Chateau D'Auty

247 – The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd and Other Stories

The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd is a bizarre and enjoyable journey featuring an unforgettable cast of characters in some of the strangest situations imaginable. An angry postman in Bristol. An elderly couple addicted to bad French food. A boxing match on a cricket square between two public servants. A very unhealthy freezer shop in rural Devon. A wino who lives in a bandstand with a guy called Jeff. The hapless romantic who buys a 40-tonne boulder for his wife as a birthday present. The man trapped in a bookshop over Christmas. The holidaymaker who takes sunbathing to the extreme. Plus many more, taking you on a fascinating journey through the curious imagination of me, Philip Ogley.

Nomadic, zany, poignant and funny. The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd is definitely worth a read in any weather. (Just don’t leave your sunbed at home.)

Click on the sidebar or below to buy your copy.

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Chateau D'Auty, Film

245 – At the Chateau with JP Brown

What the 17th century chateau Elizabeth and I are looking after doesn’t provide is a selection of board games. So it was a shock to my friend – self confessed game addict and Barcelona based photographer Justin P Brown – when I told him that we were totally Cluedoless. We didn’t even have a pack of cards, I explained when he came to stay this week, meaning we were condemned to making our own games up. Enter the world of famous actors, ageing gameshow hosts, fictional characters and dead singers.

The timeworn Rizla game where somebody writes a name on a cigarette paper (or normal paper now we’ve all quit smoking) and sticks it on your forehead. The rules being you have to guess the name by using only YES or NO questions. It was the best we could come up with given the limited resources of our imagination, but it worked well, whiling away those dead hours between the end of dinner and bedtime.

Last night’s game was hilarious though, taking almost a whole night of haplessly threading our way through the whole gamut of sixties, seventies, and eighties TV characters to find our names. Mine was Dracula, but I had to go through Mr. Blobby, Kermit the Frog, Father Christmas, Zorro, Sherlock Holmes, The Snowman, Postman Pat, Astérix, and Rod Hull’s Emu to arrive – two hours later – at the name.

Justin fared little better having to go through Jim Bowen, Hughie Green, Russ Abbott, Les Dawson, Leslie Crowther, Noel Edmonds, Jimmy Saville, Dusty Bin, Russell Harty, Jimmy Tarbuck, and Bruce Forsyth to get to the late 70s game show host Larry Grayson. (For non UK readers, this probably makes no sense, but you might get the picture if you substitute in all the dead, champagne slurping, sexually overactive TV presenters from your country).

Elizabeth to be fair was the best taking a mere fifteen minutes to arrive at James Brown, leaving me and my old band buddy, Justin Brown (from the band Jamshakcle I wrote about in Blogley 20), to obliterate the evening with our wild guesses on British TV’s bygone era.

It was a fun night fuelled by fine cheese and wine and strong Abbey beer. We did actually have a TV in the room with access to all English channels, but it was clearly more fun to reminisce about the old days when TV was intentionally naff rather than turn on today’s expensively produced turgid nonsense.

Justin’s visit did unfortunately coincide with a week of torrential rain and cold winds. A world away from sultry Barcelona and the previous two months here that were nothing but sun and spring like days. But I dragged him to a few desolate deserted French hilltop villages where we stood and wondered what it was like in summer when it wasn’t so cold and miserable.

The town of Cahors was good though. The sun came out for an hour which gave Justin time to shoot the famous Pont Valentré that crosses the Lot to the west of the city. The rest of the time we wandered the streets looking at the chilled faces, bought a few postcards and headed back to the Chateau at Auty.

And that was the visit of Justin P Brown. Opened, set free for a week in rural France, wrapped up again and sent back to Barcelona with memories of Mr Blobby, Postman Pat and Larry Grayson etched on his mind forever. Au revoir mon ami.

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Blogley somewhere in Cahors. (Justin P Brown Photography)

 

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Chateau D'Auty

244 – L’étranger

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“Aujourd’hui maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas. J’ai reçu un télégramme de l’asile : ‹‹Mère décédée. Enterrement demain. Sentiments distingués›› Cela ne veut rien dire. C’était peut-être hier.”

The first paragraph of L’étranger, a book I read years ago after finding it in a pile of my maternal grandfather’s belongings after his death.

Since then I’ve read it three times at different stages in my life, and each time been mesmerised by it. The haunting routines of the protagonist Meursault. His functional lifestyle and lack of concern about anything, even the death of his mother. A man whose days, routines, acquaintances, family, work, hold little or no value.

Je me suis fait cuire des œufs et je les ai mangé à même le plat, sans pain parce que je n’en avais plus et que je ne voulais pas descendre pour en acheter.”

(I cooked some eggs for myself and ate them out of the pan without bread because I’d run out and couldn’t be bothered to go downstairs to buy some.)

I keep coming back to this line. It sums up the character. The minimum is always done. Eating the eggs out of the pan is enough. He would like some bread with the eggs – he is hungry, we know this – but he lets it pass. It’s not important.

The book continues in this style for its 182 pages almost devoid of description, which I like. I’m drawn into Meursault’s world, a world free from unnecessary distraction. He lives in his mother’s flat (his mother is in a home two hours away), he goes to work in an office, he smokes, he reads, he goes swimming, he has occasional sex, he goes to the cinema. All without feeling particularly anything for any of them.

The reason for this post is that Elizabeth very kindly bought me the French version for Christmas, having only previously read it in English. I was excited. I can speak and read French, but I’m not proficient. If ever I was going to start reading French novels, this was it.

I had started reading Saint Exupery’s Courrier Sud over the summer, but had got lost somewhere in his ramblings about his lost love Genevieve. I’d actually read the book in English years ago, and remembered it was pretty boring then, so a bad choice. L’étranger on the other hand was a guaranteed winner so I embarked on it on Christmas Day just after our traditional Christmas lunch of poached egg on toast (we had stuffed Turkey later).

I was engrossed from the start:

Mother died today. Or perhaps yesterday, I don’t know. I received a telegram from the home: “Mother dead. Funeral tomorrow. Yours faithfully.” It means nothing. It was yesterday.

And from here the story unfurls. A story of how a man should react to the death of his mother. A man overcome by grief, crushed by the loss, unable to partake in normal life. But this is not the case. Meursault gets on with life from the very first day. He goes swimming, goes to the cinema, has sex. It’s these small, almost irrelevant, actions that are ultimately Meursault’s downfall.

There is another strand to my quiet obsession with this book. When I was eight, I too was told that my mother had died. Not through a telegram, by my father. I remember the time, the place, the day, even the weather (overcast and warm), as though it was yesterday. And yet, like Meursault, life carried on as though nothing had happened.

I understand Meursault completely. I am (or at least was) him, an outsider looking in on the world. Indifferent to events around me and happy to plod along doing whatever is necessary to get through it. Murray Smyth, my housemaster at school, who I mentioned in Blogley 242 saw this. Describing me one afternoon as I was busy minding my own business away from everybody else, as insular. I didn’t know what it meant at the time so I looked it up: ‘Island like’, was part of the definition that stuck in my head. ‘Island like,’ I thought. ‘Like a boarding school.’ I didn’t understand the meaning of irony at the time either.

I think differently now. I’m not separated from other people or cultures, new or different ideas. I enjoy life and the world. I enjoy chopping wood, lighting fires, running, cycling, books, languages, food, animals, fresh air. I even like other people. But there’s part of me that can’t help thinking like, or wanting to be, Meursault. The Outsider.

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Chateau D'Auty

241 – God, Garlic, Christmas Turkeys and Dried Sausage at the Caussade Monday Market

The best part so far of being in Auty is the Monday morning market in nearby Caussade. A six kilometre drive takes me to this rural working town where they once made straw boaters (canotiers) for Europe’s dandies. Nobody wears them here any more, unless you’re on holiday from Kentucky, but Les Caussadaises do wear their berets with pride in this charming, if seemingly half demolished (in places) market town.

Like all French towns, the weekly market holds great significance for the people and the local economy. Caussade on a Monday morning is packed with people buying and selling live poultry, vegetables, meats, oils, cheese, wine, garlic, herbs, spices, furniture, bread, coffee, books, pots, pans. There’s even a Jehovah’s Witness stand parked rather incongruously next to the saucisson sec stall. No prizes for guessing which is busiest…

While there are ample supermarkets in the town (there are four for a population of only 7000), most people come here on a Monday to buy their groceries. And at around ten o’clock the town is so packed you’ve got to be careful not to get trampled to death by the hordes heading for the discount garlic stand.

This is my favourite stall: an old lady standing in front of a table of garlic stalks and bulbs so tightly tied together that they look like emaciated prisoners-of-war awaiting the firing squad. All labelled up in 5, 3, 2 or 1 Euro bundles depending on the size of the bunch. I normally take the two Euro one (about 12 bulbs) and say something to her about the damp weather and how garlic is good for the bones. She looks at me blankly and says it’s nice in a casserole as well.

Next I head to the cheese van up the road to order whatever is cheapest. This week I walked away with a nice stash of Emmental, Cantal and Brie, all for a fiver. Next I go to the butcher, after that the veg man, then the egg lady, the wine lady, the salad boy, the sausage counter, the fruit guys, the bread stall, the herb kiosk, and finally Bar des Amis, a tiny bar that serves nothing but coffee and pastis.

There me and Elizabeth sit down to eat our pain au chocolat we buy from the bakery and plan what we’re going to cook for the week ahead with our day’s haul. It’s more work shopping at the market than at a supermarket, I understand that now. I have to queue and wait – not my strongest points – but I enjoy the company and the ritual, talking about the weather and the produce. It’s all very real as well and makes all the trendy farmer’s markets that spring up in expensive middle class areas in the UK look rather contrived and fake.

I now look forward to the market, when before I was a dyed in the wool supermarket boy. I still go to Lidl to buy things I can’t get there like washing up liquid and cheap beer, but I don’t enjoy it half as much as the market – if at all. I’m even plucking up enough courage to buy a live Turkey next week ready for Christmas. Put it in the woods in the château, feed it up a bit on all the walnuts that are lying around and then slaughter it in time for our Christmas feast. The whole meal from the stalls and tables of Caussade market. That would be something. I could even get a Jehovah’s Witness in to say a prayer…or not.

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Chateau D'Auty

240 – The Road to Auty

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I’m a resident of Auty, a village 80 kms north of Toulouse on the border of the Tarn et Garonne and Lot départements. I’m looking after a château and a cat for the winter with Elizabeth. Two weeks ago it was 24 degrees, now it’s 2. I’m sitting in the château writing and I can barely see the end of the drive because of the fog.

This is classic rural France in winter. Vintage in fact. To my right I can see the blue swimming pool that looks about as inviting as smashing my gonads together with bricks. I’ve swum in the sea in Cornwall in winter and in the upper reaches of the Ardeche in April. That was cold, I even got in three times to remind myself how cold it was. I take cold showers every morning, but I can’t bring myself to swim in the pool. And I don’t have much time left as it’s soon going to be covered up once I’ve finished fishing out all the leaves.

There are no pool duties here as such, we’re really just here for security. Watching out for intruders and for leaks and burst pipes. Making sure the mice and weasels don’t make off with the chocolate and biscuit supplies. Or gnaw through the cables and wires that will plunge this 17th château into darkness for days. Without the moon here at night, it’s one of the darkest places I’ve ever been. Like being in a cave where you can’t see your hand.

The scariest place is the boiler room, which is in the basement. Here you can still see the 12th century foundations on which the current château is built on. There’s a tunnel that leads down even further into the ground. I don’t know where it goes and I don’t intend to find out. I’m le gardien not Indiana Jones.

If you were reading this when I lived in Queaux on the farmhouse (see posts 114 through to 164), it’s a similar set-up, except that it’s like the Super Size option in a fast food joint. We’ve upgraded from House Sit Lite to the Super Deluxe. Instead of four bedrooms to sleep in, we’ve got a choice of fifteen. Before one kitchen to cook in, now we’ve got three. Two bathrooms to bathe in, now we’ve got eight. A small skylight to admire the surrounding countryside from, now we’ve got a turret. A small patio for barbecues, now we’ve got a terrace the size of a tennis court. And on and on.

If you’ve read Les Grandes Meaulnes by Alain Fournier that I talked about in Blogley 187 and 189, it’s like the Lost Estate described in the book. All my childhood memories are here: Woods, fires, chopping logs, foggy fields, cycling along deserted roads, cooking, long sleeps, hot chocolate, fresh air. No school. Perfect.

I’ve got some serious writing to do here. A project I started back in 2004 when I lived in Devon, in Starcross, a village near Exeter up the Exe estuary. I even called it The Road to Starcross. Since then it’s grown and I’m not sure what I’m going to call it now. I thought about The Road to Auty but that sounds ridiculous, so I need to think about it some more. I’ll keep you posted from the turret…

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Chateau D'Auty

239 – The Need for Bikes after Paris

I was going to write a blog today about my new bike. A 1985 gold Peugeot PK10 ‘Record Du Monde’ in almost perfect condition that I bought from a guy down the road for the princely sum of 50 sheets. But then I saw the attacks in Paris.

France is a great country. I’ve lived here for four years and continue to do so. I’ve never been scared to walk the streets and will continue not to be. However, I was in a cafe today in Montauban, a town 40 kms north of Toulouse, and for the first time in my life, felt that these things do not just happen to other people, they could actually happen to me.

‘This is real,’ I said to Elizabeth.

It’s unlikely to happen in Montauban, because Montauban, with all due respect to Montauban, is off the map, but if people can waltz into restaurants and concerts in Paris, they can do it here if they want to. Which is probably why I like living in the middle of nowhere. Just in case.

I’m not particularly political, but I do understand that the reasons for these problems go back many years and are the result of various actions by Western countries, including France. What’s to be done about it? I’ve no idea. Stop invading countries, stop being greedy, get on your bikes. Literally. (I said I wanted to write about bikes.)

Bikes don’t need much oil to operate them or make them, even less so if they are thirty years old. It would at least start to reduce our dependency on oil, which – unless you’ve lived in a cave for the past twenty years – is a big factor in this mess. And I doubt anybody, except Tony Blair and George Bush, would deny that.

Bikes won’t solve the world’s problems, but they’re fun, healthy, cheap, and don’t require foreign oil. And better than driving around in an air polluting VW Golf all day. And if you get one as sexy as this, you’ll look very cool indeed. Allez France!

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Chateau D'Auty

238 – Blogley in Auty

By this time next week I’ll be back in France. Where I’ll remain until I die. A wild slashing overly melodramatic statement I know (and almost certainly false) but a forceful way to sum up how much I am looking forward to returning – I’ve even renamed the blog and done a new logo to mark the occasion, and I’m not even there yet. (Still in rain soaked Wiltshire.)

The best part though is the thought of having a permanent bed to sleep in for longer than a week. Over the past four months I’ve had to share my dreams with residential language schools, mud clogged campsites, greasy canal tow paths, patient parents and the threadbare sofas of friends. So it’ll be nice to be finally static after travelling around like some ragged salesman flogging cheap English lessons for glasses of warm lager and diced cabbage. To finally have a place where I can once again concoct my ass blowing curries, cement my cheese/potato top-heavy fish pies into cracked ceramic dishes, kneed and bake my crusty, hard, doughy, luxurious bread rolls. And most of all cook my breakfasts exactly the way I like them – two pieces of fried black pudding topped with two large fried eggs accompanied by fried bacon, fried sausages, fried bread. No beans or tomatoes, washed down with 5 cups of strong thick coffee. Heart food, ready for another five months of chopping logs in rural France in winter.

Yes, at last, me and Elizabeth are heading off on another house sitting caper, this time to the ‘wilds’ of Tarn and Garonne in South West France near Montauban to look after a Château and a cat until next April. It’s the 4th house sit we’ve done and to be frank we could have gone anywhere in Europe this time, inundated as we were by offers in Spain, Morocco, Switzerland and Paris to name a few.

So many in fact that I suddenly realised as I scrolled down the emails, that I’ll never have to pay rent again. I haven’t paid a cent for the last three years, I thought, so why start now. In fact the whole idea of paying rent seems totally ludicrous. Especially when I can live in large country houses and castles for free. Or log cabins in Arcachon. Or sleepy French cottages in Aude. My only regret is that I never thought of it earlier. Like when I was twenty! Instead of handing over my hard earned cash (or my dad’s cash) to greasy, B&H puffing landlords. Since I left home in 1992, I’ve worked out that I’ve forked out about £30,000 in rent. When all the time I could have been living for fuck all. Agghhh! Of course, there wasn’t internet 20 years ago, but I bet there were adverts for house sitters in newspapers and magazines. Probably my fault for buying electric guitar magazines throughout my twenties instead of HouseSits4U…

A naysayer of a friend pointed out to me a few weeks ago that house sitting is in actual fact just glorified serfdom, looking after the homes of the rich. There is a grain of truth in that for sure. But no more, I told him, than being a slave to the banks in the form of monthly mortgage payments or credit card bills. And seeing as our job at the château entails looking after a sleepy cat, turning a few lights on and off, sweeping up leaves, and generally keeping an eye on the place, it’s hardly penal servitude. Far from it as I plan to write four books, a stage play and produce a full length feature film based on Blogley.

Joking aside ( I wasn’t joking about the film though – it’s happening!), house sitting is just another way of living. And one that I happen to enjoy. As I’ve mentioned countless time before, I support the theory that humans are naturally nomadic creatures and not house dwellers. Even if on this occasion, a 17th century French château is going to have to act as my cave for the winter. Naturally after this assignment is over, I’ll be going back to my roots and moving to the Sahara to live with the camels. In the meantime though, I’m going to have to make do with a five star château, from where I’ll be regularly updating my progress in Blogley in France Part V*.

*Click on the ladder styled sidebar icon at the top right hand corner of the page for further posts. There’s lots! Loads in fact! Too many most likely. Unless you’re reading this from prison or hospital, in which case you should have loads of time to wade through four years of Blogley! Or check out the short films in the film section!

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