Commentary

Ten Years of Blogley

I started writing this blog ten years ago when I arrived in Lyon for a teaching job I didn’t want. Here’s the beginning.

“I live in Guillotiere. A heady mix of Arabs, Africans, Vietnamese, Chinese and me, crammed into a couple of blocks south of the Rhône. At the moment I’m standing in my tiny third-floor apartment looking at some Senegalese kids watching a football match on TV through the window of a bar.

I stayed in Lyon for two enjoyable years before moving on. I now live and work on a farm in Normandy herding cows, bailing hay, mowing lawns and eating apples – yes, that’s me below.

I came here to help out a friend for a few months. Two and a half years later I’m still here (BBC – Brexit, Boris, Covid has seen to that). But if nothing else it’s given me time to work on my BIG novel which has so far ‘cost’ me six years of my life.

It’s not BIG in length – it’s actually quite short. It’s just BIG in my head. Like a nuclear bomb detonating every time I look at the manuscript.

It started as a blog post (like this) but somehow enlarged itself into a full-blown novel. Like a minor sore turns into a terrifying disease. It starts quite benignly:

“I’m in the shower scrubbing away at a hangover with some expensive shower gel called EXIT.

At the time I was working at a residential craft centre near Cahors when I had an idea for a range of organic shower gels called START, GO, EXIT. I was trying a prototype out on a hangover but the smell made me feel so sick that I didn’t take it any further, and instead the idea wormed its way into a novel. This happens a lot, which is why my life exists more on paper than in reality. Call me a dreamer.

The title for this BIG novel is called DEATH ON A FACTORY FLOOR. It’s a murder mystery set in London, Derbyshire and France. There are no murders in it, just accidents. It’s more of an Accident-Mystery – a new genre, perhaps?

My only other novel, Le Glitch (2019), is a romantic-sci-fi-farce, according to some book categorisation algorithm I found. You input a few keywords and it gives you a genre match. I tried it out on my half-written novel about a hapless, idiotic TEFL teacher and the algorithm gave me: EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY. Which might explain a lot.

I doubt I’ll be writing this blog in another ten years as I’m probably the only person in the world who reads it now. I think most of my stats are generated by bots. Do people even read blogs anymore?

I used to be on Facebook and Twitter and advertised each and every post. When I deleted my accounts, I assumed fewer people would view them. In fact they stayed the same.

My post about the French writer Guy De Maupassant does well in India, and my quick (and woefully inaccurate) guide to Paris does well in China. My How to Build A Shepherd’s Hut and How to Tap a Walnut Tree for Syrup are my two bestsellers – in Canada.

So if anyone is remotely interested in reading any of my old posts from Lyon and beyond, you can access the entire archive (fuck!) by using the ladder icon at the top of the page. I don’t know why you would want to – maybe you’re in jail or something and have nothing to do. But you might.


You can buy and read Le Glitch – my satirical romp (or romantic sci-fi farce) here as eBook, Paperback, or Audiobook.

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Observation

Love of The Moka Express

For the past six months, I’ve been getting up early to write a novel. I don’t know why, because the story isn’t going anywhere. But I do it all the same. It feels important. Necessary. Like breathing.

To help me along I drink coffee made with a Bialetti Moka Express. If you’ve never seen these, they look like giant octagonal chess pieces — bishops or knights in shining armour. I cleaned the ones for the photo above. Normally they’re coated in burnt-on coffee like seepage from an industrial process. If you buy them from a shop, they’re perfectly shiny. Like components for a missile.

I’m not much of a coffee connoisseur if I’m honest. I drink the stuff because it keeps me awake, plus I quite like the taste. I could probably buy a machine, stick a pod or a capsule in it and press GO. But where’s the fun in that?

With the Moka Express (and I’m not selling these things by the way) there’s a process. A process as soothing and as comforting as the coffee it makes. Even the most fractured of souls can be calmed in the morning by its gentle purring as it heats up on the stove. The quiet gurgle as the coffee splurges out of the nozzle. And then finally, that satisfying sigh as the remaining coffee is expelled. A three-act play performed in only fifteen minutes — a horror story in today’s high-pressured latte world. But worth waiting for all the same.

My fascination with these things started when I was a kid on camping holidays in the Scottish Highlands with my crazy uncle. He was my father’s sister’s husband, but he wasn’t like a relative at all; more a wayward traveller who’d befriended the family by accident, and simply wanted to do the right thing.

My mother had recently died, and as my father was always so busy at work, my uncle stepped in during the school holidays to take me off my father’s hands. I was only eight when my mother died and had already been at boarding school for a year. In short, I was pretty distressed at the time, so those trips to Scotland were amazing adventures, an escape from my grief and the austere surroundings of school.

The splendid Highland views, the soggy tents, the stiff walks in the mountains, I’ll never forget. But most of all the coffee. I didn’t even drink coffee back then, what eight-year-old did in 1979? But it wasn’t the coffee that fascinated me. It was the shiny 3-cup Bialetti he used to slide out of his bag like a pistol. Tapping the old coffee grounds away into the heather, refilling it with fresh ones, and then brewing it over his camping stove.

I’ve no idea where he got it from, or the coffee for that matter. In 1970s Scotland, it was difficult enough to get instant coffee, let alone real coffee. But he did, and as he smoked his Gold Leaf cigarettes and drank his brew, it looked like the most pleasing thing in the world.

He’s dead now but his memory lives on in a 3-Cup, a 6-Cup and a 12-Cup Bialetti, all neatly hanging from hooks above my stove. Which one I use depends on how I feel in the morning. If I’ve slept like a baby, I’ll use the 3-Cup. If I’ve dreamt about wild boars rampaging through my house (I live deep in the French countryside), the 6-Cup. And if I finished a box of Bordeaux the night before, the 12-Cup. My uncle would understand these nuances, I’m sure.

The other thing he gave me, apart from a range of Italian kitchenware, was a love of cold water. On our camping trips, we would invariably camp by a loch. For no other reason than he liked to swim in them. If you’ve ever swum in a Scottish loch, it’s like swimming in liquid nitrogen. An enormous vat of icy cold water ten miles deep, as black as hell and as cold as anything you can imagine on planet Earth. And when you swim out and look down into the depths, it’s total darkness. Like being in space.

‘It freshens me up,’ my uncle always used to joke with me as we dried off with our miniature towels the width of serviettes.

‘Yeh,’ I nodded painfully as my bones shook to dust. ‘And it kills me every time.’

It wasn’t actually that bad. Partly because I’d already been in coldwater training, courtesy of our psychotic housemaster at school. Bored with simply doling out detentions or lines, he resorted to half drowning pupils in cold baths. Making them lie fully naked in freezing water at midnight until we were told we could get out. And then forced to dash outside into the cold December air still soaking wet because he’d set the fire alarm off for a drill.

I never told my uncle what happened at school in case he told my father. Who would probably accuse me of exaggerating and ban my uncle from taking me on these trips. Either way, my uncle was probably quite surprised how well I took to the icy cold water when most kids would have no doubt screamed and shrieked. I mean I did too; of course I did, it was freezing, but I like to think I did it out of pure joy rather than total fear.

The upshot of this early introduction to cold water is that I now take cold showers most mornings, in the garden, even in winter. It’s a great thing to do while the coffee is brewing inside. Because at the moment I race back in through the door from the garden, my Moka Express is performing its final act as the last burst of coffee splutters through the spout.

Then I pour it into a cup and sit down at my desk to continue my book, still shivering from the cold. And as I sip my coffee, type away and gradually warm up, I imagine my uncle looking down on me. Immensely proud to see I’ve flourished into the vagabond writer I’ve become.


My New Novel: Le Glitch is out now HERE

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Le Glitch

Le Glitch. A Novel

In April 2018 I started writing a novel. My third.

In the film Sightseers, there’s a bit in which one of the characters boasts about being on his third book. Then gets killed by the guy who’s writing his first. Watch it, it’s funny.

I’m probably not going to die, because this is really only my first book. The other two sit in dark corners on a computer file marked “For later.”

As the title suggests, this novel is about a glitch. A sudden, usually temporary malfunction of electrical equipment, that in this story, changes a man’s life forever.

It’s a classic storyline I admit: Man down on his luck. Just about to throw the towel in on his silly life. When a miracle strikes!

So what about the setting?

How about a deathly French village in the middle of nowhere. Call it Crêpe. Why not? Short, easy to remember. Much shorter than some of those French villages like  Saint-Remy-en-Bouzemont-Saint-Genest-et-Isson that take half an hour to pronounce. Plus Crêpe translates well into English: Crepe.

And the protagonist, this down-and-out joker? What does he do? Well, let’s make him the Mayor of this rathole. Call him Jean Marc Bulot. Bulot’s good. French for sea snail. Slow moving, idle , lazy.

Next throw in a smattering of useless friends. A drunk, a depressive, a half-arsed janitor, a retired English nurse, a crazed old school teacher. Suddenly we’ve got a cast.

What else? How about a rival village?

Ventrèche: A smouldering cesspit of hatred, bad blood and jealousy that’s been at war with Crêpe since the Middle Ages.

And the bad guy? Enter Michel Arnold, the Mayor of Ventrèche. A real slimeball who wears cowboy boots and a Stetson even though he’s nearly seventy (and French). What a clown!

So we’re all set for Le Glitch.

OUT NOW
Paperback
UK: £6.99
US: $8.99
FR: €8.43* 
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