223 – Mosquitoes and Lemons

I’ve been fighting a war here recently. Each morning waking up a puckered corpse. Ravaged in the night by an elite squadron of mosquitoes whose only objective is to bleed me dry. So much so that I’ve been thinking of sleeping in a bath of bleach with a snorkel to breathe through simply to get a good night’s sleep.

The towns and villages on the Arcachon Basin are built on tidal swamps. A giant game reserve in which pink faced Homo sapiens are the prey and the red-necked harpoon toting mosquitoes, the hunters.

Luckily, help is at hand.

The old Algerian cleaning lady who I work with – and who I incidentally found four crates of out-of-date Heineken in the cellar with yesterday (coincidence? I think not) – told me to cut a lemon in half and rub it on my body as a repellent.

I did and it worked. Not a bite all day. Until I dived in the pool for my evening swim and got ravaged the minute I stepped out. In agony, screaming and stinging like a freshly pickled cat, I ran into my apartment, downed a can of the out of date Heineken and then pelted it to the shop to buy a crate’s worth of lemons. Plus a bottle of gin to make my blood too toxic for the mosquitoes to drink. A trick my father taught me on a camping trip to South Africa in the 1980s. Gin being cheaper than insect repellent. Or so he said.

I’m normally quite resistant to bites – even in the proper tropical countries I’ve visited. This year though in boring temperate France, I’ve been slaughtered by them. Their persistence astonishing. As is their powers of stealth. Appearing from behind cupboards, curtains and cabinets the minute I step in the shower. A blood bath!

I’m a hot and humid weather kind of guy. A result of someone in my ancestral line picking up some tropical blood from somewhere at some point in the dark distant past. I can sit in humid 35 degree heat all day. Doesn’t bother me in the slightest. But of course with hot humid weather in swamp land, you get mosquitoes. Millions of them.

I now have a solution though. Lemons. Now I can sit outside all day long and not worry. And there’s even the added bonus that I’ll never run out of lemons again for my gin and tonics. Which is proof – if ever I needed it – that there’s always a satisfactory solution to everything if you put your mind to it.

lemons3

222 – A Bottle of Wine, a Piece of Meat, a Knife, and a Stove.

My contract as Pool Boy terminates in 15 days time. My services are redundant and I’m moving on again. Jobless and homeless in two weeks. But not concerned.

It’s my long held belief that there’s always work and a bed to sleep in if you put your mind to it. Ask around, see what’s going on. Chances are there’s always someone who needs something doing that they can’t be bothered doing themselves. That’s how economies work. And if there’s no work, you move on. That’s called migration. And if you can’t find work, you sleep on it and see what comes up the next day. That’s called life.

Elizabeth said to me yesterday, ‘You don’t need much do you, Oggers? A bottle of wine, a piece of meat, a knife, and a stove.’

I’m not very good at being in the same place. Too many reasons to get bored. Looking at the walls for instance, wondering what colour to paint them. Eggshell, Sunflower Yellow, Lilac, Emerald. So many options. So many possibilities.

People say that’s why you go on holiday. To have a break. But surely the walls will still be there when you return. Unless someone’s knocked them down, rebuilt new ones, moved your furniture around and hidden your possessions. All in a charitable attempt to make the next year a little bit different from the last.

I always enjoy reading Bruce Chatwin at times like this.

“Man’s real home is not a house, but the Road, and that life itself is a journey to be walked on foot.”

I’ve moved around a lot in my life. I’m not a Nomad in the traditional sense – I don’t have animals for one.  But I do understand the pull of the road and being on the move.

I was born in Durham in the north of England almost 41 years ago (my birthday is in two days) and even though it’s only 1430kms from where I am now, it feels like a million. I only stayed there until I was two, before moving to Leeds. Now 41 (almost), I’m still moving, and as normal, even with fifteen days to go, my plans are vague. Fifteen days though, in anybody’s life, not just mine, is a long time. Anything could happen.

As long as I have a stove, a good Bordeaux, some sausage and a knife, nothing can go wrong.

220 – Blogley Takes a Break

Today is the last Blogley for a while. No reason. Just fancy a break from the ramblings. Things to do. People to see. Places to go.

I’ve been writing a lot in longhand recently on old fashioned paper and need some time to read what nonsense I’ve written and whether any of it is usable for some project.

I’ve therefore decided that it’s time to let the blog go for a while and concentrate on other things. I don’t spend a great deal of time on the blog, but it’s enough to distract me. And I don’t like distractions.

Blogley will return soon. In the meantime, here’s a video of a trip to the shop I did today with Elizabeth. Call it an intermission: pop corn, ice creams, sodas.

219 – The Pool – Revisited (again)

The pool still isn’t clean. Despite weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks of hard work, it still looks like a silage pit. A deep green vat of algal snot covering every surface like discharge from a gigantic sneeze. The fabled natural swimming pool of the villa, no longer a clear blue green embodiment of ecological modern living, but a huge used Kleenex sunk into a hole in the ground.

However much I clean it, hoover it, deploy the pool robot, skim off leaves with the net. By the morning there’s always a thick layer of green algae creaming every surface like someone went nuts in the night with a Gloop Gun.

The main problem I’ve deduced is the wind. Which has been blowing all sorts of crap into it on which the algae feed off. The human equivalent of bringing a fresh barrel of beer into a student house every evening. Suddenly the music’s blaring, people are dancing and the neighbours are banging on the ceiling. It’s a total disaster. Yet however hard I try, the party just goes on and on.

Tomorrow is April. I should be practising my backstroke by now in the hot sun, not poncing about in my Peter Storm cagoule scraping slime off the sides of the pool like I’m cleaning a communal toilet. It’s really starting to get to me.

Every night I dream of gigantic life size algae with razor sharp teeth eating their way through a mountain of leftover kebabs that have blown in from nearby Arcachon. Gorging themselves on junk, growing bigger and bigger, spreading across the surface of the pool as I lie sleeping. Their horrible evil grins I can see in my nightmares as they destroy everything I’ve worked for over the past three months.

The word ‘Thankless’ often comes to mind. As do the words ‘Litre of bleach’. That would do the trick. That would bring their algal fiesta under control very quickly.

A controlled dose I’ve calculated – say half a litre – might actually work. Kill off the algal blooms but leave the plants intact. The only problem is, I can’t be sure it’ll work. If it went wrong, there would be some difficult questions to answer from my boss.

Namely. ‘Why is everything dead?’ Quickly followed by, ‘Why are you still here? You’re fired. Get out.’

I can’t risk losing my job at this critical stage. It’s not my accommodation or the money I’m bothered about. More my conscience.

I want to leave here on my last day looking at a pool so clean I could boil potatoes in it. Drink from it. Deliver babies in it. I want it to look as pristine as the photograph in the villa’s brochure. So that when people visit, they think it is a photograph.

‘My God,’ they’ll say. ‘It looks exactly as it does in the photograph. Must have a good Pool Boy.’

‘You betcha ass they do,’ the Ghosts of Algal Past will reply. ‘He’s the best!’

pool perfect

218 – Wine Box Bike Racks

I’ve been doing cycling tours on and off for years. Bike, couple of panniers, tent, sleeping bag, set off, see where I end up. They’ve always been great fun, either alone or with a friend. Total freedom, plus a clean and cheap way to see the world. But where do you put your wine?

There’s nothing more invigorating than drinking a bottle of wine while cycling. I normally keep it in the water bottle holder on the frame, so that when I come to a difficult hill, it’s within easy reach. A slug of Pays D’Oc decreases the gradient of any hill. Even a tortuous Alpine pass suddenly looks possible.

I’ve loved touring since I was kid. Me and my school friend Duncan used to cycle round Cornwall in the rain and hail of the British summer. We stayed in youth hostels back then and didn’t drink wine. Just the odd fag now and then to fire our lungs up before an ascent of those ludicrously steep Cornish hills.

My smoking days are done, but the cycling continues. And so does the wine. Even though it’s never been particularly secure, jammed into the flimsy metal wire cradle that was originally designed for a light plastic water bottle and not a heavy Bordeaux.

It of course goes without saying that over the years a bottle of Claret has broken free and shattered all over the road. Total disaster for me and any cyclists bringing up the rear in their skinny wheelers.

Despite the water bottle holder’s shortcomings though, I’ve kept on using it as my wine rack. Until yesterday. When I found an old champagne crate in a dustbin up the road from where I live.

‘Oh Lord,’ I thought as I measured up the dimensions. ‘It’s perfect. Not only for wine, but beer as well. I wouldn’t even have to stop. Just a quick reach around into my portable bar for a chilled beer or a slug of wine.’ I’m already planning my first trip. Probably to a nearby vineyard. Camp out among the vines with my new companion.

It’s certainly made me think that in our world of endless technology and gadgets, where even books are becoming erased by computer screens, it’s so pleasing to know that I can still derive great pleasure from such a simple (and free) thing. So much so that I can’t stop looking at it.

It’s not just that it fits exactly twelve cans of beer and two bottles of wine in it. It’s the utter simplicity of it that I find astonishing. A old box strapped to a bike. And yet it serves its function perfectly. Not just for alcohol. For anything. Books, groceries, vegetables, fruit, wood, dogs, fish.

I’ve seen bikes with boxes on them for years. Even on those Cornwall trips I saw crazy cyclists with gigantic trunk like containers on their bikes as though they were heading off to Africa. And yet I never thought of having one myself. Even as an adult.

‘If only everything was as simple as strapping an old wine box to a bike with an old bungi cord.’ I kept saying to myself yesterday evening.

Now I think about it. Maybe it is.

wine box

217 – The Mugwump

Yesterday I started reading a post from a blog I subscribe to. It’s called 101 Books and is a journey through all of TIME magazines best 101 books. I wrote about it in Blogley 130.

The blog’s author is currently reading Naked Lunch by William Burroughs, which is a personal favourite of mine because of its powerful descriptions on how far human beings will go to satisfy their craving for depravity and debauchery.

I’ve read it twice and loved every minute of it. Mad, sickening, incoherent, unsettling, and totally crazy. Or as JG Ballard said:

“A comic apocalypse, a roller-coaster ride through hell, a safari to the strangest people on the strangest planet, ourselves.”

It’s not everybody’s cup of tea I admit. But that’s OK, there are lots of books I don’t like. The reason I took offence at yesterday’s post was because the blogger had taken it upon himself to include a page from the book where The Mugwump (a male prostitute) has sex with a client.

YES! The writing is certainly vivid, but it’s also ridiculous. The Mugwump isn’t even real. (From Naked Lunch):

Mugwumps have no liver and nourish themselves exclusively on sweets. Thin, purple-blue lips cover a razor sharp beak of black bone with which they frequently tear each other to shreds in fights over clients. These creatures secrete an addictive fluid though their erect penises which prolongs life by slowing metabolism’

It’s a swamp beast. A creature from the depths. The scene takes place in a brothel located in hell. It’s NOT real. It’s so OBVIOUSLY a metaphor. Yet, the reaction to that one page on his blog – AND I STRESS ONE PAGE OUT OF 200 – was maddening. Suddenly I was wondering whether all his readers had converted to reading the Daily Mail.

‘Promotes paedophilia’

‘Should be banned!’

‘Sicko stuff.’

‘Nothing more than pornography.’

‘Truck stop filth.’

Really! I’m thinking. That bad? I mean where do these people live? What do they think lies behind any internet search engine if they type in the right words. Far worse stuff than Burroughs ever wrote.

People are entitled to their opinion. Even if they want to base their opinions on one page of a book. However, the worst aspect of the post for me was the constant going on about how the book, ‘Is in no way art!’

This really confused me. Of course, it isn’t art. It’s a fictionalised account of William Burroughs’s travels and experiences. I don’t want to get onto the subject of whether books are art. Personally, a book is a story. And a story isn’t art. Sure there’s an art in creating the characters, the setting, the plot. The craft of getting the words onto the page. But in my mind, a story is a story. A journey from A to B. And in this particular book, as JG Ballard perfectly put it, a journey through the strangest minds on the planet. Ourselves.

216 – MockVert

If you read my last post, it was about not feeling guilty. Not being harangued by Mister Guilt every time I try and do something different or creative.

If you remember, ‘I was wasting my time writing a story no one would ever read.’ So I made a video of me writing it and posted it on the internet along with the blog.

So how did it go? Well, it made me feel pretty damn good actually. I felt proud and powerful. ‘Who gives a monkeys what I do,’ I thought. ‘If someone wants to laugh at me and say, “Well, you’re a rather silly fellow, Oggers,” then good for them. Meanwhile, I’ll get on with my life.’

So what’s a MockVert?

It’s an unofficial advertisement for a product featuring real life people.

So who invented it?

I did. Today in fact as I was standing in my kitchen making a coffee wondering how I would advertise the particular brand I was using.

Who’s in it?

Me. As later in the day, I thought what would happen if I actually filmed myself promoting a product – say a beer – and put it on the internet? How silly would that be?

Is it legal?

I don’t know. The only way to find out is to try. The Orville brothers didn’t invent the aeroplane by sitting on their fat American asses wondering what would happen if they glued a couple of long flat pieces of wood together and attached it to a motor.

What’s the product?

Export 33. It’s not my regular brand, but they’d run out at the shop. This was all they had.

Will I get sued?

I hope so.

Where can I see?

Here:

215 – Mister Guilt

On a Sunday I like to sit on the veranda and write a story. Just me and a piece of paper. The house I look after is generally empty from noon onwards, so it’s a good chance to sit down and do some solid writing.

Today’s story was about a man who had bought a large villa and yet had no need for it. He bought it because he could. It was big and expensive. He was rich. He knew as soon as he’d signed the contract that it was a mistake. He didn’t even like it, but had the deranged idea that buying it might win his wife back.

The story doesn’t matter. For now. It may appear somewhere at some point – it’s called The Castle. What does matter is that halfway through writing it – at about the time where the man is going through an alcohol induced breakdown in his huge house that he hates in the middle of nowhere – I had a block. Not a writer’s block. But a guilt block.

‘What are you doing? Can’t you spend your Sundays any more productively than writing your silly little stories, Phil? I mean no one is ever going to read them. Don’t you think you’re wasting your time? I mean who do you think you are, Charles Dickens?’

For those of you who write (or paint or create music or dance) you may be familiar with this. From somewhere out of nowhere, just as you’re enjoying yourself, storms in that demented beast of all creation, Mister Guilt. Coming over to destroy everything you’ve ever worked for.

I have a strategy for dealing with him though. Whatever I’m doing that is so silly and worthless, I double it, triple it, quadruple it. Make whatever I’m doing even more stupid, more ridiculous, more juvenile than it already was, so that Mister Guilt is simply lost for words. Then watch him run back to whatever angst ridden nightmare he lives in.

To combat him today, I decided to film myself finish the story I had started.

‘That dumb enough for you, Mister Guilt? I’m Philip ‘Oggers’ Ogley, I can do anything I want. I’m my own creation. So stick this in your fusebox and piss off.’

So that’s what I did. I got out my camera and filmed myself writing the second portion of my story, which I finished. (The owner of the Castle living happily ever after – sort of.)

The results of my experiment are below if you’re intrigued to see how I destroyed Mister Guilt. Maybe try it for yourself one day.

214 – Beer Cans: Recycling or Rubbish

(this audio blog first appeared in Alexander Velkey’s highly acclaimed Doubtcast on 10 March 2015 – see end of post for further details)

I live in a small cottage by the sea. I’m the caretaker for a holiday villa that caters for people who drive cars that look like chocolate bars. Smooth soft-topped motors designed for fast driving. No roof racks, baby seats, car stickers, tow bars, awkward edges or angles to spoil the view.

I do most of my chores in the morning, so that I have the afternoons off to write and drink beer. I drink a lot of beer, and as a result accumulate a lot of rubbish. Or is it recycling?

It’s good that I can recycle the mountain of cans I see on the floor each morning. Stick them in the recycling box. Out of sight, out of mind. Buy another crate. Get smashed.

I don’t feel too guilty about buying them because they’ve got a green swirly logo on the side that gives me the licence to buy as many as I want. It’s not technically rubbish, is it? It’s recycling. Great! Let’s buy more of it. Let’s get smashed.

Sometimes I use cardboard from cereal boxes as kindling for my woodburner and feel guilty when I do. I should be recycling it. But why? Doesn’t the lorry that take it all away use fuel and create carbon. Cause congestion and traffic accidents. And if I didn’t use the cardboard for kindling, I would only use more wood.

I buy my beer in 33cl cans because it limits my alcohol intake. I could buy the same beer in 5 litre home barrels that cost less and create less waste. But that would create problems. One, I would drink it all. And two, if I didn’t, it would go flat. And I can’t drink flat beer.

In short, the best way for me to save the environment is to drink less beer. Or buy it in bigger containers. But that’s not going to happen. I like the ritual of popping the can. That gratifying metallic snap the ring pull makes.

There’s nothing better is there? Something so precise and conclusive about the sound. Followed by that calm hiss as the beer gently fizzes up to the rim of the can. That is, unless you’ve just carried it back from the shop. Then it just fizzes all over the floor.

The 5 litre home barrel wouldn’t work for me. I’d drink it for starters. Plus the pure enjoyment of popping the can would be lost forever. So it’s something my environmental conscience will simply have to live with.

It’s lucky there’s recycling. Otherwise all my cans would simply become rubbish.

(Listen to the entire Doubtcast below)

Or visit website http://www.doubtist.com/2015/03/10/doubtcast-1-rubbish/ for further details.

213 – Fish Pie and the Art of Writing

If I was asked what meal I’d eat before I died, I’d choose fish pie. I’d even offer to cook it, I like it that much.

I see making it as like writing a story or a book. Four or five strong characters – the fish. The peas as the bad guys. The béchamel sauce, the plot. The potato topping, the location. The grated parmesan and gruyere cheese (my personal choice), the twist. Baked in the oven for thirty minutes, it’s got the makings of a classic.

One of the reasons I like cooking this dish is the almost infinite combinations of fish you can use. Anything that lives in the sea is fair game in my book. So many strong contenders and characters.

And when you throw in all the differing variations of sauce, mashed potato and cheese, there’s literally a million ways your fish pie (or book) can end up. In fact, it’s safe to say that no two fish pies are the same. Just like a story.

The one I cooked last night wasn’t my best, I admit. Mainly because I was concentrating on filming it rather than thinking about my culinary journey.

Having all the ingredients on the table (good characters, strong plot, perfect setting, quirky twist) doesn’t necessarily make a great meal or a book. You need the passion. Your full attention. If you’re doing it half arsed then you’re going to bake a watery fishpie full of tasteless peas, tepid mashed potato, a bland filling, and a spongy topping with no twist in it whatsoever.

Writing is like fish pie. You can’t just throw it together and hope for the best. There’s no fluke in writing or cooking. If there was, everybody would be doing it. Not that anybody can’t. Far from it. It’s the easiest thing in the world. Even I can do it…

(The video below features strong fish.)

212 – Lessons in Pool Hoovering

As discussed many many many times before on this blog, one of my jobs is to clear leaves and algae from the natural swimming pool where I work.

The pool net is the most traditional method at clearing leaves. But as it’s incredibly slow and tedious, I generally favour the pool robot. It’s effective at what it does but erratic in its methodology. Being a robot it lacks the basic intelligence to know what it’s cleaned and what it hasn’t. Like a human being painting a black wall with black paint. Where do you start and where do you finish?

Furthermore, the pool robot is only effective in the swimming pool. It moves on tiny plastic wheels propelled by a motor that creates propulsion by forcing water out of the sides. In short, it’s an underwater kid’s remote control car – a Bond car if you like – with a small hoover built in instead of a rocket launcher. Therefore on the stony and rocky surface of the regeneration and filtration beds, it’s pretty much useless. Like driving over a volcano in a golf cart.

My favoured option therefore is the fabled pool hoover that I talked about in Blogley 203. (And 206, 207, 208.)

It’s not really a hoover in the traditional sense, more an industrial water pump that leaves no stone unturned. Quite literally. Sucking everything up like a giant elephant’s trunk and regurgitating it either back into the pool through a mesh filter (a sock is actually the best thing I’ve found – see video), or by simply emptying it out on the grass.

In theory it should work well. But it doesn’t. Nothing is ever that simple, is it?

Why? Because as I’ve mentioned, the hoover not only sucks the leaves and algae up, but all the stones and rocks as well. Blocking everything up which means I have to switch it off and shake it violently to extract the stones. Once it’s done, it’s back to work. Until the next blockage five seconds later.

But of course like most things in life there’s always a technique to avoid such occurrences. Namely, be careful where you put your hose. It’s true. If you keep the vacuum hose close enough to the pool surface to suck up the leaves, but far enough away to avoid sucking up the stones, you can hoover happily all day. Just like hoovering dust off a curtain at home. If you keep it at the right distance, the dust and fluff comes off easily. If you get it too close, you simply yank the entire curtain and rail down.

So there you go. Now you all know what to do if you by chance have to clean your pool with a hoover. Yet another genius instructional blog post from Blogley – The Home of Pointless Information.

Video included (needs sound):

 

 

 

211 – Is This Entertainment?

It was cold, wet and windy with only the occasional ray of sunshine to keep me company. Not a great day for standing around with a hard bristle brush scrubbing wooden decking.

Tedious backbreaking work: the handle of the brush was too short and I’m slightly too tall if that makes sense. Working half bent, half upright for the whole day. Reminding me of the kitchen in Exeter where I once worked in which all the work surfaces were a foot and a half too low. Walking back home doubled up after my 15 hour shift chopping veg aided by a walking frame and half a bottle of vodka to make the pain in my lower back go somewhere else.

Yesterday after three hours of scrubbing, I was bored stiff. Literally. It had started raining again and I was ready to jack it in. Never mind the huile de coude (elbow grease) I had promised my boss, I wanted a cold beer. Kick back. Read my book. Live a bit!

Then I had an idea.

Why not film it? Film my work? Could it work? Could it be entertainment?

Difficult and certainly a challenge. And if nothing else, it might inject a bit of purpose into the next three hours.

So I went inside. Cut a lens sized hole in an old plastic biscuit box, put my camera in it, put the lid on, checked it was watertight, and went to work.

Three hours later, I had two hours of film which I edited down to two minutes five.

So what do you think? Entertainment? Rubbish? Or just a boring job that no amount of jazzing up with film cameras will ever make interesting?

(Music: Mr and Mrs Smith – Dark Country Road. Used under CC licence)

210 – Sometimes You’ve Just Got To Let Go – A Short Film

Yesterday wasn’t a particularly good day weather wise – cold, windy, rainy. When the sun finally came out, I spent it larking around with my video camera that used to belong to my great friend Stan.

My plan was to film something of interest. Something mind blowing. ‘Who knows what lies on this part of the coast?’ I thought.

I found nothing. Winter in a bland seaside town in Western France. I may as well have been fishing for oysters on the moon.

I decided to look harder. ‘There must be something!’ I thought. ‘A bright red stuffed toy that’s been left by a distraught child after being told by the parents that Water World isn’t open in February. Nothing is open. Nothing!’

As I said in a post a few weeks ago. ‘Incredible what you can see when you want to.’ (Blogley 204.)

So by the end of my quiet and occasionally wet saunter up the coast, I had something to make my short film with.

(Music: Fog Lake – Little Black Balloon)

209 – Oggers Talks About The Pool – Live!

Since I turned 16 in 1990 I’ve worked as a dustbin man, warehouse picker, call centre operative, musician, charity collector, sound engineer, postman, teacher, chef, waiter, small-ads editor, barman, scientist, van driver, Christmas tree seller, data entry clerk, writer, bookseller, gardener, nacho stall manager, and now pool boy.

If I had made a video of all of them, it would never end. Luckily, I’ve only made one.

(Needs sound. Otherwise it makes no sense – if it does at all)

208 – Pool Progress III (final update)

It turned out my boss was joking. I wouldn’t have to clean the pool swimming naked underwater armed with only a garden brush and a snorkel as depicted in my last post (Blogley 207). I was to use the long handled pool broom instead.

brush2

Yesterday morning I got to work. Only to be faced with a big problem. The long handled pool broom was useless. It was too soft. Just pushed all the remaining algae to the edges of the pool as though sweeping up hair in a barber’s shop. Leaving the real dirt stuck to the floor like it was doubling up as a paintbrush.

After a two hour coffee break to think it over, à la Français, I found another brush in the shed that would have been perfect. Unfortunately, as it was the brush used for scrubbing the decking round the pool, it wasn’t long enough for the job.

Maybe I should get in and do it sous-marin – as my boss had originally suggested. Dive in and scrub it clean dressed in my Speedos?

I’m not adverse to swimming in cold waters – I used to swim in the sea in Cornwall in midwinter. But that was for leisure. Or when I was paralytic. To do it during the course of a day’s work, wading round a freezing cold swimming pool with a decking brush, wasn’t what I signed up for. It says so in my contract:

UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES MUST EMPLOYEES SWIM IN THE POOL

So that was out. As was draining the pool.

DO NOT DRAIN THE POOL UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES – I WILL KILL YOU!

The long and the short of it was I needed a longer handle to attach to the decking brush.

So I set off to Bricomarche 5 kms up the coast to buy a ten foot pole that I could fashion into a handle using my new Opinel knife I had bought from the Tabac last week. (The Tabac here is fascinating: you can buy fags, beer, wine, lotto tickets, crisps, knives, oysters, fishing rods, even logs.)

I’m glad I went for the walk though. As a kid I always wanted to go pole vaulting. But as it was always deemed too dangerous, or too stupid, I never got the chance. Until yesterday. Click on the picture below.

pole3

I got back in one piece, fitted the pole to the brush and started cleaning. By the end of the day, the pool was spotless, its bottom as sparkling as a brand new mirror.

All I need now is some sun to warm it up and I can go swimming…in the middle of the night when no one is looking. Get in!

207 – Pool Progress II

I didn’t get fired. In fact, I got promoted. Hoisted up by my Speedos to the title of Pool Boy Extraordinaire – King of the Pool Boys.

‘C’est magnifique, Oggers,’ my boss said to me yesterday. ‘You’ll make a good Frenchman one day.’

‘In your dreams,’ I muttered under my breath as we took a weak tasteless coffee together on the veranda to toast my promotion.

It turned out that getting rid of the filthy fetid water from the filtration tank last week and replacing it with fresh tap water was the right thing to do. (See Blogley 206)

‘It’s incredible,’ he said. ‘I’d have never thought of that. You’re a genius.’

‘Well, you know,’ I replied smugly. ‘When you employ an Englishman, provided you feed him with enough bacon and eggs for breakfast, the job gets done.’

He smiled and seemed amused by the idea of feeding a man bacon and eggs to get him to work. Like putting petrol in a car to make it go.

‘The perplexing thing is,’ I continued, ‘that apart from the bacon, France has all the ingredients for a great English breakfast: tasty fresh eggs, meaty sausages, good fatty black pudding, creamy butter for frying the bread in. And yet you still insist on eating brioche and dry biscuits dipped in luke warm milky coffee.

‘Not that I’m complaining,’ I quickly added. ‘I love France.’

He slowly nodded. ‘Then you’ll be interested to find out what your next job is?’ he said smiling. A wide, drawn out smile that made the Cheshire Cat’s grin look like a halfarsed smirk.

I gulped. ‘What is it?’ I asked, feeling like a cigarette for the first time in years.

‘Ever been scuba diving?’

I said I had in the tropical waters of northern Australia. Lovely warm seas followed by a crate of Fosters and a bottle of vodka on the diving boat afterwards.

He looked confused but nodded all the same.

‘How about in the ice cold waters of Arcachon?’ he asked.

My eyes narrowed. ‘I’m sorry?’

‘The Pool,’ he said gesturing towards the freezing mass of water in front of us.

‘You’re shitting me!’ I said jumping out of my wicker chair. ‘I’m not cleaning the bottom of the swimming pool with a garden brush dressed in a wetsuit and snorkel. The water is 4 degrees for God’s sake, I measured it yesterday. I’d die. Especially after the kind of breakfasts I eat.’

The lines on his forehead that had been massaged and relaxed by our polite conversation suddenly creased up into a deep frown that looked like the four-day old croissants I eat on a Sunday when I’ve run out of lard.

‘Monsieur Oggers. King of the Pool Boys. I’m not sure you understand me,’ he said stroking a grey fluffy cat that had suddenly appeared on his lap. ‘Who said anything about a wetsuit,’ he stated and handed me a piece of paper before disappearing through a trap door in the veranda floor like all good Bond villains do.

pool boy3

(Artwork copyright 2015 © My French Boss. Courtesy of Le Louvre, Paris.)

206 – Pool Progress

In case you haven’t been reading this. Here’s a quick recap.

My name is Philip ‘Oggers’ Ogley and I’m looking after a villa for the winter on the Arcachon basin in France. One of my main tasks, among many, concerns cleaning and maintaining the natural swimming pool.

There are actually three pools here that make up the swimming pool unit. A filtration bed that looks like a giant sandpit filled with gravel. The swimming pool itself, which for some bizarre reason, is in the shape of a coffin. And a regeneration reservoir.

This is how it all works. After the water has trickled down through the filtration bed, it’s pumped into the swimming pool and then left to trickle over its walls into the regeneration reservoir where plants such as sedge and water hyacinth filter it and the microbes feed on the algae.

(Artwork copyright Philip Ogley 2015. Courtesy of the Tate Gallery London)

pool

Getting rid of the algae is why you go to all this trouble. Algae is what makes swimming pools go green. In a perfect environment the whole system should clean itself. The perfect environment being a place with no trees or shrubs – a hill top or a desert for example.

Unless you live in these places, leaves are going to get into your pool whether you like it or not. Leaves are bad. They introduce nutrients into the pool which encourage the growth of algae. And remember algae is bad.

I removed the leaves last week. They’re gone. Dead in the water as it were (or not). This week my task was to remove the two inch thick layer of algal scum covering the filtration bed.

So enter Oggers once again with his pool hoover sucking the scum off the top of the filtration bed and letting it flow back in to clog it all up again. Problem.

So I found a fine mesh to filter it through. This half worked. It took the larger sediment out, but still allowed the fine algae to pollute the system. Like hoovering your carpet and then emptying the dirty bag over the floor.

The only sensible solution was to let the dirty water go free. Flush it over the side. Rid the system of this filth once and for all. So I did. And within a few days the water looked sparkling. That is, what water was left…

Oops. I’d forgotten the principle of the whole system. It’s contained. The water goes round and round. Just like the water cycle you learn about in geography at school. Nothing is added and nothing is taken away. Unless some buffoon empties half of it into the sea.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, I hadn’t changed a thing – the water would one day find its way into the sea. But on the smaller scheme of things, I might lose my job.

It was time for some Oggers quick thinking while my boss was out for lunch. And like cooling down on a hot summer’s day, there’s nothing a hosepipe can’t fix. I quickly hooked it up and turned it on full, hoping the boss was on a long lunch. About 4 hours I was thinking – the time it would take to refill it.

By a stroke of luck he was out for the entire afternoon. Incroyable! By the time he got back the filtration bed was brimming with fresh water.

Now I just have to see what happens over the weekend. Hope the tap water I used from the hose wasn’t full of chlorine. Then I’ll be Oggers The Pool Boy no more.

205 – Harold Kynaston-Snell May Have Saved My Life

‘At all costs his enthusiasm must not be checked and crushed by exceptions and irregularities. His interest must be kept and his ability encouraged.’

The above extract is taken from a 1933 book that belonged to my grandfather entitled First French Course for Seniors by Harold F. Kynaston-Snell.

I picked it up a few nights ago. I had nothing else to read and was intrigued by this blue faded hardback that I had been carrying around with me for years. A tribute to my long dead grandfather, who despite studying French for almost his whole life, could hardly speak a word.

I’ve taught and learned languages myself, so I’m very familiar with the books. And most of them start like this:

‘This English-For-U course book with its motivational and interactive approach will push students to new levels of excellence and brilliance ensuring top marks every time…’

Whereas Kynaston-Snell seems to be saying:

‘Look here old sport! You’re not going to learn this language in a week, or even a month. Take it from me. What I can do is give you this book. It contains everything you need to know. Read it once and then burn it. Good-O.’

While the English-For-U students lumber their way through twenty volumes of glossy text books filled with airbrushed pictures of celebrities asking questions like, Brad Pitt lives here. But where did he used to live?

Answer: Who cares.

I see Kynaston-Snell’s approach more along the lines of being taught how to swim.

‘You won’t be able to swim the channel just yet old sport. But neither will you drown. And at least you’ll be able to order a glass of champagne, buy a packet of cigarettes and talk about the weather.’

Which in 1933 was probably all you needed to know.

Kynaston-Snell produced a great little book with plenty of stylish black and white 1930s illustrations making the book feel more like an art galley prospectus than a language book. No film stars, no pictures of exotic islands and no photos of people sitting in dull meetings in grey offices pretending to look interested.

I struck a deal with myself this morning. This was it:

Whenever I feel weak. Whenever I feel like giving up. In any part of my life, not just learning French. This is what I will say:

‘My enthusiasm must not be checked and crushed by exceptions and irregularities.’

Thank you Harold Kynaston-Snell. You may have saved my life.

204 – Incredible What You Can See When You Want To

Occasionally I like to have a break from writing to take some snaps. I like photography because it’s the nearest thing I get to painting. I like painting. I just can’t do it.

I did a portrait of someone once and the person in question asked me to destroy it after and never spoke to me again. So I packed away my paintbrushes and took up writing. That way I couldn’t offend anybody quite as much.

Photography is a nice relaxing departure from writing (or painting). It’s like walking round with a gun. When you see something you shoot it and hope everything turns out alright. Mostly it doesn’t. Sometimes it does.

The snaps below are the ones that did and are all from a 0.5km radius of where I live. Incredible what you can see when you want to.