Monsieur So British #26: Back to Black

Saturday, February 8th, 2020

#26 Back to Black

I think what irks me most about my illness, or illnesses, current full diagnosis being chronic inflammatory rheumatoid arthritis psoriatique with a double spinal hernia, high blood pressure, soon to be revealed gastric horrors and daily nosebleeds, isn’t necessarily the fact of them. Though that’s obviously a pain in the arse, or might be, I’ll wait for the colonoscopy reports before confirming that. It’s more why, why have I got all this? The French health system, and I say that because that’s the one I’m in, gives you confidence that you’re being looked after, but I still don’t know what the root cause of it all is, nobody seems to know, though they’re not exactly dragging their feet in dealing with it. I have no doubt that the UK health system would be the same, less immediate, if anecdotal evidence is to be trusted, possibly more up against it, but staffed by bloody heroes nonetheless, intent on keeping people alive. Though, for the love of God, I’ve met ‘people’ and frankly that’s the last thing the world needs.

What I’m saying is, although I feel in good hands, I don’t know why I need to be. What’s actually caused all this frailty-bollocks? Ok, I’ve been doing a stupid commute for 15 years, but I’m not obese. I don’t smoke. I eat as healthily as ‘on-the-road’ work allows; no breakfast, a warm lunch and a light sandwich after work. I drink yes, but as far as I can keep track of the ever changing guidelines for alcohol consumption it’s currently 21 units for a man, and I manage that easily in one day, no problem. Exercise is an issue, but then I can’t because I have… etc. etc.

It’s not hereditary. My dad, though having many health issues, doesn’t have the same ones. My mum, in contrast, and who I haven’t spoken to in years, has recently developed Rheumatoid Arthritis as well apparently, possibly because she’d heard that I had it and got jealous. Is it mental? Well now, there you’re opening up a whole lot of crazy, see the previous sentence just for starters. I was diagnosed as a manic depressive years ago, but it was specific to a time, I thought. These things come and go, as they do for a lot of people. Ups, downs, sideways movements, which can be just as bad as ups and downs but no-one ever mentions those. And by sideways movements, I mean trying to resolve one problem so that you can actually create another. There’s neither high nor low, just a constant fixation on repairing the smallest issue to move on to the next one, like a platform game. Mania, in other words.

Brexit, sorry, has an awfully big part to play. I spent two years genuinely fretting about my family being split up, an emotionally debilitating period but where I still needed to work as a comedian to pay for everything. There are so many people still in that limbo, though not the comedian part obviously, unless you include politicians of both sides. If you are a fan of Brexit and reading this, you should try living just a small fragment of your life thinking, ‘how do I keep my family together here?’ ‘Will I be deported?’ ‘What have I done that makes me so unwelcome?’ And that’s not as a Pole, or German or other EU national living in the UK, that’s as one of 1.8 million British people living on the continent, not all brown-luggage leather tanned expats either, 80% are of working age with families. I can tell you, the stress is terrifying.

So there’s stress, external and internal, lifestyle as well, but it’s all very vague. The intention was, and still is, to cut down on travel and then my first four gigs in 2020 were in New York, Cardiff, Grenoble and London. I keep being told to rest, take things easy for a bit, live life like a proper country-living Frenchman. Right, with three jobs, three kids and, current count, 14 assorted pets? Ok, I’ll give that a go then. Fortunately EDF, the only electricity supplier as it’s state-owned still (despite what they tell you and despite EU fines which are cheaper to pay than to break up the monopoly), had heard about my need to unwind and destress and decided to help. They cut our entire electricity supply. Now that’s service.

I remember power cuts being quite commonplace when I was growing up, almost like a weekly event, but also there was less to cut off in the 70s so it felt less of an inconvenience. Lights, the TV, possibly the cooker that was about it. I doubt any of us saw it this way at the time, but it seems now quite a romantic notion. But Maurice and Thérence were at home and they didn’t see it as romantic at all. Maurice was there because he was unwell and had to be returned home from his football college boarding school, so lights out and no bedroom heating gave him Vietnam-style school flashbacks and wasn’t aiding his recovery. He kept staring at his internet-less phone watching the battery countdown. Thérence for his part couldn’t understand the issue at all. We sat in the dark or tiptoed around trying not to step on an animal, and then at one point he just blurted out, ‘You know Abraham Lincoln’s dead right?’ It was his bitter social commentary on the fact we were now living way back in history, and that he wasn’t happy with the situation at all.

That the place was so dingy was the fault not just of EDF, but also Natalie. I fail to see how a woman who has spent at least half of her adult life seemingly just buying candles could have prepared so poorly for such an eventuality. I can barely remember a time when we’ve been out and not come back with candles but, in a cruel twist, they’re not the right candles. What you need of course is the kind of candle I was always forced to light in a church as a kid, I never knew why, and not, apparently, pastel-coloured tea-lights with a hint of Bergamot. They are utterly useless. Scented tea-lights really are a sign that the human race has grown bloated and needs a reboot. What is the point of them? What light do they shed? I must have set up about a hundred of the things, a proper fire hazard it was too, but still the only way I could direct myself around the dim room was to remember that if I wanted to go to the kitchen I should head for ‘Hint of Summer Meadow’, go left at ‘Vanilla’ and make a beeline for ‘Forest Fruits.’

We tried playing games to pass the time, but that palled very quickly. Occasionally the electricity would snap back on and we’d cheer like the war was over, but then it would snap off again, a promise of what might have been. I kept ringing the EDF helpline which would give a time of when the electricity would be back on, but the time which started off as pin-point, absurdly so like 18.42, would be put back and then became more vague before they abandoned the idea altogether in favour of ,’Yes, we know there’s a problem.’

On the other hand of course it was refreshing to spend an evening in front of the warm fire just talking. We laughed a lot, reminisced, played more games and so on but eventually Thérence had had enough and Maurice just carried on staring at his phone battery like it was a ticking bomb.

Full power was resumed late on, around 10ish, and nervously we reset the clocks and the oven and turned the satellite box back on, expecting it all to go again. But life whirred back into place and Maurice gratefully plugged his phone in.

‘That was quite good fun,’ I said. I don’t know why.

‘Yes,’ Natalie replied, not convinced, ‘but that last hour or so felt really weird.’

She was right too, it had become actually quite stressful, even Kipper was now eating a scented tea-light, struggling to cope. It just goes to show, resting isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either.

Monsieur So British is a weekly blog and carries on from my two best-selling books ‘À la Mod…’ and ‘C’est Modnifique…’, both are available here. It is also a fortnightly podcast, sometimes with extra bits thrown in and all the major podcast platforms.

Browse the rest of the website for gig news and other stuff and remember ‘Playing the Martyr’, my first crime novel, and set in the Loire Valley is also available. 

I’ve just finished my new novel, a humorous mystery caper and the search for a new literary agent begins.

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