Sunday, 27 February 2011

An interview with Michael Mckell

I is so excited, I got this interview, Michael is an English singer /song writer who has worked with many artists but his French connection is his work with Julien Clerc and Serge Gainsbourg.
Born in Bethnel Green London in 1959, His early career he had a contract as a singer/songwriter with Phonogram and Warner Brothers. He was nearly killed in a traffic accident in 1991. (The Sun) after that he studied acting for three years at the Lee Strasberg Institute, His theatre work includes a Midsummer Nights Dream, Flip, and the title role in MacBeth at the lyric theatre Hammersmith. He made his west end début playing the narrator in Blood Brothers at the Phoenix Theatre and appeared as Stoner in the musical Tonight's the night at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London.
His TV career includes playing D.S./D.I. Trevor Hands in the ITV drama M.I.T. and Dr. Nick West in Doctors, he was also in a Kavanagh QC, Touch of Frost, Urban Gothic, Lock Stock the series, Blessed, The Bill (Joseph Ferdinand)and NCS, He played Carter in EastEnders and just recently he played DC Nick Henshall in Emmerdale.
On the big screen Michael appeared alongside Sean Bean in Essex Boys and played the starring role in Beneath Still Waters, he also appeared in many other films.
But to be included in my blog there has to be a connection with either France or food, and its his music career (Michaels early music career was under the name of Michael St James) I'm particularly interested in. touring with his band Park Avenue and writing songs for the likes of Toyah, Elaine Page and Dollar and touring with 10cc, are interesting but when he told me about his times working with Julien Clerc and Serge Gainsbourg I knew I needed to find out more.

Michael wrote English lyrics to the songs on Julian Clercs album Aime-moi including the track La Fille aux bas nylons he also wrote Julians first English language song I Dont Ever Want To Go Away, and went on tour with Julien notably he played at the Bercy Omnisport in 1985. Michael was involved with writing English lyrics to other French composers songs, he told me that while working with Serge Gainsbourg they would both get very drunk during what he called "the creative process". He also spoke about the time he was accused (jokingly) of trying to kill Clerc, he organised a football match and Clerc suffered a major Asthma attack. He will always be grateful to Julian Clerc for the chance to tour with him and says that Clerc was a major influence on his career.
I asked Michael about his favourite restaurant and proved to be a man of taste with his choice of The Pigalle a 1940s-inspired supper club in the heart of the West End and his love of art by artists as diverse as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Hopper.
Musically he's a fan of Bruce Springsteen and Born to Run is his favourite song. His favourite book is Last train to Memphis a book about Elvis Presley. Actors he admires are Al Pacino and Steve McQueen, not surprisingly saying that The God father and Bullit are amongst his favourite films. His also a fan of TV's The Sopranos.
When I asked what the future held for him he said " I want to act/ Sing / write/ rule the world and In 10 years have enough money to choose what work I do and give my kids a safety net" and he has " a total belief that all things are possible".
He then spoiled his image of a man of great taste by admitting that he was a Tottenham Hotspur fan, but then we can't all be perfect.
Michael has an Album out (Shower over Moon Street) which can be downloaded via Michaels web site.
Here's the title track from the album;

The new single "Save me" is also available.

Thank you Michael for the interview.
While searching for some videos of Michael I came across this, enjoy.

Friday, 25 February 2011

I Remember

When you used to arrive in France with an empty tank and fill up with cheap fuel, then leave France with full tanks.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

An Interview with Stephen Clarke

Stephen Clarke is the author of a "Year In The Merde" about an Englishman living and working in Paris.
I asked Stephen about the books he has written;

I began trying to sell A Year in the Merde ... first, as I was living in Paris, and after three months of humping copies around the streets in a shopping trolley, I sold the book. Not only to bookshops, but also to a major publisher who promised me that they had their own delivery service so I would not have to do any more heavy lifting. Well, in fact it was my newly-found agent, Susanna Lea, who landed the major publisher. And since she was looking to the future while I was still focussing on my lower back, she also secured a deal to write more Paul West adventures.

I have since written the sequel, Merde Actually, the sequel to the sequel, Merde Happens, the sequel to the etc etc, a spoof thriller called Dial M for Merde, as well as Talk to the Snail, my little book that tries to describe French society according to ten “commandments” like “thou shalt not love thy neighbour”, “thou shalt be wrong” and “thou shalt not get served” . My latest offering, a non-fiction tome called 1000 Years of Annoying the French, came out in March 2010. Oh, and I still play bass if there are any really bad rock bands out there.

A Year in the Merde was set in Paris, are you still living in France;

Yes, in the north of Paris, in a totally untrendy bit, which means I paid half the price for my apartment than I would have done if I'd opted for somewhere two or three kilometres to the south where half the people in the cafés are reading American newspapers, so it doesn't feel like Paris anyway.

What jobs did you do before you started writing;

I grew up in Bournemouth (the Bondi Beach of England), where I played bass in some of the worst rock bands in musical history before leaving town to study French and German at Oxford.
After university, I got a series of high-powered jobs in the wine industry (grape picking), tertiary sector (washing up in a German hotel), and in international diplomacy (teaching English to bored French businessmen).

I heard that your first writing job was translating English swear words in to French, that must have been difficult, surely some things just wont translate?

Exactly, which is why, if you look at the Collins Senior French-English dictionary, you will find a long and varied section under the heading motherf*cker. It took me a long time, testing the phrases on French translators to find the exact equivalent. It was a part of the language serious lacking in the dictionaries because people had been too prudish to do it before. For example, in one of the editions, someone had translated jouir, the colloquial French verb meaning to have an orgasm, as "to have a really good time". Can you imagine it "yes, yes, I'm having a really good time!"

So you had a good grasp of the French language at the time, did you learn French in school?

I remember when I first started learning French at school, the teachers were old blokes who could hardly pronounce boulangerie, and they spent all their time bludgeoning us with grammar and stupid tales of kids called Jacques buying stamps from the bureau de poste. And then suddenly, a French assistant arrived, a beautiful 20-year-old girl, and I realized there was more to France than grammar and stamps. And when I came to France, I discovered real food, real coffee and cheap wine. And when I came to work here, I found long weekends and the 35-hour week and I was hooked.

The main character in a "Year in the Merde" is Paul West
, are you Paul West?

Paul is me and not me, in the same way an orange is a fruit but not an apple. I realize that doesn't mean anything at all, which is a cunning way of avoiding the question.

Where you influenced by any other authors, do you have a favourite French life book by another author?

I was influenced by Douglas Adams, author of the brilliantly funny Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, until he dropped dead while jogging. No more jogging for me. My favourite French life book is Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell. I was once a professional washer-up, too.

If you were going on a desert island, rather than your desert island discs, what books would you take?
How to Climb Palm Trees, Cooking with Coconuts, How to Make Suntan Lotion out of Coconuts, Fun Things to Do with Coconuts and finally, when i get fed up, How to Build a Boat out of Coconut Shells.

Do you think theres a film or a TV series in a "Year in the Merde?

There could be. I've just signed with a production company who want to make a film, but so far I haven't had any actors and actresses knocking at the door. It's a long process. They have to find a scriptwriter, then a director, then actors. But it could make a great film - Paul West's Anglo-French gaffes, plus a romantic comedy, with Paris as a backdrop.

If you didn't write for a living what would you think you would do?

Write for free. I've always done it.

What do the French think of your books?

They read them, and for the most part they grudgingly accept that I've hit the nail on the head. Everything I say is based on observation, living here for 17 years, working in French companies, living as a Parisian. The French love jokes about France, as long as they're accurate. And they love it when foreigners write about them, unlike us Brits - we'd be saying, "who is this bloke, he doesn't really know us, only we're allowed to criticize us". There's also the aspect that the French think they're a marvellous subject for a book. Ah oui, what a good idea, a book about us, très bien.

Are you writing anything at the moment? Is there more to come from Paul?

I've just finished a book called Paris Revealed, which is everything about Paris that the guide books don't tell you. Great things to do that only the locals know about, as well as some of the pitfalls. And sections on aspects of Parisian life that you'll notice as a visitor to the city but which don't usually get explained in guidebooks. The water flowing in the gutters, for example, the history of the metro, why Paris is a fashion capital, how it is often seen as a beautifully preserved city when in fact Parisians have spent most of the last 500 years destroying great chunks of it, and sections on how not to annoy the Parisians - a key thing if you want to enjoy yourself here.

Why should anyone buy your books?

I have no idea. Because they want a laugh? Because they love reading about France? Actually, seriously, an American told me the other day that he had been going crazy working with Parisians in his office, until he read my book Talk to the Snail. Then he understood them and he was able to relax and adapt to life here rather than kicking against it. He said that now he just laughs when he gets into typically French situations. Someone else told me that they'd never understood why the French kept going on about Joan of Arc and Napoleon until they read 1000 Years of Annoying the French. But most people just say they enjoy a giggle.

What would you say to anyone thinking of moving to France?

Learn French. Obvious, really. At the very least teach yourself to say "bonjour" to everyone before saying another word. This might feel weird if you're still living in Manchester, but as soon as you arrive in France it'll open doors for you. Say "bonjour" and every problem becomes less problematic. Forget to say it, and you'll create problems where there were none before.
Stephen says;
My latest book, 1000 Years of Annoying the French, is now out in a small paperback edition. It's a real bargain – a whole millennium for under a penny per year. That's even less than French farmers pay in income tax.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The Blue Noon

The last book on my list of recommended reads was " Under the Wire" by William Ash, for those that have bought this book you may remember that one of the reasons William Ash was captured was because the resistance who were helping William Ash were betrayed by Harry Cole, there's lots of interesting information about Cole on the internet and in books, the book I'm recommending is a work of fiction but Harry Cole is the main character, the author admits that there are lots of inaccuracies in the book, meetings with individuals that couldn't have happened or events that in the book involved Harry Cole but didn't in real life, but most of it is true, its a good read and may prompt you to find out more about him.

A search on Amazon shows 27 new copies of this book for £0.26 and 331 used copies from £0.01
Please use the link on the right to buy your books.

A View from the Poor Side

Random picture of our house taken from just by Keef's

What you mean "you can't see it?"
Its there in front of you.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Kenzo Photograhs

Loves his nanny

Concentrates hard...............

..............On his favourite cartoon

And has excellent taste in music.

A Kiss From Kenzo

Coming next week

When we travel oft driven routes Paul will say to me, "left or right"? I will answer one way or the other and Paul will make a turning, we've ended up in farm yards, on one occasion someone's drive but often after making the turn, by intuition, something spotted in the distance, sign posts or just good luck we will fine something of interest, Château's Manoir's, lakes, rivers or some historical site. Today I said left and in Pipriac coming from the direction of Messac we turned at the crossroads by the PMU. Following the road down hill we went along this road and found a whole row of these strange little houses, unfortunately lack of time and battery life meant I only got one snap.

This picture doesn't really show the scale of this house, so next week I will be sure to show houses with objects, such as cars in so it will have you a better idea.

A nice cup of tea - Binnie Hale

Good morning everyone

Saturday, 19 February 2011

A Photograph

By Artist Pamela Jayne Smith

Women: Know Your Limits!

This was posted by Paul, there's a selection of these, just search Harry Enfield on Youtube.

Internet Tycoon

Well its not me, just checked my earnings from the Internet, 40 English pence!!! Actually I'm quite proud of this, I dont keep a blog to earn money, although it would be nice. The fact that people followed my recommendations in book choices is pleasing. I love history, in particular modern history, those who read my blog will know of my interest in the events in St Marcell during WWII, why it fascinates me so much is that I can walk round these areas and see people who would have experienced these events first hand. When I first "monetized" my blog I put lots of attractive widgets around my site, selling books that I have read, Peter Mayle, Steven Clarke and George East, all who write about living in France, but no one was buying, all these ads did was make the blog load slower, so now I just have the one widget in the right hand tool bar where I show the books that I think anyone could find interesting, at present there is only two, I've another couple to add. I do so want to get my earnings to 50pence though, I remember an advert on TV, the child goes "50p!!! What can you get for 50p".

Friday, 18 February 2011

Dead Chicks,

Temperature dropped to just above freezing last night, though this has never been a problem before, I opened up the hen house this morning and only five of my new baby chicks came out, I found one dead on the floor, although I said five came out later another chicken seemed to be struggling, I tried various thugs, kept it under my jumper for an hour, I used the hair dryer on me to add warmth, tried wrapping him in foil ( no, not oven ready) and a fleece, still nothing helped, I put him close to the fire even gave it a (medicinal) nip of whisky but she's not responding, she's in the warm bathroom at the moment but I think I will have to kill her. I'm always sad when I lose an animal. I've cleaned out the house and put extra straw in there.

Update from Paul, I went to check on the poorly chicken, with the intention of killing it if it was suffering, it was already dead, it becomes very uneconomical to raise your own chickens when you lose a third of them in only a few days.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

A Warm Sunny Day

Its been a lovely day today, a false spring I call it, invented by the shops to encourage you to buy plants then have to buy more when the next bout of frost gets them.
Paul's boss phoned him yesterday and asked if he wanted today off, as Paul is going out for lunch with work colleagues tomorrow and will probably end up finishing in the evening, we wont be able to do our Friday afternoon shopping, Paul hates shopping on a Saturday, he says he doesn't have two days off a week to spend them walking round the shops, so at least we were able to do the shop today.

Its been a warm day, so after shopping we were able to relax in the garden.

We don't usually drink during the week, but as this counted as a mid weekend we decided a bottle of wine was OK.

Our geese are laying eggs, we think its only the one female doing it, what she does is lays one egg a day till she has a clutch of eggs then sits. Our male goose can be a problem as he guards her and the nest.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

The Great Escape

Re-reading "Under The Wire" by William Ash,

Bill Ash is one of a rare breed. In 1940, he sacrificed his American citizenship to join in the fight against Hitler. He became a fighter pilot, came to Britain and flew Spitfires in combat, the film "The Great Escape" is based on his experiences as a POW.

Resistance in the Charente

While doing my research into the Resistance in my part of France I came upon a blog post concerning a memorial in the Charente region of France.

The Memorial to the Maquis Bir'Hacheim, built on a hill overlooking Chassenuil.

To read more visit Dianes blog "My life in the Charente" by clicking on this link.

Saturday, 12 February 2011


There's certain foods that give you a sense of well being such as stews and soups in the dark cold winter months, but nothing beats the coming of summer food, yes I know its only the middle of February and there's many cold below freezing nights to come, I know there's going to be rain and winds, but today it is warm and sunny, a chance to feel good.

I made a flan, tomatoes, Mozzarella, chives and basil, on puff pastry, a drizzle of Balsamic vinegar before and a drizzle of olive oil after its cooked, a simple salad of lettuce and cucumber, sliced onions, olives and peppers, crunchy bread and a cheap sparkling wine. What's not to like.

La Gacilly, New Chicks

Valentines day presents, Paul paid for the point of lay, I paid for the eating ones. Were such romantics.
I needed to buy new chickens today, only one of my chickens is laying eggs so they are all except that one, going in the pot, We always buy from this market stall, his poultry always look in good condition, his set up clean, we have confidence in what we buy.
These weren't cheap, point of lay, good big chickens, €8 each.

These will be ready to eat in 8 - 10 weeks, €2.80 each.

All tucked up safe in there new home.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Château de la Boulaye

Just down the road, but I don't know anything about the place.

I found this post card here, and some other information about the Château.

And the feuille cadastrale on the same link.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Chicken Stew and Dumplings.

For the recipe and more photographs click here

Château de Coetbo

Part of my research concerning "The Next Moon", I was looking for the Château where Andre Hue worked, I'm not sure yet if this is it, I've not checked, but I was driving to Guer and passed this Château so I took these snaps.

Château Coëtbo was built in 1647, consisting of two symmetrical pavilions separated by a main building with a large central staircase.
There was however a Castle on this site in the 9th century, this was destroyed in 1593

While I was searching for some information on the Château I found this text "En 1794, Coëtbo sert de quartier général au comte Puisaye après l'écrasement des Vendéens à Savenay. (In 1794, Coëtbo serves as headquarters for the count after the crash of Puisaye Vendeans Savena)."

Now I have no idea who or what "Puisaye Vendeans Savenay" was, but I've found this Ebook that might explain more.

Chouannerie and counter-revolution: Puisaye, the princes and the British Government in the 1790's, by Maurice Hunt

Saturday, 5 February 2011

What I saw today.

Not using this company, seem a bit dodgy.

Early Spring Lamb

Just up the road from us is a small piece of land, this lamb was born a few weeks ago.


I've bought some seeds and today will start to sort through any seeds I've got left over from last year, still to early to start planting as I don't have a green house. I've got the old door I changed last year though so I might make a cloche.
When I first started gardening I tried to "farm" about a 1000sqm, I took on to much, so much that the next year I decided it was too much like hard work and restricted my self to just growing herbs, this year I'm going to try a more sensible approach to gardening, first job is to reduce the amount of chickens I have, especially the bantam chickens who can fly over any obstacle I put in there way. Then I'm going to mark out some small manageable areas for some (slightly) raised beds, Paul's going to see the farmer (Pascal) today to ask for a couple of old large tractor tyres, however once Paul has walked the 20 meters from our house to Pascals he's unlikely to be back for at least an hour and will have drunk far to much for him to start getting the vegetable beds ready.
So the plan, get the tyres, I will grow root veg, carrots and parsnips, maybe some potatoes, I do like small new potatoes, but after that they are cheap enough in the shops.
I will start some veg off in the house, I want to grow Aubergines and peppers, so will start them in pots, maybe some chillies as well.
Courgettes always grow well, looking forward to seeing the plants in the shop.
I'm going to grow my radishes and onions in pots, that way I can start them off at intervals.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Friday night

When we lived in the UK Friday was take away night usually a Chinese meal, we no longer do that, mainly because we can't, there isn't a take away near us. But I still like to keep things simple on Friday, Paul comes home from work and we go shopping, when we get back in I really don't want to start cooking and Paul's happy with whatever I serve, so tonight its Breton hot dogs, Gallettes. I buy these but I do want to start making them, they are pancakes made with black flour, fry sausages and onions and wrap like a tortilla, you can serve pretty much anything in them, another favourite is goats cheese.

Of course you need a bottle of wine!