blew me away. Pink’s not a colour you see very often on a land animal!

They’re attracted by honeysuckle and, sure enough, there’s a huge honeysuckle bush by the window it was fluttering at. A couple of days ago there were Hummingbird Moths around the bush, so that’s definitely one plant we’ll have in the garden of the house we’re buying.

Speaking of which, we’re off out in a few minutes to meet the notaire (solicitor) who’s handling the house purchase which is very good as it ties everything up before we visit the UK next week.

It seems a strange prospect to be a visitor to the country of your birth. We’ve been out here nearly 4 months and I really can’t imagine living anywhere else but it’ll be great to see the family and catch up – not to mention stock up on new books, t-shirts and Cheddar!

UPDATE:

We’ve just got back from meeting Maître Jamois, our notaire and a very nice chap, and having parted with a 10% deposit everything’s in place. From now on it’s down to him and the vagaries of the French legal/conveyancing process.

Property is not theft…

…although it can sometimes be a bit of a steal.

After several weeks looking at houses in various states of repair – from partially roofless to immaculately renovated – we’ve finally settled on a house not too far from here in a tiny hamlet.

We first viewed it about a week after we came over here at the beginning of March, fell in love with it but reluctantly rejected it because the cost would have left us without enough money to renovate it properly.

After a few more weeks looking at more houses (about 20 in all) we began to understand the local property market a bit better.

We realised that there was in fact no cohesive pattern to the market and that the concept of an ‘average price’ was of little meaning to the vendors here and subsequently safely ignored by the buyer.

To give an example, one of the houses we looked at is two houses away from the house we’re renting at the moment. – in the same hamlet. It was a bit small but would have made a nice 2 bedroom house with about half an acre of garden.

It was 68 000 Euros – all costs included. After a series of offers we ended up making a final offer of 48 000 which was accepted before we pulled out having had an offer accepted for the house we’re now hoping to buy. 

Since then the estate agent has phoned us and an all-in price of 45 000 Euros proposed. Now, whilst any buyer with an ounce of sense will never offer the asking price and negotiation will almost always bring about a lower figure, we’re talking a reduction of around a third, which is a hell of a lot.

With much of this in mind, we put in a stupidly low offer for the house we’re eventually buying and got it for just over a third of its original asking price after a very slight (2 500 Euros) adjustment to our offer.

Here it is:

P1010036

 P1010048

Yes, it needs a lot of work but it’s all within our budget and we’ll end up with a three bedroom house with two bathrooms, two very large reception rooms, a huge kitchen/diner and a utility room and all standing in an acre of land with orchards, wells, two ponds and a small barn. Furthermore it should be saleable and make a profit should we have to sell – assuming property prices don’t go totally down the crapper.

What I’m basically saying is that if you’re thinking of buying in France – particularly older properties in need of renovation – then don’t be afraid to go in really low with your offer.

If you’re not embarrassed by offering such a low figure then you’re offering too much.

This is further borne out by a friend who’s just bought a house much further south and who’s just snagged a real bargain too.

In late breaking news, we’ve just signed the sale agreement – the compromis – and barring the sellers pulling out we should have the keys to the new house by 31st August and, hopefully, sooner if the bureaucratic fairies are on our side.

Rainbow nation

It’s been a strange day here in the Mayenne with thunderstorms and hot sunshine – sometimes both practically at the same time!

Here’s a double bow we’ve just enjoyed seeing:

P1010149

And here’s the other end of it:

P1010150

Oscar and nectarines

Just a brief post to ask if anyone reading this has ever known a cat to like fruit.

Our two Maine Coons enjoy various things that you’d expect cats to like – cooked meat, crisps, cheese, yoghurt and, perhaps more unusually, raisins – but Oscar goes crazy for nectarines.

Speaking of the cats, we left the UK in early March with a cat who was a bit aloof and timid – Django – and a cat who seemed not to care less about wandering great distances and was generally very sociable – Oscar.

Now, three months since we moved, Django has become really laid back and very affectionate (although he’ll kill anything he can get hold of, it seems) whilst Oscar appears to be a bit more cautious and less sociable. It’s not that he’s become withdrawn, just a bit less gung ho.

Django looking for things to kill from the barn window:

P1000982

Oscar doing what Oscar likes doing best:

P1010025

Incidentally, pet insurance is crap here in France. With lower vet bills it seems to make little sense to get it. Plus you can’t insure for the value of a pedigree cat.

Hmm…not such a brief post…