Most mornings, no matter what else I eat for breakfast, I butter a large piece of baguette from Grand Central Bakery and dip it into my coffee. As I pop it into my mouth the butter is melting, mixing with the honey sweetened coffee and I am once again in Paris on the morning of August 21th 1962, my sixteenth birthday. I am sitting with Wally, a school friend, and about fifty other teenagers from many countries in the cafeteria of the Auberge Jeunesse Internationale somewhere close to the Pigalle Metro station, just down the Boulevard from Le Moulin Rouge.

The day before Wally and I had cycled from Beauvais to Paris; about fifty five miles; stage four or etape quatre on our two week bike tour of North Western France. Wally, whose real name was Alan Wallace, was not a close friend. We were in the same year at secondary school; The Skinners’ Company School for boys. He was about to focus his studying on English and Languages; I would study Sciences and Mathematics (more about this choice later). We did not ordinarily mix. The only things we had in common were a love of cycling and perhaps a curiosity about France.

No Englishman can ever be neutral about France. It is close not just geographically but emotionally. Since Wally and I both lived in Kent the only thing that separated us from France was a shallow ditch of navigable salt water twenty two miles wide called The Channel by the English and La Manche by the French. The history of our country and indeed the county of Kent where we lived were soaked in a thousand years of Anglo-French arguments, diplomatic spats, invasions, ententes, and in 1944, a rescue.

kentIn the late fifties and sixties a wave of visits and ‘exchanges’ began. Organized by language teachers on either side they sought to introduce each new edition of their youth to their opposites. It has worked very well. Nearly every town in the UK now has a ‘twin’ city in France and more recently in any number of other European countries. But in the summer of 1962 these programs were in their infancy. Wally and I were in the forefront, boldly carrying a tiny piece of teenage Englishness to France. But that is not how two fifteen year old schoolboys rationalized and planned a two week cycle tour in the winter of 1962.

Visit again soon for Episode Two…

 

 

 

 

 

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I think I posted this poem a few years ago when it was shorter. It contains, in a jocular style, a list, an inventory of medical or physical concerns I once presented and will again to my doctor. As the years go by the list, and the poem, grow longer. Here is the version I read last Thursday at Songwriters Roundup at Artichoke Music. Which by the way is a terrific institution and musical hang out. Check out this LINK.

My Medical Inventory
or erectile is not my only dysfunction

Scanning from the ground upward over my torso
Reveals an disturbing inventory of dysfunction and decay
Brachymetatarsia, in both feet!
Unequal leg length
Reconditioned knees
Atrophied right quadriceps
Hernia Scar
L4 & L5 Vertebrae way too chummy.
Are these breasts?
Are these jowls?
A score of epithelial polyps decorate my neck and torso
Gum recession
Moderate gastro intestinal reflux
Causing persistent rhinitis.
Three diopter challenge in both eyes
Now between cataract procedures
Dermatochalassis, left and right
Somewhat corrected by Blepharoplasty
Scintillating scotoma (look it up!)
Finally to cap it all
Androgenic alopecia
With rear solar panel developing.
And yet when asked
I reply, Oh, I’m fine! I’m fine.
And you, and you, still love me.

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Blepharoplastus Horribulus

Earlier this year I had Blepharoplastic surgery. This was to improve my peripheral vision which was being slowly compromised by drooping eyebrows. It certainly changed the way I looked. Indeed for a while, as the wounds healed, I was as you see, hideous.

Nine days ago I had the first of two cataract surgeries; the most common daily procedure at any hospital. The surgeon was three hours late. The procedure took less than fifteen minutes. After a night’s sleep I went as usual to the mirror to shave and immediately noticed the sharp improvement in near vision in the left eye. This improvement also allowed me to examine for the first time the corrugated nature of my skin, the fissures, ridges and grooves, the blemishes and tags that had been developing there for some time but hidden from my perception by a failing lens. It was a bittersweet moment. Now I was beginning to see myself as others do.

I am now wondering what will be my reaction when in two weeks’ time the right eye will also receive a new lens. All those gruesome features marking my face will then be in 3D.

Nevertheless, I can only marvel at the procedure and am thankful it is so mundane. Here is a picture of my face wearing the approved ophthalmic tea strainer which protects the eye at night from poking and prodding.

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The Approved Ophthalmic Tea Strainer