dimanche 23 janvier 2011

Taking a leafy look at Fa as boy snaps with new toy

I have to say it's not often that I get a really posh new toy to play with. Fa is hardly the doyen of manic consumer society. To be honest, if you want to survive long-term in deepest rural France, the best advice is: Don't spend any money you haven't got . . . and don't spend any you have got either . . .

However the moment has arrived when I, a mere ten years behind everyone else, finally own a digital camera. In pic terms, this hallowed chron has only dragged itself to a computer screen near you thanks to a generous loan by Martin Castellan of Sud Media Images. But really the old lead slug had to be bitten. I had to get one of my own.

Thus it was that, in a state of rabid excitement, I lay in wait for Monsieur le Facteur, alias the postie, in fervent hope that he would be in toy-bringing mode. Actually Le Facteur de Fa is a bit of a star. It's always been the same guy in the nearly nine years I've lived here. He knows exactly who everyone is and where they live. Such is unprogress and long may it continue.

Actually it's also a good idea to be in when he's delivering anything bigger than will fit in the letterbox. Because if you're not there, he will take it away again . . . If that happens, frankly it's a disaster. This other bit of unprogress is not fun. At all.

Your longed-for cadeau will get lost in the Couiza-Espéraza trou noir de la poste and may never be seen again. It gets taken back to Couiza, then sometime the next day, it gets taken back to Espéraza. Which is where it started out from before le facteur tried to deliver it in the first place. After it had previously been delivered from Couiza, also the first time round, whence it had been delivered from the outside world.

Confused? They are. One time the woman on the counter at Espéraza hunted high and low for a parcel of mine, which I eventually noticed sitting in full view on the shelf directly behind her . . .

They only have a post office in Espéraza so that they can shut it. The last time the worthy fonctionnaires de la Poste went on a national one-day strike, Espéraza stayed shut for two, just to be on the safe side.

However Monsieur le Facteur did indeed have my new camera, delivered in the magnificent January sunshine. By the time I'd eyed the package suspiciously, prodded it with a pointed stick, charged the batteries and driven 20 miles to Limoux and back for a memory card . . . il pleuvait comme une vache qui pisse, that is to say, it was persistenting down.

So I couldn't take any fab new pix for three days. But eventually Claire and I got out for a walk up on the hills around Fa. It was still hazy but did yield this agreeably dreamy tapestry of rooftops spied between the winter bronzéd leaves . . .

mardi 18 janvier 2011

It's John, Paul, George, Ringo and Kevin

Thanks to being a member of the Fab Five (see previous post), I can actually play about half a dozen Beatles songs. It's only taken me about 35 years to learn A Hard Day's Night. Still you get there in the end. My career as a rock star started humbly. Then it carried on like that. Aged 14, I bought my first acoustic guitar off a couple of girls who lived a few streets away. It cost a fiver and was bloody awful.

I persevered. About a year later I met a rather attractive woman at a party who was miles too old for me. I longed to get off with her and didn't, but she did sell me my first electric guitar, a Jedson (never heard of them since . . .) Telecaster copy for twenty quid. It was slightly better.

Being flat-broke but moderately enterprising, I nicked the home-made transistor amplifier and speaker that originally constituted the left-hand channel of my father's exceedingly eccentric hi-fi outfit (Sixties-speak for home music centre). My dad was always one of those people who spent hours building reams of electronic spaghetti and occasionally had to buy a record to see if it worked.

Incidentally, the right-hand channel was a valve amp, partially working at 400 volts or so, with no case so that small children could shove their fingers into it. It sat in the middle of the lounge floor. The speakers were beautifully matched. One was two feet high, the other four feet high.

Thus armed, I was ready to rock and joined a couple of garage bands, one at home and one at school. Usually I had no transport so I pushed the ensemble to rehearsals, anything up to two miles in a wheelbarrow. I must have been fit in those days.

At school there was my mate Andrew on piano and my mate Glenn also on guitar. Sometimes there was our mate Benny who made an awful lot of random noise so I figure he must have been the drummer.

Andrew was a Beatles nut so this is how I first met that dreadful tome, The Complete Beatles Songbook. Using it, we struggled through A Hard Day's Night and various others. They sounded nothing whatsoever like The Beatles.

I think I did eventually manage a passable version of Yellow Submarine, which is a really hip song if you're aged about six. We couldn't understand why it was so difficult and decided that it must be our fault for being crap.

Thus I gave up on the Fab Four and learned a load of Stones songs instead. This was much easier; you just had to listen to their live album and play each song about 500 times to write the lyrics out. We always had to do that back then.

It's so incredibly easy today. For Les Malfonctionnaires, it took about five minutes to find the words and chords to A Hard Day's Night on the internet. It took about another moment to put the song in its proper key of G, and not C as it said in the book. Add in the modified but simple enough chords, also cunningly not mentioned in the book, and Hey Presto! it sounds just like A Hard Day's Night. Not really rocket science.

As it happens, girlfriend Claire wanted a sing-along during our French family Crimbo and, for the first time in 35 years, I found myself gazing at The Complete Beatles Songbook, her brother in law's copy. And it's still a bloody nightmare: The words aren't lined up with the music. And neither are all the great streams of chords, with nothing to mark where the verses, choruses and middle eights begin and end. Not to mention songs put into the wrong keys for no good reason.

It's hard to know so long after the event whether the book was laid out like this to make The Beatles look incomprehensibly clever or whether the typographer was just unbelieveably incompetent. But even though we were young and crap, it's nice to know that it wasn't all our fault.

dimanche 2 janvier 2011

Band's debut triumph despite recurring feesh motif

Yup, they're back: it's The Return of the Feesh. Here you see most of the members of the newly-formed Les Malfonctionnaires valiantly avoiding death by guppies.

I would imagine that the normal purpose of the feesh is to entertain the customers of Café de la Gare, Quillan, by looking cute and slightly stupid.

Their secondary mission, which they chose to accept, is to occupy 85% of the band's playing space, the other 15% being taken up by four giant fridges, the dismembered debris of an internet café and the entrance to the toilets.

Thanks to photo correspondent Martin Castellan of Sud Media Images, you can see singer Kate seemingly hypnotised by malignant neon tetra, bassist Stan and drummer Mark suavely unaffected by marine interference and singer Deb blatantly defying the Lure of the Feeshness. Unconspicuous by his absence is the guitarist. C'est à dire, moi.

This is partly because I always look crap on photos and partly because I spent the whole of New Year's Eve standing in the access to the lavatories.

It's a previously little-known fact that playing rock'n'roll causes the entire audience to be dying for a pee; especially during guitar breaks and other twiddly bits where you don't want some hopeless incontinent barging into you every ten seconds.

Thus it was that I saw in 2011 as Rhythm Toilet Attendant. But I won't let this worry me. We had a great night belting out The Beatles, The Stones, Eddie Cochran, Etta James and many more. And so did those who were listening and bopping to us, even if I do say it myself.

Our old mate Rod joined us on guitar, Kate and Mark's son Ezra made his public debut on drums and girlfriend Claire added une jolie touche française with her version of Claude Nougaro's Jazz et le Java.

The band played, the wine flowed and the nosh was noshed, even if ours was stone cold at 1am . . . As it happens, I' ve never previously had someone try to serve me dinner while I've got a guitar in one hand and, erm, a bit more of the guitar in the other, somewhere in the third verse of Can't Buy Me Love. Still it's all part of life's rich thingummy doo-dah.

Actually this was the band's first gig after two months of serious rehearsal, so now we're up and running. If you've got the party, we've got the sounds. Bonne année à tous!

It's un-Canet: Gales that wail on a sub-zero shore

Actually that headline's a complete lie, there's nothing uncanny about storm-force winds in Canet.

What the slightly reedy billiard table which is greater Perpignan may fortunately lack in snow, it more than makes up for in wind-speed.

The dear old Kangoo practically capsized every couple of minutes or so during my return home from the festivities. We all stayed firmly indoors over the holiday weekend, apart from Claire nipping out for a fag now and then; such is the lunatic power of nicotine . . .

Canet beach always manages to bluff it on these occasions. Apart from the fact that there is only one person out having his dog sand-blasted, you'd never know from the pic that there was anything amiss. Mind you, if the dog is doing what I think it's doing, it bloody deserves it.

Ca suffit à geler les couilles d'un singe en laiton . . . Work it out, singe means monkey. Must remember to ask Claire for a real French idiom.

All this overdose of weather has got me back in cooking mode: I got a bit of a bargain on some neck cuts of lamb so what better moment to rediscover Lancashire Hotpot. Or should that be Ragout à la Lancashire?

Actually the true inspiration for this dish was Claire finding me a cast-iron casserole in a brocante for a wonderfully bugger-all €15: These things usually cost a fortune and this one's brilliant, especially if your oven's crap, like mine. I just use it on the hob.

Ragout à la Lancashire

* Peel and slice up three or four potatoes. I believe that strictly-speaking Lancashire Hotpot should have just spuds, but I also use peeled and chopped carrots or cabbage etc, according to what's available on the market.

* Slash up a couple of onions and two or three cloves of garlic and fry in a splash of olive oil in the casserole.

* Add your neck cuts of lamb and fry for a minute or two until the meat browns over.

* We still seem to have fresh thyme and marjoram in the pots outside my house. Add several springs of each, plus a stock cube and a mug of water. Substitute dried herbs if you have to, but using fresh really is worth the effort.

* Add a teaspoonful of paprika, quarter of a teaspoonful of nutmeg and a sprinkle of freshly-ground black pepper.

* Add all the chopped veg and enough water just to cover, stir the lot together.

* Replace the casserole lid. Bring to boil and allow to simmer vigorously for about ten minutes, then reduce to a low flame or low setting on an electric hob and cook for about an hour and a quarter, or until meat and veg are tender. Adjust salt to taste. Add a little water from time to time if needed. If your oven actually works, you could always use a ceramic casserole and bung it in at the equivalent temperature.

* Serve with slices of your favourite good quality bread.