The French paper chase – update – and Tiny Tom Cruise

I am now the proud owner of a…wait for it…

Certificat d’Importation d’un vehicule terrestre a moteur en provenance  de la commaunite Europeenne par une personne non identifiee a la TVA

Armed with this document and a few others I can now go to the prefecture at Laval of the departement in which we live – Mayenne – and get the car re-registered.

After two trips to Chateau Gontier in three days I’ll leave the final stage for next week.

Godammit – it is almost the weekend…

OK…the One Show…I had the misfortune to catch a few minutes of this evening’s edition.

There was a segment about how some people have been conned out of thousands of pounds by romance scammers via internet dating agencies. Personally, I wouldn’t give money to anyone I hadn’t at least met face to face, but some people obviously have more money than sense.

Then the One Show cuts to a red carpet interview with Tom Cruise – the diminuitive Scientologist film star – and the male One Show host’s (his bastarding name escapes me) first question to the Hollywood dwarf?

What do you think of online dating?

Now, whilst I realise that the hosts of the One Show might not be investigative journalists with searching and incisive questions springing naturally to their lips, and that the One Show itself isn’t exactly known for probing inquiries into matters of pressing public concern, what a stupid fucking cunting question.

Thank fuck I don’t have to pay a TV licence anymore, because if I did I’d be contacting the BBC as to why they were wasting the licence fee revenue employing cunts like the One Show twat and paying him good money (and lots of it) to ask stupid fucking questions.

It’s just one small step from ‘What’s your favourite colour, Tommo?’ – in fact, that might even be a more relevant question under the circumstances, as it’s probably something upon which Cruise has an opinion, but his experience of online dating must be rather limited, to say the least. Or so I would imagine.

And whilst I’m in rant mode:

What the fucking fuck are the Hairy Fucking Bikers all about?

Why are they being paid good money to fart around the country acting like the arsing Chuckle Brothers with a motherfucking cook book? All I can see are two mouthy cunts who are about as funny as a sack of drowned puppies and two more ‘TV chefs’ who ought to thank their lucky stars that they’ve got their talentless paws on the seemingly limitless supply of licence fee dosh provided by the gullible British public and chucked about like confetti by the BBC.

What’s more, BBC execs are getting even more money than these motherfuckers are getting paid for putting them on the screen in the first place.

It’s high time the BBC gravy train was derailed – I favour strapping the entire fucking cast of ‘My Family’ to the points, but that’s probably just me…

The French paper chase – continued

After yesterday’s abortive trip to the tax office in Chateau Gontier, we’ve managed to sort out the proof of address problem.

A trip to the Mairie here this afternoon was very productive.

Although Monsieur le Maire is on holiday until August 15th – nice work if you can get it – his very friendly and efficient secretary came up with the goods and we now have an ‘Attestation de Domicile’, duly stamped and signed on behalf of the mayor. I hope she enjoys the tin of shortbread we took along with us…

So, back to the tax office we’ll go tomorrow and see if we can get the last piece of paper needed for our Carte Grise.

Watch this space…

The French paper chase

Fuck, fuck and…er…fuck again…

French bureaucracy has just bitten me in the arse.

I’m trying to re-register my car so I can get the ‘carte grise’ and have French plates – no road tax then! – which is a legal requirement eventually if I’m staying here.

I’ve done everything right so far, and at no small expense:

  • Headlights changed for driving on the wrong side of the road – 414 Euros
  • Controle Technique (French MOT valid for 2 years) – 62 Euros
  • Certificate of Conformity from Ford – £82.25

So, off I go to the Hotel des Impots (local tax office) at Chateau Gontier to get the last piece of paperwork – a declaration that my car isn’t new and that I don’t owe any money on it – before taking the whole wodge of documents to Laval to get re-registered, only to find that they need proof of my address.

This will have to be done through my local mayor here, who should be able to provide me with an attestation of my address.

The fact that I have French car insurance, French top-up health insurance, a French social security number and a French bank account – all of which are dependent on me having provided a valid and verifiable French address on four separate occasions already – didn’t seem to cut any ice with the lady at the tax office, even when I showed her the documents.

So, I’m back home after a 70km round trip that achieved rather less than fuck all.

Still, few things have annoyed me about living in France so far so I’m just going to go with the flow, roll with the punches, suck it up, blah, blah, blah…

All the same…fuckity fuck, fuck, fuck…

From Kim Philby to Brian Clough

Another three books from the stash have just bitten the dust:

Tim Powers – Declare

I’ve read Powers before, but not for quite a while and my memory of that is somewhat hazy, so I came to this book without any particular expectations. I used to be a huge fan of SF and fantasy, but the genres seem to have disappeared up their own arses of late – fortunately ‘Declare’ doesn’t disappoint.

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A strange blend of 1960s Cold War spy thriller (think le Carre) and updated Dennis Wheatley occult potboiler with a very slight hint of Indiana Jones, ‘Declare’ has a very original plot. Double agent Kim Philby seems a strange figure to have as one of the main characters, but his presence is essential to the plot and, as the author explains in the afterword, the novel is an attempt to tie together many of the documented events of his life with Powers’ central premise – that Arabian djinns (genies) exist and have a great influence over human affairs. Philby’s fate and the existence of a particular ‘guardian’ djinn are entwined in the continuation of the USSR as a major communist power. Powers’ novel explores this relationship and the attempts that are made by the UK and US to bring about the collapse of communism by attacking the djinn.

Having very little prior knowledge of spying operations over the periods of World War II and the Cold War was no barrier to my enjoyment of the novel. In fact, it really piqued my interest and made me want to read more about the subject.

As for the supernatural element, Powers avoids the usual ‘monster’ rubbish and has the djinns forming organically from their surroundings. Their aversion to and preference for certain geometric and mineral/chemical conditions is portrayed in a highly original way.

One small minus point – Philby’s stuttering got very tedious after a while, making his words difficult to read. It may have been realistic but it really got rather annoying.

Highly recommended – well-written and offering a totally new slant on the occult thriller.

Scott G Mariani – Uprising

I’m a sucker (geddit?) for vampire stories but this one sucks, unfortunately.

I suppose that if vampires were around today and wanted to operate undercover in order to establish some sort of stable co-existence with human beings in the 21st century then an organization like the VIA (Vampire Intelligence Agency – I shit thee not) might be set up, but I personally found the concept – not to mention the TLA – laughable.

Yes, vampires can be credibly updated and turned into characters with whom the audience can sympathise (or even empathise) – and I’m not including romantic Goth crap like ‘Twilight’ and its many clones. Authors like Mick Farren, Stephen King, Jasper Kent and Charlie Huston have shown that vampires can be portrayed in an highly effective way without resorting to stereotypes or clumsy attempts to bring them into modern day life.

The characters are crudely drawn and although Mariani is attempting to take his writing out of the sub-Da Vinci Code plots that have featured in his past novels, he hasn’t improved as an author. Still, for all that, another ultimately unsatisfying but readable book for those desiring a non-taxing vampire novel. And that’s the problem – with few exceptions (Twilight!), any vampire novel is a good vampire novel…

Ian Mortimer – The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England

I’m also partial to a bit of history and the Medieval period is one of the more interesting aspects for me. Mortimer attempts to make you imagine what it’s actually like to live in England in the Middle Ages and covers all aspects of everyday life, from how you dealt with going to the toilet, through having an anal fistula operated on, to what would happen if you stole a chicken. It seems well-researched and it held my interest throughout.

I really liked the way he portrayed Medieval life in all its sometimes squalid glory, but tried not to judge it in terms of how much we’ve progressed today. People then did the best they could with the sometimes limited resources available. Yes, hygiene was sometimes lacking, but with no scientific theory of germs people still tried to keep themselves and their surroundings as clean as they could. Under the circumstances they seemed to do very well.

It’s one of those books that sometimes makes you want to pause and ask those around you, ‘Did you know that…?’ as the many fascinating facts emerge through the course of the book. Resist the impulse though, it’s bloody annoying…

In summary,a very laudable attempt to make history interesting, without dumbing it down. Plus it’s real history, and not some lunatic fringe attempt to pass off personal theory as documented fact – an all too common practice today with books revealing amazing and hitherto unknown revelations such as Jesus is actually buried in a secret chamber under the Sphinx and other half-baked fuckery.  

Bonus review:

The Damned United – not the David Peace book, which I must read now – but the film (BBC2 – BBC Films season) of the book; the story of Brian Clough’s 44 days as manager at Leeds United and the events leading up to and just after it. Michael Sheen was brilliant as Clough with just enough ‘Cloughisms’ and Middlesbrough accent to bring the character across, but without making him into some sort of cartoon or cheap impression.

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I found the character despicable and admirable in equal measure and it was easy to see why he polarised opinion during his life. Ultimately, however, I found myself rooting for Clough, who might have lacked ‘people skills’ but knew what he wanted and – as long as Peter Taylor was with him – knew how to get it, with everyone who went along with him ultimately winning.

Although the film mainly dealt with a trough in Clough’s career – between the twin triumphs of Derby and Notts Forest – you still saw what made him great but also what made him fallible. Essentially, it was his inability to compromise, even when he knew bloody well that what he was going to say or do wasn’t going to make life any easier for himself, let alone everybody else.

Stunning stuff with a great cast, a stand out performance from Sheen and well worth repeat viewings.

Incidentally, ‘Damned’ was followed by a documentary about Clough’s career which not only expanded on Peace’s original story, but also served as confirmation that the film was actually very fair towards Clough.

The best manager England never had?

Well, thinking about English football post-1966, the only person who actually got the job (sort of) and who might have had the charisma, skill and drive to put England back on the road to success was Terry Venables. However, Clough, if chosen after Revie, would have been able to bring far more of these qualities to bear on the job. And when you compare him to the people who actually got the job whilst he was at the height of his powers…

It’s a no-brainer – Clough should have been England manager.

But only with Taylor as his number two…

Flies in the ointment

I can report that Django is continuing with his protracted killing spree. Every morning the dead and mutilated birds, mice and voles we find strewn around the lawn are testament to his hunting prowess. We should have called him ‘Nimrod’.

P1010249  “What can I disembowel next?”

Not wishing to be outdone by the ginger bastard, we’ve embarked on a murder fest of epic proportions against the biggest pest of all – flies.

I daresay that living next to a field with a small herd of heifers doesn’t help with this problem, but the insects which plague us aren’t what I used to call ‘shit flies’ as a kid – the yellowy-brown ones that congregate on cowpats. They’re just common flies, but there’s the rub…they’re very fucking common indeed.

In the drive to eradicate every fly in this area of France we’ve tried many methods:

Fly swatters – These work if you aim right but you’re picking the buggers off one fly at a time. Yes, it’s very satisfactory killing the motherfuckers, but time-consuming with this number of insects.

Fly Spray – This is very effective but seems to have no residual effect, no matter which brand we try. Sure, it kills those flies within the range of the aerosol droplets but an hour or so later the bastards are back. This surprised us, as our past experience of French insecticides led us to believe that the various sprays and powders available here were rather more lethal than their British counterparts. I recall our first gite holiday – in Brittany – when we were plagued with ants. We found a powder in a supermarket which claimed to provide a lethal barrier to ants, so we sprinkled it all around the outside walls of the gite in the evening. In the morning we woke to find ourselves surrounded by hundreds of dead ants along with…dead toads…dead mice…dead sheep…the stuff was fucking lethal! Still, we do use fly spray as it kills the flies in the short term and a spray in the bedroom, leaving the door shut for 10 minutes, is effective at night.

Fly papers – Not bad as far as trapping flies goes, and a fresh paper will probably net you 30 or 40 very sticky and doomed flies in a short time, but it’s indiscriminate and I don’t like catching moths with them – particularly when it’s something like a tiger moth. However, the fly papers are regularly renewed – especially in the kitchen.

Insecticidal window stickers – These seem to have a limited effect and with their bright designs they just look like decorative stickers. I think the ones we’ve put up have run out of their lethal vapour. Not the most effective method and not worth renewing. They also have the unfortunate side effect of making it look like you’ve got some hippy living at your house.

Vapour emitting devices – Some are a total waste of money, particularly the ‘passive’ ones that consists of a plastic housing with some sort of impregnated substance in the middle that slowly emits insecticide. However, the variety that plugs into a mains socket seems to be the most effective long term solution to the fly problem. There’s a make called ‘Catch’ which has a bottle of liquid that you screw into a diffuser and then you plug the whole thing into a mains socket. We have two of them and they seem to keep the fly population down pretty effectively, judging by how few flies are flying around and how many end up dead on the floor. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to be the only people who’ve given these ‘Catch’ diffusers the thumbs up. We went to three supermarkets for refills last Friday and found the shelves empty.

Fortunately, there seems to be an absence of mosquitoes here. In terms of discomfort, flies are just a nuisance compared to mozzies and their bite. A mosquito bite has to be one of the most irritating things imaginable, as the more you scratch it, the more it itches and, depending where it is, can often swell up. Get a good one on your face and John Hurt in ‘The Elephant Man’ can just fuck right off.

In the interests of feline fairness, here’s a picture of Oscar – who can’t seem to be able to catch anything larger than a moth:

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Choice cherries from the Saturday’s 50 playlist tree

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Mott the Hoople – The Moon Upstairs: Shit fire, Ian ‘Unter and the lads mined a heavy seam when they recorded this way back in the mid 70s. Verden’s distorted organ (oo-er, missus), Mick’s fat guitar tone and Overend’s farting bass all combine to make one of the heaviest riffs ever recorded. No-one else quite rocked in such a shambolic way back then.

Van Halen – Ice Cream Man: I love the way this opens with Eddie’s acoustic and Dave’s smutty vocals and then crashes in after a few verses with the full band and some killer bluesy guitar. A bit of a studio knock-off but still splendid fun.

Johnny Winter – Mojo Boogie: Nice slide from the best albino bluesman of all time. This comes from Winter’s Alligator label years when he eschewed his early rock excesses and played all blues – with no loss of raw feel or excitement.

The Rezillos – I Like It: Scotland’s finest punks with a sense of humour and a unique approach to covers with a Gerry and the Pacemakers song. Short, snappy and poppy, this doesn’t outstay its welcome.

The Tubes – Let’s Make Some Noise: Not their best-known track but fun all the same. Nice synth bass and guitars combine to make a funky riffy track with fun vocals in the chorus.

Green on Red – Rock & Roll Disease: Stuart and Prophet with one of the finest examples of downer rock ever recorded and one of the strangest snare drum sounds ever committed to tape. Lyrics so dumb they’re clever…

The Cure – Friday I’m in Love: The Goth/Punk thing aside, Robert Smith can write a mean power pop song when he wants to. Beautifully multilayered jangling guitars and Smith’s breathlessly fey vocals make this a ‘feel good’ tune.

John Prine and Iris Diment – In Spite of Ourseves: This avoids being hokey with some genuinely witty lyrics. On the face of it a throwaway song but on careful listening nothing could be further from the truth. Nice harmonies with John Prine sounding as if he’s 70 (as he’s always done!) and some simple but effective acoustic guitar.

Hall and Oates – Had I Known You Better Then: Hall and Oates first two major label albums are stone classics. This is from ‘Abandoned Luncheonette’ which is lighter in mood than the more intense ‘War Babies’. Acoustic rock, beautifully performed, arranged and recorded. It was downhill all the way for them from here on…

Joe Satriani – Back to Shala-Bal: Great shredding from Joe whose instrumentals always had an identity of their own and didn’t rely on technique over melody. Mind-blowing guitar playing with Joe’s tapping well-featured.

Flip Wilson – Ugly Baby: Stand up from one of the greatest comics ever. Wilson had a beautiful rapport with the audience and an endearing way of telling a story in such a restrained way that the punch line killed you when it snuck up on you. Available on YouTube.

Randy Newman – Baltimore: Randy can’t sing for shit, but he’s one of the US’s best song writers and knows how to meld melody and lyrics to produce highly idiosyncratic but memorable compositions. Particularly nice piano on this track too, with the verse chords having a nice tense quality.

Left Lane Cruiser – Wash it: As far as I can find out, this band are just guitar, drums and vocals. Imagine the White Stripes being able to produce credible blues music crossed with early ZZ Top and you’ll get an idea of their style. Raw, but extremely well-played and highly recommended to those people who think Seasick Steve is any good (that excludes me 100%).

Hamster Theatre – Comatose, Oye: Uncategorisable. Imagine some sort of Frankensteinian blending of Hatfield and the North, an avant garde accordion player, Blowzabella on some rather bad drugs and a Cardiacs fan who’s been listening to a lot of the more obscure instrumental works of Frank Zappa played backwards and you’re maybe able to appreciate what a total mix up this band is. Good though!

The Honeys – Surfin’ Down the Swanee River: Brian Wilson isn’t all about intensely beautiful tunes and harmonies. He also produced many throwaway pop tracks by a wide variety of acts, including the Honeys with a certain Mrs Brian Wilson amongst its 3 members. File under ‘dumb but fun’. Brian contributes some sublime backing vocals.

The Darkness – Get Your Hands Off My Woman: For a year or so the Darkness brought FUN back to pop music. As serious as a plastic dog turd, Justin and co produced an enduring classic album in ‘Permission to Land’, which still sounds fantastic today. Derivative? Yes, but what the fuck do people think Oasis are? Deeply missed.

Ron Levy’s Wild Kingdom – U Rockin’ Me?: Big fuck-off Hammond B3 sound, jazzy funky guitar, horns…what’s not to like? Not much like this around these days but Ron and co are still flying the flag. Maybe just a 12 bar, but it’s how you play ‘em, innit?

Nik Kershaw – Wouldn’t it be Good? (12” extended mix): Nik had it all back in the 1980s…great songs, voice, guitar and keyboard chops, studio skills, arrangements, etc, etc. This is better than the single mix as the harmony guitars are more prominent. Why he didn’t remain successful is beyond me – listening to the guitar doubling the horns in the solo I’m struck by how fantastically talented he is.

Ash – Shining Light: A lovely song from a band which has always impressed me with their choice of chords. In particular I love the way they stick in a minor chord when you’re expecting a major one. Not the most talented band instrumentally but the songwriting transcends this. Music like this reminds me why I love the whole pop/rock music thing. and, above all, why I started. Dammit, it sounds so young, fresh and optimistic!

Starclock – Glasses: More power pop from a particularly good album. Nice jangly guitars, melodicism and almost XTC’ish vocals, but not typical of the rest of this skewed but brilliant album. I know nothing about this band but they can sure as shit play. They even cover a Zappa track – ‘The Black Page #1’ with sax and guitar doubling. Zappa meets XTC…could anything be finer? I may have rediscovered one of the best albums ever made! 

Stoned again

It might be an activity that wouldn’t appeal to a lot of people, but if ever I’m within range of a dolmen or a menhir then I have to go and find it.

Mrs Shark is somewhat less enthusiastic than I am, having been disappointed by some of the rather less spectacular examples I’ve insisted on visiting, but she humours me and is occasionally impressed by a good example.

For the uninitiated, dolmens and menhirs were erected roughly five millennia ago by stone age man. Dolmens are burial chambers and typically remain today as upright stones which support a large stone slab. These were originally covered with earth to form mounds within which the stone chamber and the burial were contained.

Menhirs are simply standing stones – sometimes solitary and sometimes in groups.

The megalithic culture which erected these structures and stones reached its zenith with Stonehenge, the alignments at Carnac in France and many other famous monuments.

However, there are hundreds of far lesser-known megalithic remains which can be visited and these often have their own charm and fascination – albeit rather more low key than Stonehenge and the like.

We tracked one down yesterday – a single menhir a couple of kilometres south of Pouance called ‘La Pierre Frite’. This translates as ‘The fried stone’ or even ‘the chip’, I suppose.

Following the sign from the main road to Craon, we took a right up what was obviously a farm track and great for tractors but not too good for a Ford Fiesta as it was heavily rutted, leaving a high middle which was a tad sump-unfriendly. Leaving the car as the track got more uneven, we walked the rest of the way which only turned out to be a couple of hundred yards.

This was a welcome change as most of the menhirs and dolmens we visit are tucked away and need a good hike to reach.

Anyway, here it is:

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Standing some 5 metres high it had a sort of pyramidal top and just over halfway up on one face there was a niche cut into the stone with a mesh grille which contained statuettes of Jesus and his mum.

I’ve heard of this practice before, when pagan monuments were Christianised by priests but have never seen an example. Sometimes, crosses are incised or even sculpted in the stone, but in this case someone had opted for figurines.

At least it hadn’t been taken down and then eventually smashed up for building stone or even dynamited, which has been known to happen when some ‘good’ Christian folk have decided that such stones are the work of Old Nick.

La Pierre Frite stacked up pretty well against other menhirs I’ve seen. Its setting was unusual – tucked away in a small woody glade and when you stood right next to it, you realised that it was quite big and must have taken considerable time and trouble to erect, given the primitive means at the builders’ disposal.

I have to say that I prefer menhirs to dolmens. I can see the point of dolmens quite clearly – to mark and protect a burial, but the reason menhirs were erected is far less clear cut. This one wasn’t even built on high ground – the glade was in a sort of dingle  – so it wasn’t clearly within the line of sight of any other conspicuous objects; not that there seemed to be any in the immediate vicinity.

It must have been placed there for a what seemed a good reason at the time, given the obvious cost in man hours to a people whose time was mostly spent just surviving.

Anyway, well worth the small detour in my opinion and curiously atmospheric, standing in its small shady glade – although It probably stood out in the open 5 000 years ago.

Beautiful.