mardi 21 juillet 2009

The wonderful world of self-tautology

I've always loved words; what they mean and where they come from. I love that wonderful phrase etym dub, posh dictionary-speak for: We don't know where it comes from either. I always wanted to call a band Etym Dub but wasn't sure whether I wanted it to be forced to play reggae. I eventually called one of my poems Etym Dub; it's fairly barmy.

I used the word cataclysmic for the first time last night. What is a clysm anyway? And does it need a cat? Is it no fun by itself? Not all of us have cats. Apparently it's connected with great floods, which I figure rules out cats altogether.

It worries me that, in reporting the demise of my Peugeot 106, by fire if not the sword, that I may have committed a tautology with the phrase "cataclysmic flood". Actually it was a seriously impressive flood, well worth an emphatic tautology, but I don't like to be caught out this way. It serves me right for not knowing what the word means. For a long time I didn't know what autodidact meant, but that's self-tautology.

Some words seem wilfully obscure. I discovered that the French phrase a priori translates as the English phrase a priori; I have to admit that even after looking it up, I'm not a lot the wiser.

PD James adores the words hieratic and atavistic. She cannot resist using them at the drop of a Dalgleish. These days I'm vaguely aware that one is to do with sacred ritual and the other is about genetic throwbacks. However I can never remember this when I'm reading PD James, and when I eventually remember to look them up in a dictionary, I can no longer remember why she used them or when.

Still, who am I to criticise the venerable mistress of the It Doesn't Matter Who Did It? She writes such exquisite English that the identity of the murderer has been rendered entirely unimportant. Perhaps one day crime novel fans will worry again about such things. Positively atavistic.

lundi 20 juillet 2009

The Sad Decease of a Cent-Six (106)

Some bastard burnt my Peugeot. As my mum's Canadian cousin would have said, despite being, of his own admission, only a damned colonial: It's an outrage.

This was the car in which I scaled the north face of the bridge over the Loire at Nantes while rehearsing a massive heart attack; the car whose handbrake fell off while practising sinking during a cataclysmic flood at Lyons; the car that threatened never to start in winter but always did; the car that had lovely simple things like windows that wound up and down, with a black plastic handle that always worked.

All those summer miles, windows down and still sweating, to the agreeable rattle and hum of a knackered old diesel doing about 4rpm. Now it has gone, dismembered and incinerated, the funeral pyre possibly witnessed only by a brainless bunch of Ariègeois sheep. Silence of the lambs eh? Watch it, O ye woolly ones, you too could end up on the barbecue.

The car that survived a incredible number of increasingly improbable, incredulous and unfeasible MoTs and control techniques, is now but a naked tin wreck identifiable only by its ashen chassis plate; all thanks to some nameless thieving gits. We go back a long way, me and that 106. I wish they still made cars like that.

Jeff Beck . . . Blow by Blow à Sète

As any fule kno, Blow by Blow was Jeff Beck's most successful album; a wonderful sequence of off-beat jazz rock and fusion from a guitar player who was always ahead of the game, and even now, 30 years later, still just seems to get better and better. I don't suppose it hurt to have George Martin producing on both Wired and Blow by Blow, but it has to be said the boy himself remains something special.

Beck headlined the last night of Jazz à Sète a few days back in the open-air intimacy of the 1,000-seater (or something like that) Theâtre de la Mer, an offer that me and my mate Jay, for two, couldn't resist. Just us and a few seagulls. You just don't get to see people this good in venues this small for 35 quid in the UK. Many of the small summer festivals around us here in southern France are incredibly good value.

Sète itself is an intriguing collage of canals, bridges, cars, fish, chaos, possibly a lurking étang or two and some quite classy architecture au bord de la mer, somewhere near Montpellier. There's also a Theâtre de Molière as France's top thesp apparently got his first big break at nearby Pézenas. Don't cut it too fine as it's murder to drive in Sète. Much better, indeed it's a great idea, to pig out at one of the many seafood restaurants before the show. We did: it was brill.

But back to Beck: Always bracketed with Page and Clapton, less well-known than the other two but in my (not at all humble, actually) opinion a much better player than either of them. And seriously more modern. While it's possibly hard to credit that a 65-year-old rock star retains jet-black hair entirely by natural talent, there's not a note of nostalgia in Beck. This is up-to-the moment, relevant playing. He uses a few effects, but most of them, he seems just to grab out of thin air. It's soaring then spiky, sometimes weird, and rhythmically often very strange indeed.

Maybe that's why Beck never had a wider following, he never offers you the easy way round, but I was spellbound. Ritchie Blackmore once commented that Beck always took risks; when they came off he was incredible, when they didn't, he was crap. Well, it all came together at Sète.

He seemed to be really enjoying himself too. Beck was always notorious as a fully paid-up member of The Awkward Squad but maybe he's mellowed. And why not? From the opening Beck's Bolero to his monumental take on The Beatles' Day in the Life, both he and his band were astonishing.

mercredi 15 juillet 2009

Frog Wars or frogwarts . . .

My home village of Fa lies somewhere none too precise in the right armpit of the upper Aude valley, possibly at the extreme end of a figurative hair. This small but surprisingly cosmopolitan community goes about its business under the monosyllabic frown of the famous hill-top Visigoth tower; a 9th century monolith, built like a brick shithouse. Well, it might be 9th century, I'm usually hazy about these things and too lazy to check them. But it's definitely very old and very solid.

A dissolute assortment of of old stone houses comes to inaccurate conclusions around the church, the bridge over the river Faby and the true nerve centre of village affairs, the accurately if obviously-named Café de Fa. River is maybe an exaggeration; the Faby is often a brook, in winter a fairly convincing torrent and in summer usually a pathetic trickle. But this spring it never stopped raining and that's why we've got Frog Wars in the Faby . . . in fact we've got loads more frogs, toads, snakes, mossies, and anything else anti-social which is likely to bite you, than usual.

The big question at the café tables is whether it's sex or war, or if there is, in fact, much of a difference. The one thing that's certain is the deafening racket. Whether it's a case of 'take me, baby' or 'stitch that, Jimmy', it clearly involves a lot of mouth. Dave the barman feels that it's a turf war. Me, I reckon it's the Legendary Orgy of the Pyrenean Bonking Frog. After all, two bits of manky reed, a few pebbles and a mugful of tepid water don't seem much like a country worth fighting for, but maybe it's different for an ambitious frog.

Mind you, Dave always takes a more philosophical view than me; sitting under the bamboo awning, luxuriously thick roll-up in one hand and nursing his orphan baby swift in the other. It fell out of its nest and landed in the pub, not yet quite able to fly home; rather like some of the other regulars. Still it could have done worse . . .

What's in a name?

Well, The last house before Spain is actually my girlfriend Claire's mum's place. It's on top of the Pyrenees; large, gracious and possibly haunted. You go down a lane and either turn right through the elegantly-rusted, tall iron gates into her drive or you go straight on down the road into Spain. In recent years some deliquent builder may just have squeezed a couple of speculative non-entities into the gap between the garden wall and the border but what of it? This is still the last real house before Spain.