He’s not there…

I am out in the world for a moment… the venue for me complete – shows done, repairs enacted, puppets packed and so, to watch people having a normal life, I leave our clean business hotel on this way out-of-town commercial estate… (Marsh Barton sur Loire) and head for the themed Italian restaurant a few blocks away for an ice-cream as self medication.

One of a chain, it attempts credibility via carefully faded paintwork and mock crumbling columns… but the pretty waitresses in dresses designed for Sophia, swishing around with gusto, the children being enjoyed and the dominance of conversation rather than iPhones, combine to keep the American style, car dominated retail park, with its strip mall, plumbing outlets and Sofa Worlds well outside.

He sees me.

He sees me.

Inside my present refuge, the Italian emphasis is identified by wall hung Carnival masks and ornate mirrors… the masks look at me with fixed emotion – satyrical, tragic, profane, animalistic, and the mirrors, gilt doorways to another world, show – families enjoying dinner, couples (old and young) looking into each others eyes, the chef having a sly nip in a corner he believes out of view, a waitress checking her hem line.

She sees me

She sees me

Mardi Gras sets out to play with: who’s who, what belongs to what, reality or reflection… and on this Easter Sunday, I feel myself alien at my table for one, from which I notice… maybe it’s the fluke of positioning, maybe it’s because I don’t have one… none of the mirrors, contain my reflection.

And what an ice-cream.

While I reflect on indulgence.

BBC 6 Music…

My memory of working with David Bowie has just been read out by MaryAnne Hobbs on her BBC radio 6music… for those who missed, but are interested – here’s the basis:
Listening and enjoying your show in my hotel room in Tours, France… I’m on the road as master puppeteer of the stage show Ice Age Live (we have three shows today, in front of thousands) I began as a professional puppeteer 30yrs ago on a little movie called “Labyrinth” starring the lovely Mr Bowie, who played the Goblin King. I spent two years building and performing goblins and as a living mannequin in the Jim Henson workshop, trying out Bowie’s costumes pre his arrival… he looked better in them. He was extraordinarily patient and good humoured as puppets were rigged around and on him… and didn’t bat an eyelid when the 12month old baby Toby Froud peed in his lap.

We all wore eyeliner then.

We all wore eyeliner then.

For your own sake…

“Do your own art for its own sake.” David Bowie

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” Andy Warhol

For art's sake

For art’s sake

Warmed from within…

Back in the cold, dark hall that is our Ice Age Live, before the audience comes in… mammoths are unboxed, put together, repairs are conducted without undue rush, and I’m warmed by the aesthetic food that I’ve been supping on during this latest leg of the pilgrimage. Yesterday: Manet, Delacroix and Balzac, today: Manny, Diego & Birds. The memory of wandering, medieval alleyways, amongst spring flowers, at rivers side buoy me… or maybe it’s the glue

Here’s image is of a sculpted bronze scallop shell, that lines the ancient pilgrims way to Compostela. I’ve now seen them in several of the cities I’ve visited, on this Grand Tour… for me they have good associations.

A friend on the journey

A friend on the journey

Pictures of the future and the past…

To spend two days scratching in the earth, not for gold, or even for harvest, but simply for future beauties sake.

Perfectly framed and lit

Perfectly framed and lit

I visited each weeding day and spent time talking with the gardener, who enthused enormously about what would happen in this bed. I will not see it in life, but his description and belief is so real, I won’t need to.

Flowers in another bed.

Flowers in another bed.

A frame doesn’t always constrain.

Both visited in the archbishops palace Tours, now the Musee Des Beaux Artes.

In the room…

Framed.

Framed.

And from it’s window…

In the air, through the air

In the air, through the air

Tour de force…

I walk in spring time… a lot to walk off.

I've spent too long out of the light.

I’ve spent too long out of the light.

This will be my day… I’m wandering the streets, alleys and riverside paths of Tours, home to ancient Celts, Roman garrisons, an eleventh century cathedral, Joan of Arc, a principle trade and pilgrimage route across the mighty Loire, Balzac and a memorial to the American forces who passed through here on their way to the front in WW1… and the weather is warmer, enough that the grass I stood on in the gardens of the Archbishop’s palace, had needs be cut, filling my nostrils for the first time since I left Britain for Holland last summer’s end… and in the herbaceous borders about me , pansies (pensees en Francias – meaning mad) are vehemently displaying.
This is important, while other things are not.

So delicate, so proud.

So delicate, so proud.

Magnolia growing on the ruins.

Magnolia growing out of the ruins.

A moment of reflection

A moment of reflection

Loving Leaving Leuven…

Belgium was definitely a gig too far for me. We had several big technical failures during the shows, that caused plans B, C, D, etc. to be enacted and we spent many hours carrying out patch repairs. It should really be easier than this by now. So I’m gratefully leaving behind Leuven with its pleasant promises, but limited of help.

Looking out of my room is an uplifting experience.

The uplifting view from my window.

“And what so coloured my experience?”
Well… there’d been general agreement to staying at the Ibis budget in Leuven, just 30k’s away from our Brussels venue, (rather than the better one 100k away), because it boasted free Wifi… an insincere boast. It now ranks as the worst hotel I’ve stayed in, (pushing the Ibis Cardiff into second) paper thin walls through which all my neighbours bodily functions could be heard, nowhere to unpack belongings in a tiny room, so my things are stuffed under the crap cot, to permit my getting in and out of it, metered (not long enough to rinse hair) hot water – scalding till it runs cold, salvaged animal protein ham in ‘stick to the roof of your mouth’ bread for breakfast and watery OJ… there were cornflakes, but they ran out day two )… And, institution decor, which I’ve daily seen a guy with a pot of white emulsion touching up… probably covering over the fingernail scratches and the ‘days endured’ marks.

The man with white emulsion has been busy outside too.

The man with white emulsion has been busy outside too.

The result of this being that the male crew bought whiskey to get pissed with, post last nights get-out, so they could forget & sleep.
This morning, the stench of alcohol burps and stale sweat on our bus is turning my stomach… however, we’re leaving grey people with a ‘let’s rip off the tourists’ smile (it happened three times – that’s more than coincidence) and snow behind and heading for sun, real cheese, charcuterie and Muscadet in France. Tours in seven hours… ‘can’t wait!

My lovely new assistant…

Brussels is done, or at least the latest large dark shed somewhere in Northern Europe is done. I never got to see the famed city itself, as the lurch, brake, curse bus rides, too and from the venue were not sightseeing tours, unless you count the curb stones we drove over, as points of interest?

Though there has been a happy development… I’m having capable assistance, in the guise of Jana, who has longer slimmer arms than me, that permit her to reach deep inside the mammoths – to where those ****ing fiddly bolts are… the ones that make me curse each week as I put together/take apart.

Before she began working with me

Before she began working with me

After just one get-out, Jana’s cursing too (interesting to hear those words with a Slovakian accent).

...and after.

…and after.

Still not Brussels, but time well taken…

I’d promised myself, that with the oodles of free time that this job would afford, I’d do the research I needed to construct the Chaucer piece that’s been rattling around in my mind these last few years.

All the inspiration I need

All the inspiration I need

So, with nib sharpened, paper flattened and a little treat to hand, I set about my work. I take the treat and am just about to start when…

Ouch…

Would you let him near?

Would you let him near?

While in Brugge, I visited the site of the ancient hospital of St John… the oldest in Europe, given its charter in 1188. Where the rich could serve god while administering to the needs of the poor, the sick, the old and the mad (that’s me sorted then). Their science was one based on belief more than medical practise, which should never be underrated… when I worked as an orderly in a home for disabled ex-servicemen, I was told to always carry a pack of love-hearts, so that when guys asked for sleeping pills, I could prescribe one, hurriedly scraping off the inscription… nine times out of ten I’d hear the next day, “…best sleep I ever had, thank you nurse Todd”. So I shouldn’t be surprised that reliquaries to pray upon, were core to the medieval healing tradition. The argument for its efficacy goes thus… if your faith is deep enough you’ll be cured… if you die, it’s because you didn’t have enough faith. Clever that… it’s win win for the order.

Potent for believers.

Potent for believers.

Here are some other options…

Owww matron!

Owww matron!

Nurse, the screens

Nurse, the screens

Brussels? No, Brugge…

Up early, coffee on the platform, copy of The Times for the ride… read about the budget – no financial stimulus packet visible, just tinkering with details as doom continues its approach. Cypress next.

I’m heading for the acclaimed UNESCO site of Bruges with high hopes, just a couple of hours away by train, I’d be foolish not to visit.
A place of refuge for kings and bankers…
The court of the exiled Charles the second waited here.
During part of its golden age (12-15thc), it was the “chief commercial city of the world”. Promissory notes and letters of credit were developed here, as was possibly the worlds first stock market. (Odd then, that they just want my hard cash, not my card).

They were here once.

They were here once.

The Groeningemuseum, where they have a world famous collection of Flemish masters was closed, the cathedral where the Michael Angelo statue is situated is inaccessible due to a program of repairs, so I take to the water.

As m'lord mallard sees it

As m’lord mallard sees it

With a duck’s eye view, I get to understand how this trade centre worked, the network of power, held in just a few hands, inter connected, by secure path & water ways, that lead too the great houses, the impressive churches and the world dominating commerce centres.

Connections of power

Connections of power

I am distinctly a voyeur here… it feels like I’m visiting the venue for a great party, but long after the sweetmeats have been consumed, the barrels corked and the guests gone to their other opulent homes.

Yes it is beautiful… but devoid of life.

And I have no better illustration to express this pastness, than to ‘tell the meal’. I had the €29 special of the day at the recommended establishment… It began well enough, fish soup with bread (the bread’s extra) was OK, then mussels cooked in white wine and frites (the frites are extra) was poor… the mussels had been sitting around for a long time and the juice was pretty tasteless. There were many empty shells and knowing mussels, there were several I didn’t eat for the sake of my gut. And the frites were warmed up oven chips.

The look denies the reality.

The look denies the reality.

And on the way back, the moules take revenge for my impertinence at thinking I’d be welcome.

Brussels?… patience Todd

I stride down the street… I thought it would be bigger – centre as it is for the European parliament, a history that included an empire that claimed much of Central Africa, a font of chocolate, but I have to say, ‘I’m disappointed!’

Only to discover, that being judged is not Brussels at all… there were no hotels in Brussels (such is the demand for aforementioned reasons)… we’ve been plonked in Leuven, a quaint university town 30k away. Oh god, not more bus rides?

Brussels… not today

Get up at three and catch up a little on myself, breakfast at six and head back to bed for a couple of hours (just because that’s where I can be properly horizontal for the only time in 48hrs)… I connect to the internet stream for BBC radio 4 & doze to – the weather report: rain, localised flooding, turning cold and then the Today programme: voices speculate about what the chancellors budget will hold, the odds for England’s bowling, the new archbishop of Canterbury and for a few hours, I drift back into a known world, then on the bus again… brussels later.

Instruments of torture

Instruments of torture