The transition to perdition

As Harry Kane splayed balls into the Nice night sky on Monday evening, I couldn’t help feeling it was a performance by the English football team that felt appropriate to its country’s existential crisis. In the same way that idiots setting fire to things in Marseilles the week before felt the perfect embodiment of the Brexit Leave campaign’s obdurate nihilism.

Nothing summed up Brexit like England’s shitshow against Iceland. When the men from the land of fire and ice bagged their second goal I let out an involuntary ironic cheer followed by a hollow laugh. I’ve tried not supporting England before, but as soon as the whistle goes my heart invariably starts racing, I begin palpitating and shouting, “come on!” like one of Pavlov’s dogs dressed up like a full kit wanker. Not this time. My heart just wasn’t in it. When the final whistle went, I looked on enviously at Iceland’s team – a proper team – and what it meant to them. I felt ashamed to be British, and not for the first time that week either.

A week has passed now since the momentous decision, and it’s been a regular mantra this last seven days – “j’ai honte” or I am ashamed. I’ve said it to my French friends via text and email, to the Polish woman at the boulangerie, the staff at the cafes I like to go to in the daytime, and even to my oncologist. I remember how my American friends felt during the Bush years, and I wonder if a similar stigma now tarnishes les rosbifs, the stupid, drunk, obnoxious bad boy of Europe. The English and the Welsh – and to my further chagrin, the Cornish – opted for a future of isolationism, navel gazing and abject self loathing of which I don’t want to be a part of.

european_union_flag_stars_europe_texture_50952_1024x1024A lot has been said about racism already that I can’t be bothered to go into because it’s too depressing, but if the very best excuse for Brexit was a rejection of multiculturalism, then we have a serious problem. I know France has its own predicaments, and the emboldened and jubilant visage of Marine Le Pen is a terrifying one with elections looming in 2017 and Hollande regularly beating his own personal best popularity scores (negative PBs), but we’re not yet seeing halal shops petrol bombed and pig’s heads hung outside mosques and civilians on public transport being told to go back to their own countries. À Dieu ne plaise!

Where does this all leave us? Britain needs a new Prime Minister, and it looks like a toss up between a shaved ballbag in glasses as drawn by Robert Crumb, verses a woman Frankie Boyle described as a “hawk that’s had a This Morning makeover”. Meanwhile Claire and I have been struggling for months deciding whether or not to go home, but this has taken the decision out of our hands.

We want to be European, and if we have children then we want them to be European too. We’ve been looking at ways to ensure we can stay should a tit-for-tat programme of repatriation eventually ensue. Chances are Britain won’t need to control its borders now as there’ll be a stampede for the exit (who’d want to go and live there?) I need to take the idea of speaking fluent French more seriously, which means more language exchange, more watching the French news and more entering into the spirit of things. Football’s not coming home, and neither are we, but the chickens have certainly come home to roost.

Within EU without EU

I walked along the Seine yesterday up near Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and the water had risen almost level with the path, with trees enveloped and sticking out of the muddy drink like swords being drawn from their sheaths. Another day of rain today and it might well start creeping up to the houses along the bank. I’ve not been down to the famous stretch of the river nearest us, but the Louvre has closed and masterpieces are being taken away as a precautionary measure. Add to that travel problems, strikes and the threat of terrorism with Euro 2016 around the corner, and if you are one of those types who believes everything you read, then you might assume France is imploding. And yet we continue on as if nothing has happened, because in my world, nothing has happened. Well not for a while anyway. Not yet.

The European Union Floods Directive defines a flood as a covering by water of land not normally covered by water. Where would we be without the EU, eh? Maybe we’ll soon find out. People have their selfish reasons for wanting In or Out; my selfish reason for wanting IN is that without the EU, I wouldn’t have received the world class healthcare I have this last two years; had our countries not been politically conjoined in some way then I could have been in real trouble. You might consider that dramatic, but I know how impossible it was for a writer friend of mine who moved to Philadelphia and got cancer. I used to worry about getting old, now I worry about not getting old; hopefully the excellent médecin généralistes of France will help me reach my dotage.

I’ve been here three years now – a terrible immigrant who still can’t really speak French properly – and the country’s healthcare system just keeps throwing money at me. Yesterday I went and gave a blood sample so some clever people in a laboratory can analyse my gene-coding and ascertain if my cancer was caused by any mutations, in order to give me better care in future and give better bespoke advice to my close relatives. My cover is 100% because of the seriousness of the situation, and I couldn’t have been looked after better. This has little to do with the cliché about unelected bureaucrats deciding our destiny in a room in Brussels somewhere, this is the hard reality of what it means to be part of the European Union, or at least it is for the 2.2 million Britons living elsewhere on the continent.

One of the main arguments aside from immigration seems to be about sovereignty. I can understand that, although I can’t help feeling in many cases that the subtext is all about a desire to return to our colonial past, which is obviously absurd and in my opinion shameful. So what’s the alternative? Hand more power to the current government to further asset strip and sell off the family silver? The sovereignty argument is also usually upheld by Monarchists who have no problem with the House of Lords. I have nightmares about having to leave France when Marine le Pen storms to power next year and then coming back to find Boris or Michael Gove at the helm. That’s the doomsday scenario anyway.

Whether In or Out, I’m sure the UK will continue to survive and prosper (especially for the upper echelons), I just like the idea of us being part of something bigger, ideologically and politically. Voting out would repeal opportunities that weren’t there a generation ago, but the Baby Boomer generation – who’ve made their money and have no more adventures left in them – could get the final say. As for immigration, if the country is “creaking under the strain and unable to cope”, then that’s because public services have been cut all across Britain. It breaks my heart to say it, but I feel lucky to have been treated in France rather than under the NHS, which was fantastic in my hour of need a few years ago. If it’s in deep trouble now, then just see how efficiently it runs when they kick out all the foreigners.

I can’t stand up for falling down

We retreated to the leafy suburbs of Croissy this weekend just gone, to dog-sit for some friends while they visited family in Spain. I love being in inner-Paris, but sometimes it’s good for the soul to re-energise somewhere spacious, where it doesn’t feel like the whole world is caving in on you. Our flat in the 11eme is tiny, and what’s more, our cooker exploded just the other day just like that, so it was nice to have the run of a commodious kitchen, as well as do things that we rarely get up to, like bike riding, eating al fresco in the garden, and taking long walks along the Seine, observing bucolic scenes where Renoir and Monet plonked their easels. In our care we had four delightful mutts in their dotage, a motley crew of characters with distinctive personalities and habits. I know you shouldn’t have favourites, but I fell in love with Saki, a comical dachshund from Japan who made the most bizarre noises, and like me, likes to kip in in the morning. My long held prejudices about small dogs have been somewhat impugned by Saki.

My prejudices about living in the idles beyond the périphérique have also been challenged, as I realised that life outside of the city might not be so bad. We certainly won’t be running off any time soon, and that’s not just because of a lack of affordability, but something about a more rustic and simple way of life suddenly appeals. I can picture myself cycling around country lanes with a baguette under my arm, writing crap thrillers in the afternoon, and perpetually wearing a straw boater, even when I’m in the shower.

Perhaps it’s old age or the fact I’ve been somewhat incapacitated for the last six months or so, but languid days stretched out ahead of me where nothing much happens seems far more alluring, than say, attending Nuit Debout, the nouveau occupy movement at the epicentre of Parisian life right now. Our little flat is just around the corner from Place de la Republique where it’s all been happening, and each night we eat dinner, or I watch football, and then we go to bed oblivious to the incendiary speeches, the star turns and the burning police cars down the road. I love the idea of political insubordination, but clearly the thought of staying up beyond half past 10 and having to mix with other people quickly negates the revolutionary within. Yes we… might, if we can be arsed…

We got back into town on Monday, and I went to visit my frère d’une autre mère Pascal in hospital. He’s just had another quite serious operation, and he was in fine fettle considering. Then I had another appointment with a different oncologist on Tuesday, who caused me to break out in a sweat on one hand, and feel reassured on the other. The treatment may be over for now (for good hopefully), but the process of surveillance is ongoing. I could move to the country, or move back to England, or bugger off somewhere else entirely, but there would be no getting away from this perdition, this minor inconvenience that may just save my life. I really should sound a bit more grateful. If I do end up elsewhere, I do hope I look back on my time in Paris and think about all the joy it brings me, and sometimes forget about the treatment altogether. I certainly hope there are chapters yet to be written where the only health mentioned is of the rude variety.

Sicile be de bomb

This lunchtime I completed a successful 5k run to Bastille and back for the first time since my treatment finished, which I’m sure was made possible thanks to lots of trekking up vertiginous mountaintops in Sicily this week; this is perhaps the least tenuous way of shoehorning a holiday in Sicily into a blog about Paris (though still fairly tenuous all the same). There were a few French travellers in the west who we encountered, but in the north the place seemed to be overrun by Germans. The other problematic thing about writing a piece about your vacation, is that you end up either sounding like a shameless braggadocio, or worse still, an excitable 13-year-old doing an assignment after the summer holidays. But fuck it, it’s my blog and I’ll write what I want, plus most 13-year-olds don’t swear when given an assignment, which obviously proves that we’re all grown ups here right?

So anyway, we just spent the last nine days in Sicily, and its extreme beauty lived up to expectations. It must be one of the most beautiful islands in the world, although I’ve not been to nearly enough islands in the world to be able to say that for sure. Some might say it’s not even as nice as Sardinia next door, but I’m no authority on that either, having not yet visited Sardinia. It’s nicer than a stank up and down the M1, and I can say that with some certitude, although beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It’s fashionable these days to love Modernism, but I still unashamedly get a kick out of rococo monstrosities that push the boundaries of taste, and I think I’ll always be a sucker for twisted baroque statues leaning threateningly from on high, forbidding gargoyles putting you in your place and letting you know who’s the boss, so much so that I almost find myself wishing I was a guilt-ridden left-footer at times. We were definitely in the right place for all that caper.

Claire and I – it transpires – had both always really wanted to go to Sicily, and instead of staying in one place we decided, we would take a hire car and drive around the entire island. Aside from a few hair-raising moments, particularly driving in the capital Palermo, it was the best idea we’ve had in ages. Well I would say that, I wasn’t driving; instead I was an inadequate navigator, provoking Claire’s well-hidden evil side on numerous occasions. Sicily also pushed her limits as a driver, especially travelling up ridiculously windy hill-top towns taking scary hairpin bends in alpine residences like Erice, and I have to say I was impressed with how she coped (I was biting nails as the inclines got steeper and steeper and the views more gut-wrenching).

We also climbed some mountains on foot, and somewhat inevitably we came in contact with a wily serpent slithering in the shade like a badass. I didn’t actually see it with my own eyes, which is a good thing, because I hate snakes more than I hate Oliver Letwin. At first, knowing about my phobia, Claire tried to keep it a secret from me, but from her reaction (she was giggling and shaking slightly) I could tell her story that it was just a chap pissing was a damnable white lie. Once the truth had been prized from her, I decided it would be a good idea to get off the mountain, and descended tentatively, legs like rubber, cursing the hissing shit all the way down to the town. I thought I might have another snake to deal with when I stared out an old man in a suit for pushing ahead of us in a restaurant near the temples of Agrigento, and then spent the rest of lunch worrying he was a Mafia don who was going to have me crushed like an almond on finishing my last supper. The preferential treatment accorded him would suggest I wasn’t just being imaginative (although the Mafia is on the wane in Sicily, apparently 70% of businesses still get nobled), though thankfully our car didn’t get blown up on the SS115, and I didn’t find a horse’s head in my bed later that night either.

Without coming on like a holiday brochure, I was most impressed with the preposterously gorgeous sights of Siracuse and Taormina, and the bustling life of Palermo. The temples of Agrigento are worth visiting, as are the Greek mosaics of Martorana and the Roman mosaics of Villa Romana del Casale. One place I would avoid is Sciacca, just because it was a town full of weirdos with only one pizzeria full of obnoxious children on dates. Some seaside towns only seem to have fish on the menu wherever you go, which isn’t much use if you don’t eat it. Palermo did the finest pizza I think I’ve ever tasted – at Frida’s a little off the beaten track. The other thing Palermo has is the ugliest cathedral you’ve ever seen. If the Gothic cathedrals of Paris took centuries to complete and showcase a number of period styles as a result, then the cathedral in Palermo really can’t quite decide what it is, and probably cries when it looks in the mirror. Built on the foundations of a mosque first put there by the Moors in the 7th century, it then takes in the styles of Greek, Norman, Roman and just about every other invader over the many centuries since, to create one hideous Frankenstein creation, an abomination that surely even God must turn his face away from. But like most mongrels it’s a strangely loveable underdog, and as a showcase of Sicily itself, its a fine representation of its multifarious and multicultural legacy.boom

Fever pitch

They say the last thing to go when you’re on the way out is your hearing. I don’t know much about that thankfully, but I can state clearly in my case that the thing to come back firstly after a heavy dose of chemotherapy is the appetite. I’ve been gorging like a mofo this last week, eating dinner, and then having to nip out each night for a sneaky crepe to fill my belly with lashings of lovely melty cheese. More worryingly I have rebooted my addiction for Pot Noodle’s Bombay Badboy, and given that these toxic tubs of fiery fodder are so rare in France, I’ve begun to fetishise them and demand anyone who comes within 50 feet of me from the old country has to bring me some. I’ve got hooked on Pot, as Macca would call it. You can probably guess that my world is very small at the moment. Claire is in Britain as we speak, and she just sent me the following picture. “It must be love…” she wrote. What a lucky girl she is.


The appetite has returned but not a lot else so far. Chemotherapy robs you of your waking hours, your desire to go out, your sex drive, your ability to think, or to even read or watch TV sometimes… As I mentioned recently, meditation has been my saviour throughout this time, and I feel it’s had a positive effect on my psyche. Well that and the psychologist I’ve seen a few times who will tell you two or three excellently selected platitudes, and then up your medication by 5mgs. I love that guy, he’s a hairy maverick who smokes like a train and does things his own way. He’d probably get struck off in the UK, but he’s been doing fine work cheering Parsians up since the November attacks.

The medication has improved my mood and the mediation has helped put things in perspective. Just because you don’t have cancer right now doesn’t mean other issues of less gravitas don’t become amplified. My pitching brain is unruly, and even when I get a good idea, I’m reluctant to send it to editors because I know what an effort writing a piece will take. I sit and wonder why nobody is giving me any work, then I realise that most of the things I pitch for do actually get picked up, I just don’t have the energy to send out most of the pitches in the first place. Nobody is going to come knocking your door down unless you’re that heroic twit who got snapped with a hijacker earlier this week.

I get these ideas, like I wanted to write about all the things that irritate the fuck out of me on Instagram (the fact you can’t hide people, incessant selfies, the fact you can’t hide people who take incessant selfies, shots out of the window of aeroplanes, people’s dinner, people flaunting their alcoholism, people’s babies, people who are too desperate with their hashtags, people who are still sharing Starbucks spelling their names wrong, people who share what they’re reading to demonstrate how brainy they are etc etc) and then I thought, ‘who wants to read this hackneyed curmudgeonly old bullshit?’ Not I. Oh okay, I do. But who wants me to write about it? And then I think, why not write about the chemo, and then I think, who wants to read that depressing self-indulgent nonsense? Self-doubt has crept in. I’m not sure what magazines to pitch anything to and if anything’s a decent idea at the moment – but this will hopefully pass as I get back to full fitness and have the energy to wrestle editors to the floor like a dog eating a bone. Or something. Right now my brain’s as flabby as a Wendi Deng sexual conquest.

I did manage to do a bit of running last week, though leaving the house in Paris at the moment is inadvisable unless Uber send ’round an arc. In less than two weeks we head hopefully for sunshine, in Sicily, a place Claire and I have always wanted to visit. I’m hoping it’ll draw a line and mark a new chapter when we get out the other side.

Three years, three clears, three cheers

This weekend we had another scan to wait upon, so we decided to travel into the deepest darkest low countries for some trippy medieval torture porn. The press for this very special Hieronymous Bosch exhibition has been slightly disingenuous about the supposed tiny village from which he came, putting on his work for the 500th anniversary of his death; we found Hertogenbosch to be far larger, more modern and metropolitan than anything we’d been prepared for, and in The Record Hustler, they have the best stocked vinyl store I’ve been to in months. Five versions of David Bowie’s Heroes, including a German version, and that was just for starters! As for Hertogenbosch, you imagine it’s rather well to do thanks to centuries of diamond trading in its colonies, but I could be wrong.

The exhibition itself was stunning, only slightly spoiled by the fact we were impeded by people wherever we went in the museum. It’s a sellout, so there’s not much you can do about that. Most thrilling of all, the whole town has entered into the spirit, and figures from Bosch’s paintings can be seen wherever you go. You sense this is boom time for Hertogenbosch, and the likelihood of this many people turning up in the next 500 years is remote. It’s quite a trek to get there, and on the way back we stopped off in Antwerp, which I’m sorry to say wasn’t tremendously inspiring, although it houses a fine version of Wagamama.

Today the scan results were revealed. Each time it’s like a miniature sword of Damocles hanging over your head, although the fact this one comes off the back of four months chemo made it more a penknife of Damocles or the Swiss Army knife of Damocles. I cleared it anyway, which is the best news I could have been delivered this morning. We went to celebrate in Breakfast in America, only slightly ruined by the fact they don’t serve baked beans. There’s always got to be a python in the Garden of Earthly Delights huh (although in the Bosch painting it’s an owl)? You’ll probably have noticed that I have my appetite back at least.

The results arriving today felt particularly monumental, as it’s three years since I moved to Paris, and three years since I began this blog. That probably bears little significance to anyone else, but I built it up in my head as the start of something, or indeed the end of something, depending on how the results flew, although rarely is it ever that black or white in the real world. It’s interesting to look back at the About section on this site, and see how guileless I was when I wrote about my “mission” here in Paris, not knowing where life would take me. I was living in the fantasy and had no idea reality was going to bosh (or indeed Bosch) me around the head just around the corner. None of us can know what’s coming, although I thought the dream of living in the city of light might last a little longer. The honeymoon period lasted about a year, though there were warning signs that my health was deteriorating throughout that time (which at first I ignored and then could ignore no longer.)

The reality has been tough – there’s no glossing over that one – but we’ve surprised ourselves at our own resilience. Indeed, I couldn’t be prouder of Claire, who I’ve seen become someone so strong and steely over the last couple of years. Where I had to be strong for her in the beginning, I’ve seen her become almost formidable in her resolve, and she’s there for me now rather than the other way round. Well hell, we’re there for each other. I have little doubt she’ll complete the Paris Marathon with energy to spare when she competes in it in just under two weeks. Speaking of which, feel free to donate here if you feel obliged. All that’s missing here is the piano part from Coldplay’s ‘Sorrow’ cranked up in the background.

Thanks friends, readers etc… you’ve helped no end over the last three years with kindness and constant messages of support. This reprieve is only for three months, and then the worrying starts again, but that’s not what’s on my mind today. The last four months of chemo have been debilitating, but I can feel my old self re-emerging. It’s time to crack on. It’s certainly not yet time to be munched by a bird or get knifed in the ears in the bowels of hell just yet anyway.

Mind your language

I couldn’t sleep last night so I decided to go for an unsolicited guided meditation on the internet. It’s an irony that I couldn’t sleep, as sleeping is pretty much the most consistent thing I do at the moment. That and meditate to get to sleep. Yeah, sorry folks, I’m a meditator. More on that in a minute. Anyway, the guy I often listen to, Jon Kabat-Zinn, was boring me a bit, so I thought I’d go outside and take a punt. Big mistake. I found an insomnia meditation by a guy called Jason Stephenson; to be fair to Jason, he does have a soporific voice, but then the sleep fantasy he set up was just plain creepy. Who are these wackos who upload weird sleep tapes to the internet, and who are the idiots that listen to them (I think I may have just answered this for you). Regarding J’s sleep hypnosis, first you’re flown into your own island via your own private jet, which has more to do with avarice than sleep if you ask me, then you apparently have your own robots who’ll wait on you hand and foot. The weird bit is when they come and rub suntan lotion into your back. Now look here Jason, I don’t want any fucking robots rubbing sun cream into my back, okay? Who wants hot metal with creamy lotion slicing into their skin? Are you a madman?

Anyway, as you can see, my life is deeply thrilling at the moment. It pretty much is a case of me getting my head down and then awaiting the next scan. I’m glad I took up meditation when I did, as had I not, then I imagine I’d be even more bored than I am right now. I never went for transcendental meditation or anything like that – asking a month’s wages for one little word to recite over and over again sounds like the work of snake oil salesmen to me, and that includes you David Lynch. I’ve taken up a few Buddhist meditations too, though not the nam-myoho-renge-kyo as a) I’m not sure what it’s for and b) I don’t know how anyone manages it without running out of breath after ten seconds. I was told about nam-myoho-renge-kyo by Howard Jones, when I used to send him drunken emails asking for life advice, but that’s a sorry story for another day.

fishyfishThe thing about mindfulness is it’s amazing how unamazing it is, and yet, over time, it does seem to work wonders for my anxiety and general personality, which becomes even more winning than it is already. It certainly feels like the Emperor’s new clothes at times, and yet it’s clinically proven to improve your well being, or maybe that’s some therapy culture horse crap I’ve swallowed along the way. I suspect the reason it works is due to the fact we don’t breathe properly a lot of the time, and rarely take some minutes out of the day to sit in contemplative silence.  Just sitting still for a while can make a lot of difference to your demeanour. I also read somewhere that praying and meditation helps you live longer, though I wouldn’t use me as the median study.

I’ve attempted resting in choiceless awareness recently, and buggered if I can explain that because I’m not entirely sure what it is myself. Apparently it’s a non-meditation meditation, so you sit doing all the normal things you would do like breath and hear and be aware of where you’re sitting and that sort of thing, but then you actively don’t meditate on any of it. Anyway, I’m not very good at it as I’m thinking about what I’m doing all the time, and that’s kind of the opposite of the prescribed course of action. I think I might just go back to concentrating on the breath and leave it at that.

Nothing has happened of note, dear reader, aside from me having to go into hospital last week to sort out some thrombosis of the jugular. It wasn’t as serious as it sounds, but it just means more injections for the next three weeks. In times like these, to save a person from going crazy, you just have to be as zen as you possibly can be. Whatever that is.

Austro turf

As we entered Vienna in a taxi on Friday night, all the roads to our hotel were closed, and there was a massive police presence on the streets. “Not again,” we thought to ourselves, though it turned out there were no terrorists on the streets, just neo-Nazis having a ball. I’m not sure whether it was a dress up kind of ball, and I started imagining skinheads in animal masks and their porcine partners in ball-gowns and Dr. Martens, which isn’t the most pleasant apparition to conjure up in one’s mind’s eye. The area was cordoned off by riot police to apparently stop angry left wingers from infiltrating and giving them a good kicking. One presumes all the action took place earlier in the evening, because there was hide nor hair of the fascist scum once we dragged our bags in from the taxi.

The next day we went on something of an art nouveau pilgrimage, checking out the Secession, and other works of Klimt at the Belvedere, as well as the ornate Otto Wagner buildings and metro stations dotted around the Austrian capital. There were also visits paid to the Looshaus, which was a proto-modernist building that was the subject of much derision on its completion, the Sigmund Freud house, where he saw patients and devised the early phase of psychoanalysis, and the big wheel in The Third Man. It was fun wandering around such an elegant city, even if it hasn’t moved on much from the fin-de-siècle, or from some slightly dodgy attitudes, though Europe seems to be full of those right now.

It’s a strange thing that none of my friends live there. Many have moved to interesting outposts; Amsterdam, Reykjavik, Berlin, Budapest, Prague, and yet nobody really wants to live in Vienna, possibly because of things already mentioned. Moseying around its sumptuous streets and beholding its ostentation, I occasionally feel ashamed to be a white imperialist European, though to be fair the Hapsburg Empire was probably the silliest empire of them all, and it’s difficult to feel any affinity with those inbred royal clowns.

Zebra crossings are indicative of different cultures, and in Vienna everybody stands to attention and nobody dares jaywalk. In Paris, people tend to walk with a defiant strut of insouciance, ignoring the fact the lights have changed and there are cars considering whether to run them over or not. I’m a disorganised kind of fellow, so I enjoy a bit of indiscipline on the streets. I had the most beautiful time there with Claire, a late birthday present, but I was also pleased to get home when we did. Paris is often accused of being a museum city like Vienna, but it has at least moved into the 20th Century, if not quite the 21st just yet.

Sorbonne, I’m only dancing

Last night at the invite of Feu! Chatterton -who were playing the rather arty TV channel Arte – we got to have a nose around the Sorbonne. TV gigs are usually a bit stiff, but they did a wonderful job of making you forget the cameras were there. I like Feu! Chatterton. Fronted by a charismatic spiv in Arthur Teboul, they update the chanson – or at least prog it up – throwing in some slam poetry along the way. I’d love to understand what Arthur is going on about – and I love his almost James Brown-like “I simply can’t go on” postures, though comparisons with the Godfather of Soul begin and end there.

There’d be no other reason to find me at the Sorbonne, other than to see a band at some special event, but it was nice to mingle among the ghosts of former acolytes, from Montaigne to the Soixante-huitards at the epicentre of the Paris riots. I’m going out on a limb here, but the students there for the show seemed to have none of that defiant spirit. I don’t know what’s wrong with kids these days; they don’t drink or smoke or take drugs. They seem content with selfies, emojis and being nice all the time. That’s not like we were.

That’s not like the Baby Boomers either, who seem to suddenly be dying out rapidly as a consequence of all that partying. That generation really had their cake and ate it; an idealistic bunch with a desire to be free, who then nailed everything down for themselves and left nothing for us to get our hands on. But still, maybe we’re the free ones as a consequence. The news of perishing rock stars of that generation has been staggering this last few weeks, and if I had anything like a handle on my career then I’d be getting into obituary writing pronto, because there’ll be plenty more falling stars in our immediate future.

I felt too depressed to write anything substantial about David Bowie. That didn’t stop anybody else, and good luck to them. The mass grief was a bit overwhelming, but it made sense, as opposed to some empty vessel like Diana Spencer. Bowie has been the most overwhelmingly influential musician of the last 45 years and was king and queen of the 70s all rolled into one, in the way the Beatles ruled the 60s (but that decade was just a prelude to the untold greatness of the next one). I did go on the telly to talk about the great man. About half an hour after Claire had broken the news to me over the phone, I got a call from France 24, and the next thing I was in a taxi, with the taxi driver telling me in French how gutted he was about the death of David Bowie. It seems I can hold my own talking about death and medical procedures.

The anchorwoman asked me how we music journalists missed the clues he was overtly waving in our faces. I wish I’d said, “if he’d been a fat man then we might have guessed he was poorly”. Kate Bush said it best when she pointed out the impossibility of imagining someone who’d already passed into immortality as being merely mortal. Thanks Kate, we’ve got your coat next time.

Bowie was about the same age as my dad when he went, and in many ways he was like another dad. My dad wasn’t around so much when I was young, but in a quirk of fate when my ma died, I started to get to know him around the same time I got into Bowie. So suddenly I had my unreconstructed bellybutton dad who taught me about punching and drinking and being aloof, and Bowie was gay dad, teaching me about art, and literature and experimentation, and subsisting on red peppers, milk and cocaine. He introduced me to all sorts, Jean Genet and Muriel Spark and Nicholas Roeg and Angela Carter, all of whom I liked, and Friedrich Nietzsche, who I still can’t get a handle on. It’s amazing how one can grieve for so long over one so elusive and unknowable, but here I still am, sad and unable to listen again to Blackstar just yet. He was so incredibly sussed and ahead of the game that it’s hard to imagine anyone will emerge like that again, and that’s something to grieve for too. It’s difficult to imagine now that when the Paris riots were happening in ’68, Bowie didn’t really have a clue what he was up to either.

Terror firmer

I forgot my potatoes in the supermarket earlier. The woman shouted, “mister! Your apples of the earth!” Thankfully she said it in French so she didn’t sound stupid. Yesterday, I had to drop off some blood. The lady who was injecting me at the clinic said “bonne santé” after I’d said “bonne année” to her. I went into some detail about my current health status, correcting her that it wasn’t exactly “bonne”, but fingers crossed it will hopefully all come good. It wasn’t until I went to the Plein Soleil and said “bonne année” to which they responded “bonne santé”, that I figured out it’s a seasonal greeting. Silly me.

Another strange use of wordage occurred at the hairdressers recently. Now I go to see my hairdresser – the aforementioned handsome Jean Dujardin lookalike, Davy, star of a previous blog – every four to six months, and it’s a fair gauge on how I’m improving with the language, with all the guff you have to divulge about holidays and what not. I also think the closer you come out of the coiffeurs’ salon looking like what you asked for, is a fair indication of how you’re getting on with speaking French, as explaining to a hairdresser what you want done to your head in English is difficult enough at the best of times. Anyway, I managed with relative ease to relay the fact I wanted it cut three to four centimetres all over, and then I waved my hand around above my head like an angel trying to pull of its own halo to indicate “messy”. “Bordel,” said Davy. He said it a second time, so I looked it up there and then on my phone. Google Translate said, “whorehouse”. When I got home I investigated further, and “faire le bordel” means make it messy. I wonder what weird idiomatic expressions I use in English, or even convert into French, that make absolutely no sense at all unless you’ve had them hammered into you from the age of five.
Today is the anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, but I prefer to mark it as David Bowie’s birthday. Some other chap decided to mark it by turning up at a police station with a suicide belt with no explosives in it, making Four Lions look like Four Einsteins. I’m not really down with all these potential crazies in Paris right now, and I have to confess I have been suffering with violent dreams, and dreams where I’m trapped in enclosed spaces, fighting, slicing, doing anything to get out. They’ve all come on since I got caught up in the whole Stade de France malarkey, so obviously it’s related. I also have to confess I’ve also been weary of being in enclosed public spaces, which is irrational, but not that irrational. At the suggestion of my doc, I went to see a psychologist, who looks like Andrea Bocelli at his most beardy, though ironically he has the tiniest voice I’ve heard since I interviewed PJ Harvey; he makes Jon Kabat-Zinn sound like Brian Blessed. “So…” he whispered, and I babbled for about 20 minutes making not very much sense. Then he came out with the killer question, “do you like life?”

“I love life,” I replied, “but I’m frightened it’s going to be taken away from me”.

“That’s your problem I think,” he said. The eureka moment. I sometimes think a shrink is like a brand consultant; they tell you crap you already know, but that said, I’ve had some serious light-bulb moments with these people, and it’s only when I try to explain how revelatory it was to anyone else that it sounds ludicrously obvious. France is well-known as a nation of hypochondriacs, so naturally he prescribed me some SSRIs and said come back in a month. I managed to get off SSRIs when I first came to Paris, so this is an indication of how the dream has turned nightmarish in some respects. I do love life though, it’s just the psychopathic fuckers trying to impose their violence and stupidity on the world that muddies the waters.

Speaking of muddy waters (not the blues legend), I went for a walk earlier down the Rue de la Fountaine du Roi, to see men draining the Canal Saint-Martin (it’s draining men!). What they’re looking for I’m not sure, but it’s full of velos, bouteilles de vino, and maybe the French answer to Dirty Den too. Back up the road, the cafe on the corner of Rue de la Fountaine du Roi and Rue du Faubourg du Temple has reopened, with people drinking outside in front of the floral tributes that keep coming, while the Cosa Nostra looks like its shut up and may never reopen. The window now says ‘room upstairs’, and there’s little evidence, externally at least, that a restaurant used to be there at all. Paris is changing, though at the moment it doesn’t feel like it’s for the better.

Anyway, happy new year.


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