It’s the end of June, I’m in France and it’s grey outside. How happy I would be if that statement was an oxymoron but in this current annus horribilis, which is as horrible as an annus can be, happiness is seasoned with bad shit, in all its many and varied disguises. Were I to travel back through the pieces which I have written over the years, I would not be surprised to find that I have written similar words at the end of many Junes past; yet I still dream of the sun filled Junes that my mind conjures from the fragmented memories of long gone childhood summer holidays. There was a smell to rented summer holiday homes that was only evident at very particular moments; coming downstairs early on a summer morning when I was the only one awake in the house or, for a split second, if I was the first through the door when the family returned from sailing or the beach. I smelt that smell a few days ago when the sun was with us and it felt as warm as bread at 6.30 in the morning. It was a proper summer morning. Getting up meant waking, throwing off a sheet, putting on a pair of shorts and quietly going down the stairs to the kitchen for coffee; half way down the stairs it was there and was wonderfully comforting and full of optimism. It troubles me that I can’t define or expand on something so clear and present; it’s reminiscent of being asked to clearly define happiness when you were 5 years old.
…two, count to three before you say it.,,,,,oh, f-f-f-f-fudge. Fudge is an odd substitution for the infinitely more potent f word which is fuck by name but not by nature….any more. Fuck has left the bedroom and is in the street effing and blinding at any effing thing or abusing old ladies for not giving up their seats, or because it’s fucking raining or just being fucking angry….it’s left the slick genitals and joined the base ball bat generals. It’s bloody angry is what it is and you can fuck off if …if you…if ..oh,fuck off. It’s been kidnapped…. it’s been taken…… hi-jacked by script writers……very few stand up comedians will utter less than a score of fucks in a set and neither goodies nor baddies would get a laugh without a plethora of well placed fucks; that’s what has happened to a much valued word in my vocabulary which I have become more and more loathe to use.
Thighs chapped and sore by wet grey flannel flogging around them in the freezing Worcestershire winters of privileged prep school misery generated in me a longing for long trousers. The move to long from short was profound. To find an equivalent in the progress of a child of today is beyond me as I can’t find any parallels. Long trousers were an iPhone, were liberty, were privilege, were a new hopeful life. We were doomed to wear fucking awful clothes, to be seen and not heard or ideally not seen and not heard but to be put on trains and waved to as we disappeared down the line to be cared for by a mixture of recently demobbed pederasts, priests and brilliant teachers; during this time shorts were for sports. My father and his friends wore shorts that had little to do with that nomenclature as they were as wide as they were long and they were very long; far too long to be short. I have often thought that those responsible for designing uniforms for the British army worked for the enemy or someone very spiteful who had been turned down by the selection board as he made shorts that made tall men short and short men ridiculous….the long, the short and the tall all look short in shorts as they were long. And then I went to the South of France and saw people who wore shorts which didn’t make them look complete cunts. Around that moment I decided, at 7 years old, that I would live there one day.
This sort of misunderstanding starts wars….or warts. John, hits the space bar instead of the “r” key, now known as the “tur” key, and Norman’s status as an island is lost in a flash The bell has been tolling for Norman and not for you or me over eons of time as nobody has asked, because he asked us not to , as to why the bell is always tolling. Norman can’t hear the bell, doesn’t give a fuck about the bell….what John should have mentioned first is that Norman is not only a clod but is also stone deaf which is why he was writing a note to Norman about the danger of being washed away by the sea and so he’d be aware that a bell was tolling for him and to make it clear that it wasn’t and isn’t tolling for me or you as it was ringing for him. We’ll never know why J.Donne was warning Norman as he, JD, heard the bell and thought it was ringing for him and not for Norman and so he went to the bell, foolishly not asking for whom it tolled, without leaving a note explaining the note he had left for Normam soon to be known down the ages as Noman. The fate of the world turns on moments such as this.
“We are not going out” is the mantra by which we all are condemned to live in these troubled times. Were I to be young at this time in history I would find the “we are not going out” restriction hard to bear or, more succinctly, unbearable: but I am not young, I am old. As one imperceptibly grows old it makes one aware that there is a difference to the oldness perceived from the outside when compared with one’s view from inside where it appears that nothing much has changed apart from the body becoming less obedient to simple commands. The “we are not going out” of which I speak is the self contained life into which we, my wife and me, have metamorphosed over the last 20 years in the French countryside; a slow conversion from hyper active city dweller to semi dormant hermit happily existing and creating in peace and isolation. There is a virtual “we are not going out” that affects me and it relates to memories; memories of particular bars or restaurants where I ate or drunk something unforgettable at different times of my life: to some of which I may return, to others of which I have a faint hope of returning and to those to which I will never return as they are gone, changed or too far away.
Of those three conditions, “changed” is by far the worst. Among my memories of ideal bistrot food was that served at Chez Allard. This is a restaurant that I loved but it is also a restaurant that has changed as it is now an Alain Ducasse establishment which is the polar opposite to the nature of the restaurant that I remember and loved. I have the memories and the new Chez Allard had, and hopefully will have again, the tourists. There were few drawbacks to Chez Allard save being able to draw back one’s chair from the table as they were so tightly packed together – not a place for those with a weak bladder. Seeing the waiters, with laden arms raised high above their heads, dance agilely through the minimal gaps between tables without accident was to witness a bravura performance of adagio dancers. My first visit was in the late 60’s when Paris was being terrorised by the OAS ( Organisation de l’Armée Sécrete who were deeply anti de Gaulle) with random killings in bars and restaurants. It was a nerve racking time and I spent one night, after I had been picked up while wandering the streets by a passing Gendarme van, for my own protection. It was an entertaining night sitting at long tables drinking coffee and learning French in a fortress, which is what police stations had become in that era. Back to Chez Allard: I can’t remember what I ate but I do remember feeling very uncomfortable as a long haired hippy surrounded by crop haired Colonels, from the Légion Étrangere or REP (Régiment Étrangere Parachutiste), who were entertaining either a male or female lover, sometimes both, before setting off to join in planning yet another attempt to assassinate de Gaulle. It looked like they didn’t like the look of me and I didn’t like the look of them: I was fascinated by the theatre of the place and yet felt that I should exit stage left sooner rather than later. I ate quickly, left quietly and came back 35 years later. This time I was able to enjoy the nature of the place in a more relaxed fashion. The tables were still as close together but it was the extraordinary tobacco patina of the place that caught my eye: it appeared as though it had been untouched by duster or spit and polish, well maybe spit, since my last visit. But, above all, it was the feeling that I was in a place run by people that really knew about good food and wine and who did not feel that interior design would play any part or improve on the food that they served. Chez Allard was not known for “fine dining” but for the old classics, not reinvented, but served perfectly cooked and served simply as was originally intended: it was not a place for gastronomic adventures, rather it was a place where one would meet up with classic bistrot dishes as if with old friends. « Les clients ne viennent pas chez nous faire des découvertes gastronomiques mais faire de vieilles connaissances culinaires » They specialised in Volailles de Bresse, meaning a whole Bresse chicken with a mountain of girolles or cépes to be shared by two people, or duck and olives, escargots, pigeons and peas, rabbit stew, salads of beets and mache; quite wonderful gear. And I’m sure the same dishes will be on the menu when Chez Allard reopens but it won’t be the same ; it has changed.
Social distancing has resulted in my getting up close and familiar, on a daily, nay, hourly basis, with a multitude of complete strangers the majority of whom I insult and given half a chance would maim or kill without a second thought. The very word “distancing” puts one in a much safer place when employing the “cunt” word or similar erudition when arguing a political point or any point come to think of it even if it’s pointless. Within a week or so of my rejoining, after more than a few years, the Twitter fraternity/sorority the magazine of my verbal assault rifle is empty…my last “fuck off” has been fired and it looks like I shall have to fall back on the use of pithy and apposite vocabulary in well constructed sentences seasoned with razor sharp aphorisms if I’m to get out this alive: the Twitter trenches are no place for dilsexycis.
There comes a time when up with it one will put no more and that time has come….this time the socks are off. The temperature’s rising and it isn’t surprising, he certainly can …. not bear it any longer; more to the point he must bare it or, even more to the point, bare them: feet are out for summer even if they’re in for the next few weeks they are in fact out….they have burst forth, like pale madly unattractive wingless butterflies, from their socklike chrysalides ready for the gentle warmth of the sun rather than the cocoons of cashmere, wool, cotton, silk or nylon. Today is indeed a good Friday as that for which I have been impatiently waiting is here……..the sun of summer has risen.
Carrots are huge; they have always been huge but now, in our moment of need, they are humongous which is why I cannot find even a one of them for my cooking pot. The humongosity, however, does not relate to the carrot per se but to the appetite for them shown by our fellow on line or in line shoppers here, in La France Profonde. I cook quite a lot; for quite a lot read a lot. I cook every day and have done so for the last 20 years….before that I cooked quite a lot, and yet, when I would shop for ingredients I can rarely remember taking more that 1 or 2 or maybe 3 if a very carroty dish was in my mind which it wouldn’t have been save for a carrot soup with star anise that was served in small coffee cups, a weird taste surprise for those who weren’t prepared or hadn’t been listening, that would only take a couple of carrots for four small cups, as cream and stock are involved, and, as cooking for more that 4 people is my idea of mass catering, it wouldn’t, as I said earlier, have been the case. But the French hereabouts must fill their chariots ( supermarket trolley rather than Boadicea’s prototype Magimix…I refuse to say Boudicca as it’s like spelling my name Rodger) with them as is evinced by the immense spaces where, in infinite shape, tone and type, a seraglio of carrots would lay in a momentous phallic display but which now are void; they are carrotless as are the algorithmic spaces on computer screens. Here, in la belle France, in the month of April something is stirring and that something would appear to be carrots. Henri IV declared, according to legend, during an argument with the Duc de Savoie in the Jeu de Paume that every paysan should have a poule in his pot every Sunday. What he didn’t include was the vegetables that would also be in that pot amongst which are carrots and, with all France in lockdown, it would appear that every day is Sunday and after their poule au pot they are having carrot cake and after that …..carrot petits fours? As in remembering film names, actors’ names, my mobile phone number or any number of other things I cannot remember many carrot recipes beyond roasted, stewed or puréed, and it would be a sad, dull man who could: so I googled “carrot recipes” and came up with a 100 or so that were the ones I’ve just mentioned but with different names. And then…a eureka moment…carrotes rapées…..in my experience during the last 20 years in France it has become apparent that the salad of grated carrots is the fuel of the bourgeosie and/or every French person. There are very few things that I dislike about France, which is why we ( I have to admit Jenny is not completely of my opinion) have lived here for so long without the remotest desire ( pace Jenny ) to return to perfidious Albion but carrotes rapées is among that select band. It’s not that I dislike the taste it’s just the insane amount that is on offer and is offered and, even when well dressed, the endless orange tangle quickly becomes an obstacle, an unwanted challenge which I refuse to accept and in protest of its offensiveness I may well have to don a gilet orange and green hat and burn something which won’t be a carrot as there aren’t any.
Q.So why do you want a fucking carrot, Rodger?
A. Because, a carrot together with a stick celery and an onion, all finely chopped, slowly cooked down in a bath of butter and olive oil is base of all marvellous taste in savoury cooking but I only want one of the fuckers as they go limp and grey and horrible if they hang around in the kitchen and just don’t say look in a mirror, Rodger.
There is no question, if one is to make an omelette, that eggs must be broken but breaking all the eggs and leaving them to spoil and go bad whilst deciding what to make with them makes grandmothers, who apparently are masters of egg sucking, despair; as for us lesser mortals, to whom egg sucking is as familiar as staying hidden from an invisible killer virus, we are left to wonder why the chefs were such hopelessly unprepared amateurs who believed barefaced lies would stick Humpty together again.
This has been a bruising encounter in which the Plaintiff, Roger, believes he has been thoroughly rogered by the Respondent, Roget, in that the Respondent allowed his hard backed Thesaurus Rex, an unlicensed verbivore, to gobble up the text of the Plaintiff’s recent WordPress post entitled “We are not going out”.
The Respondent, Roget, denies the severe rogering and states that his Thesaurus Rex was quietly roaming the tomes, grazing on phrases, as was its wont, when it inadvertently consumed what it considered to be a pile of Reader’s Digest.
The case continues.