Friday, 29 June 2012

Snot true, I tell yer…

A funny thing happened to me today at the pool. When I swim, I spend most of my time diving and returning to the surface. In that time - duh - my pipes fill up with water so have to be cleared when I can breathe again. At some stage I popped up and caught a lady's arm. I apologised but noted she gave me such a withering look I thought I'd better swim off.

I saw her later in the steam bath, where she spoke to me: "Could I ask you not to clear your nose in the pool as it's absolutely disgusting". I stayed calm, told her not to worry and said it was only water, the same water which had entered my nose when I dove. "Only water. Really?" "Yes" I replied, "but I appreciate how you may think it was snot. Rest assured, it's not". She then said she'd seen some people rinsing off their flip-flops in the pool and was sure she wasn't alone in finding that utterly repulsive, too. She was slowly outing herself as pretty anally retentive, but not wishing to pour oil on the fire, I kept shtumm. After all, if you could see how clean the pool and its environs are…She finished off by saying "It's not personal", to which I replied I damn well hoped it wasn't, seeing as she didn't know me from Adam and left it at that. She left the steam bath almost immediately and left the pool just as I was returning about ten minutes later, presumably unable to cope with the ambient filth any longer. If I see her again I'll invite her to take a dip in an urban French pool and see how long she lasts. I also wonder if I'll see her again here…

Fabulous Evening

I've just come back from a fabulous evening spent in a country inn which brews its own beer. The three of us were pretty much the only people in a place normally heaving with excess flesh, the reason being that the world and his Frau were somewhere else, watching Germany be forcibly ejected from Euro 2012 by Italy who now form the SI or IS remains of the PIGS in this competition. So Angie may not have the privilege of rubbing the noses of those mediterranean shirkers in the mud but at least Germany will be back at its desk a good three to four days before anyone south of Marseille, if that is any Vorsprung worth mentioning.

The headlines naturally imply that Balotelli et al have now shown Germany who's boss, but that's just cheap, opportunistic journalism, as if there were any other kind after showcase events like this.

None of this nonsense should detract from the pleasure of a peaceful, civilised, football-free evening enjoyed by three honest, working people in need of a good chat and a few jars of stunning home brew. There was at least a trio of winners in Merkelland this evening.

This second picture is actually where we were. Now imagine it completely empty, and that's what we had. Heaven.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Euro 2012

The title of this football tournament became even more significant when the quarter finalists were announced: apart from eternal half-measurers England and sulky, selfish France, it was basically Germany v. the PIGS, two of which dispatched the former participants of the Hundred Years War, clearing the way for the day when sport and politics didn't just mix, they had a drug-fuelled gang-bang.

Germany, amidst Bild-Zeitung headlines of 'Tonight We Won't Save You' saw Greece off at the coach station with a 4-2 drubbing a few days ago. Spain cocked a snook last night at Barroso's homeland, giving them Iberian peninsulan bragging rights, if nothing else. Germany will square up to Monti's well-behaved but still recalcitrant post-Berlusconi mediterranean basket case tonight. If Merkel goes on and beats Rajoy in the final, will this give Germany even more legitimacy to impose its views on economic management? After all, they'll be able to say they're superior in every department, won't they?

I fell out of love with football a few weeks ago and haven't seen one match of this tournament, yet. The only thing I'm interested in is a favourable economic outcome to this infernal euro crisis, and if it takes a football match to do it, then so be it…

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Joaquin Turina

Just heard a wonderful piece on Bayerischer Rundfunk: Rapsodia Española by Joaquin Turina. Alicia de Larrocha, piano, London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Rafaël Frühbeck de Burgos. Glorious. Just wanted to post it so I wouldn't forget the details.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

The Art of Letter Writing

This morning, I got one of the most pleasant surprises I could have had: a letter from Fingernail I, telling me about what she'd been up to in Frogland while I cavorted with Wagnerians. Letter writing was still the communication of preference in my student days (only the 1980's, so calm down), at least during the holidays, as it was a lot cheaper than phoning. Seeing as we all stayed with our parents in the holidays, their word was law when it came to British Telecom, and the word was invariably 'No'. Understandable, considering what interminable crap teenagers spout when among their own kind.

So I was delighted when I got this letter from Fingernail I this morning. Fingernail II's is still in the post, I gather. They seem to enjoy writing them as much as I do reading them, so the pleasure is mutual. In order to start a real Letter Writing Retrofest, I bought some writing paper, some envelopes and some stamps and have just finished writing letters to them, too. And I can't wait to post them. Focusing on the few important things that happen in our daily lives is somehow more substantial in a letter compared with how quickly the information is processed over the phone. It also means more; you have to invest more time and effort in a letter than a phone call. Actually, that's not always true: I find writing letters - or writing, full stop - a real pleasure, whereas picking up the phone to make even the simplest of calls requires a supreme effort of will on my part. I've never really been one for the phone and as you get older, you just become more of what you always have been.

I wish letter writing would come back wholesale. It won't, of course, but e-mail is not a bad substitute. At least it got people writing again - no matter how badly most of them do it - after years of phone hegemony, and that needs to be applauded. That's another thing about getting older: nostalgia. Even if it's not what it used to be, of course…

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

More family stuff.

This is for me so I know where to find it if everything goes belly up. So look away and stop being nosey.

In answer to your question; if conjecture is right then it would have been the elder brother who would have been our grandfather. That being said, I am beginning to think that Nadine with her almost Byzantine mind, was having in the Australian vernacular, ‘a bit of a lend of the family’ (translation: deceiving by misdirection or subterfuge) I base this tentative conjecture on what may seem flimsy evidence, but one must start somewhere and as you say, I seem to be the only one left who was in touch with a primary source.
Nadine was in every sense a Victorian, and abhorred the telling of lies, but supresio veri or sugestio falsi was not in her view the same thing at all. An example of this was her attitude to the old mans birth certificate. She always signed declarations that he had been born in the United States and yet no one has been able to find any record of his birth there and her descriptions of America were no more than any one might have from reading a travel brochure or looking at pictures of well known sites. Her descriptions of extensive European travel were on the other hand full of detail that fleshed out the scenes and events so that there could be little doubt that she was relating first hand experiences. Interestingly she was fluent in both French and German. As to the German, it was not the halting usage of the school room but idiomatic and fluent. As a non German speaker you might wonder how I can be so certain that this is so. I often stayed with Freddy and Nadine in Norfolk when I was small and I remember her talking to a German pow who worked on one of the local farms. Their conversations were often long and sometimes punctuated by laughter. I find that whatever language that one speaks it is very hard to be humorous in it unless one has a totally idiomatic grasp of the language. It would seem reasonable to conjecture that she had spent a considerable time in a German speaking Environment.

Now we come to the matter of family resemblances. I remember being introduced to James Nugent (Baron Nugent of Clonlost) who was an Austrian Baron and I think the nephew or great nephew of Graf Nugent Von Westmeath, the resemblance to Philip was so marked that they might have been brothers. I should point out that It was Philip who introduced me to him.
I believe that both Graf Nugent von Westmeath and Baron Nugent were descended from younger brothers of an eighteenth century Earl of Westmeath. From the digging around that I have been doing there was a strong pan generational tendency for Nugent younger sons to take service with the Austrians starting with the defeat of the Jacobite cause in 1745 and continuing at least until the early twentieth century. The college of Heralds mentions inter alia that at least 20 Nugents had taken service with the Austrians. As child I remember Nadine telling of riding through the snow in a horse drawn sleigh to stay with some landed magnet. I can not remember where this was, but I developed the idea that it must be Russia simply from the sound of the place names. As you know I speak Polish and I knew that she was not speaking of anywhere that I knew of, however The terminal ‘o’ usage in Russian place names is one shared by Croatian in a lot of cases and of course until 1918 Croatia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. We are of course entirely in the realms of conjecture here, but Bosiljevo Castle and the surrounding lands remained in Nugent hands until after 1900. We do know that Graf Nugent von Westmeath had sons and for all I know grandsons, so there is room for both speculation and research. 

We come now to Philips education. I know that he attended Epsom college and then Haylebury the latter having a strong army tradition dating probably from its amalgamation with the United Services College at Westward Ho near Bideford. (Kipling went there and used it for Stalky and Co).I think he also spent some time in a school in Germany. I mention these because none of them were cheap and though Freddy as a retired Hoogley River Pilot received a good pension, I rather doubt that it would have stretched to expensive public school fees. In other words; who was paying for his education? It gets even more strange when one realises that rather than an English University He went to a German one. I used to think that it was Heidelberg but have since found that it was Freiberg. I have no idea if he graduated but again we come to the question of who paid the far from inconsiderable expenses involved and in any case why a German university.

In the final analysis I think we may have been the victims of some sort of elaborate conjuring trick our attention directed to a place that would seem to be 180 degrees in the wrong direction. I do not know if any of this is fact, or what bearing that it may or may not have on Philips legitimacy or otherwise,
but the quite startling family resemblance that we have to the Austrian branch of the family would be hard to ignore. In closing, You seem to have failed to notice your own (when I last saw you) resemblance to Graf Nugent von Westmeath.

In my next Email I will tell you about some stuff that has turned up that serves confirm that while ostensibly working for the Foreign Office Philip was in fact working for what used to be called MI6.

I will also try to give you everything that I have on my mother and where she and the old man met, also copies of marriage certificates etc.

The six children of Laval Nugent, Graf von Westmeath

Laval's six children with his wife Giovanna Riario Sforza were as follows:

Giovanna was also known as Jane or Johanna. Leontine's daughter, Giovanna Mathilde became, naturally enough, Comtesse d'Orsay. She was born on March 14th, 1846, Saint Mathilde's Day (also the day I stopped smoking, but who cares, eh?), and died on New Year's Eve, 1936, a truly grand old age for the time. It also makes her the Fingernails' great-great aunt if my maths are correct.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

You know…

…I spoil you. Not only do I give you pictures of luscious women's tits but I let you in on this aristocratic family search. Honestly, talk about going that extra mile. I need to celebrate that with a good picture or two:

Now that's more like it. None of this cheap nonsense, eh?

The plot thickens…

Mu putative grandfather's parents were Albert Eugene Laval Graf Nugent, born on September 25th, 1816 in Naples (where he also died) and Therese Bachmann, born in Kirchberg in 1833 and dying in Krumpendorf in 1916, a decent innings for the time. His father was, of course, Laval Nugent von Westmeath; his mother Giovanna Riario Sforza, descended from Beatrice Gräfin von der Lausitz and Raffaele Riario Sforza. Most of Albert's siblings married into Italian nobility - Strozzi Sacrati and Pallavicini Fibbia, for example, presumably as Laval had spent a long time in Italy fighting Napoleon. My half brother has a lot of information on this period of Laval's life; I must ask him to put it in writing.

This is exciting. Well, it is for me.

Anyone seen my grandfather?

Stop me if I've mentioned this before, but I - along with my half-brother in Australia - have been trying for some time to locate earlier generations of my/our family. We'd always been served up the story that our father was born in New York City but that doesn't hold water for a variety of reasons, the main one of which is the fact that the New York State Archives in Albany, NY have absolutely no record of him. So that's that, then.

Then my half-brother discovered a branch of the family that left Ireland in the eighteenth century and went to serve in the Austro-Hungarian army, as Irish nobility was wont to do in those days. Laval, Graf Nugent von Westmeath is the spitting image of my father so I decided to trace along his lines, finding a potential grandfather in Graf Wilhelm Llewellyn von Westmeath, born in Siena, Tuscany in 1870, died in Vienna, Austria in 1940. This would make sense as our father was fluent in German at a very early age, as he was in French, where his family apparently owned vineyards. I wrote to the Magistrat in Vienna, asking if they had Llewellyn's death certificate. Yes, they said. And would I like a copy for the mere bagatelle of €23.60? Oh yes, indeedy. So I whipped out their IBAN/BIC and sent them the money. The death certificate turned up about ten days ago. What happened next is as I described it in a mail to a friend shortly after:

Remember our first trip to Vienna (How could you forget, eh?)? We stayed at Pension Suzanne, Walfischgasse 4. I always remember the house opposite, with the plaque on the façade, stating that the poet WH Auden died there in 1973. I remember that as he's my favourite poet. The house must be number 3. In those days it was the Hotel Altenburger Hof. Now wait till you read this: Graf Llewellyn Wilhelm Nugent von Westmeath died in Walfischgasse 3. Maybe I was looking at the house where my grandfather died every time we went off to the Raimund Theater…

Now I just have to find out if and when he had children, as nothing is noted in his personal details. It states he was unmarried, a Catholic and his parents were 'unbekannt'; unknown. He was found dead.

People didn't seem to worry about all this stuff before. It's only now that genealogy - and, more significantly,  psychogenealogy - are capturing the collective imagination.  It's quite an adventure.

These are all pictures of Laval Graf Nugent von Westmeath (Ballynacor, Ireland, 1777 - Bosiljevo, Croatia, 1862), who, I believe, was my great-great grandfather. That last picture could be of my father. The search continues.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Bucolic Bayreuth

 Just got back from a two-and-a-half hour walk in the forest and surrounding villages here in Bayreuth. After an overcast morning and early afternoon the weather turned gorgeous around 4pm, so I got shod and headed off. I had no real game plan, deciding instead to go where my feet took me. My priority was to compose a nasty letter to a concert promoter who had ripped off a colleague of mine just the other week, so the only thing I needed was enough distance in front of me to find the right turn of phrase and not invoke a law suit.

Before I set off I took a couple of pictures of the view from my bedroom window:

…just in case anyone was wondering why I like it so much, here. And here's one of the little lane where I live:

I wandered through the forest just behind the house for about an hour, eventually coming out on a country road which led to a horse club. Some of the denizens were out in the field:

So I wandered on, passing through a village called Cottenbach where I got into conversation with a lady standing at her gate. Not much can happen in that village as she seemed reluctant to let me go. There was a wonderful group of renovated farm buildings which a number of families appeared to have bought up and renovated in the style of the period it was built. A large part of the garden was an enormous playground for the children with slides, paddling pools, wendy houses and tree houses, swings and sand pits. It looked wonderful. Centrepiece of the ensemble was a large dovecote which also featured on the sign they'd painted, announcing their Bauernhof. It looked like a little piece of paradise. Add the weather to that and you don't get much closer to nirvana without breaking the law.

After about mile I reached the outskirts of Bayreuth and was greeted by Gasthaus Kolb, an institution among the public houses and inns of the town. Armed with my book I decided to sit down for a few minutes for a well-earned libation:

That's a glass of dunkles Hefeweizen, in case you were wondering, and is the closest you'll get to nirvana etc etc.

Back at the house I found an e-mail from Mrs. Fingers, informing me we're going to have to get the council to defumigate the communal areas of our building as the loony woman's cats, rabbits, dogs and birds have basically turned our living space into a seething agar plate of potential disease. And that on the day that newly-elected Emperor Flanby of France appears to have got the absolute majority he needs to turn the country into the socialist pigsty he and his Parisian intelligentsia, aided and abetted by the press, want to inflict on the people. There's fun in store, I tell yer…

Pity I just had that one beer.

Northern Bavaria. Garden of Earthly Delights.

Yes, I'm still here. Just arrived this afternoon after a remarkably simple journey: everything on time from Toulouse to Munich, no wait of any import for the rental car, an easy trip north to Bayreuth and everything subsequently open enabling me to food shop and get my mobile phone and internet connections up and running. Germany c. 2012 bears no relation to Germany c. 1987 when I first moved here as a horny music graduate, aiming to bestride Fräuleins and Faust in that order. Shops closed - literally - religiously at 5pm and Saturday was Merthyr Tydfil on a Sunday after 12 noon. Germany has become a little more cosmopolitan since then but the essential values remain, and they need to be applauded. I saw something wonderful this afternoon: in need of a pee, I stopped at a service station just north of Nuremberg. I parked next to a car with the registration H-UR xxxx. Seeing as number plates in Germany can be customised for no more than €10, I found it strange that someone should have accepted a computer-generated plate that almost described him/her as a whore. Unless…Beside the car was a very good-looking young lady in a scanty dress who was, in anyone's book, lasciviously eating a banana and looking in my direction. OK, I'm really not bad-looking, but I'm no spring chicken and it certainly wasn't my rental Opel Corsa that had turned her head, so…maybe I missed my chance. And…that's another thing that happens to you at this age.

I remember in Koblenz in 1987 that there was a famous lady of doubtful virtue in the town whose number plate was KO-DM 400. KO was the Koblenz prefix (still is) and DM, for those born after 2002, stood for Deutschmark. Actually, if you were born after 2002 you really shouldn't be reading this blog, but still. She basically drove about in her own advertising hoarding. She was nicknamed Dolly Parton, presumably for her singing ability. And her ability to stand by her man. Right.

Incredible as it may sound, but traffic to this site has increased since I started posting pictures of porn stars, of which the posts' titles contain keywords easily identified and located on any sub-human council estate. It's turned into a bit of fun: how many people can you tempt to your domain with a facile turn of phrase? It's remarkable, but the current crop really seems to have struck a chord in Indonesia, that pious archipelago where someone threatened me back in 1992 for smoking during Ramadan. Forgive me if I don't return any time soon.

Back to Germany. The most abiding memory I will ever retain of this country is the fact that, if you keep your nose clean, the country will see you right. I can't put it any better than that. The German Pension Insurance spends half its working life making sure I know how much I'm due should I decide to stop work tomorrow, tracking me down wherever I may be hiding before exhorting me to produce more documentation which may increase my financial entitlement. I've linked these suitors up with my French employers who should now, if there is any justice in this world, decide to accord me a Fred Goodwin-sized monthly income coupled with a weekly threesome with Deauxma and Jemma Jameson. As long as it's not with François Hollande and Angela Merkel I'll be happy. My most recent trip to the Toulouse tax office only reinforced my convinction that the French tax body is one of the most fantastic organisations in the world: I have never, repeat: never had a bad experience with these people. It really seems to be a question of 'Do as you would be done by'; treat them with respect, flirt with those attractive, well-preserved forty-somethings and you will leave the building with a glow of satisfaction. That's another good thing about France: the forty-somethings still look fucking good, so make sure they know you appreciate the effort they've made; they'll love you for it. Life's a game, and it's still a lot of fun, even at my age. Possibly the only one left at my age.

I've waffled on for so long I've forgotten what kind of picture I should put at the bottom of this post. What the hell, it'll probably feature tits in some form. Let's see: Germany, Tax, Happiness, Car Park Tricks. I'll see what Google comes up with…

This second picture is not of a car park meter, but of a prostitutes' tax meter in Bonn. They have to pay €6 a night for using public streets. Worth a look on the internet. Made by Siemens by the way , you know…

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Bayreuth 2012

It's that time of year, again. The time when I sit in a departure lounge in Toulouse Blagnac Airport, waiting for a flight to Munich before jumping in a hire car to drive to Bayreuth, where I'll be spending the whole summer. Wall-to-wall Wagner is never a bad thing; the quality of the music never palls and spending ten weeks of the year in a pastoral environment where nothing wakes you at night is a joy. In Toulouse, meanwhile, we've discovered an epidemic of fleas; the loony woman upstairs with her zoo has basically infested the whole building. She admitted it was her animals but offered nothing in the way of an apology, just suggesting that we try drowning them. Yes, they truly walk among us.

Anyhow, we'll be boarding soon and I've only got 15 minutes of free wi-fi, so I'll use the rest of it trying to find a suitable picture.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Do we not like that?

Reading Le Figaro online the other day I was struck by the fact that every article is open for comments. This is a far cry from the British press which seems to cherry pick access to expression on its more inflammatory articles, presumably fearing that many of those opposed to uncontrolled, third world immigration and the ever-ambient terrorist threat might actually be able to vent their spleen from time to time. No such problem in France, but they keep dissenters under control differently…

One of the more intriguing details on internet comments threads is seeing how many recommendations each comment gets. This is useful for taking the temperature of a particular subject. On French newspaper websites you'll never find this function; I'm sure they think it smacks of populism. Bearing in mind how recent talk radio and phone-ins are, here, and how resistant to giving the people a voice the broadcasters were (It's worth reading the autobiography of eminent French phone-in radio host, Jean-Jacques Bourdin) it's maybe no surprise that the country's august dailies draw the line at a sort of online street protest, looking down their nose, as they do, on any form of demagogy. Before voting in François 'Flanby' Hollande, one of the most demagogical presidents of all time, but that's another story.

So, the message is: Read, but Don't Touch. A bit like what you do when confronted by large breasts in a textualised tee-shirt.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Don't believe everything you read.

Am I alone in not wanting to read the papers, these days? If I do click on 'Telegraph' or 'Guardian' on my browser toolbar, I have an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach while the page loads that I'm about to read about the end of the world as we know it. The French press, which has done a passable impression of an ostrich at least since I'm lived here, is a little less depressing, but I don't need to read the papers to see what's going on in this country. It's fragile and it's worrying. Maybe that's why I've lost interest in everything outside of my blessed profession, which deals only in civilised art and beauty; it's a kind of self-protection. Sod this world and where it's going.

Saturday, 2 June 2012


I've just learned this word. And it's fabulous. It could describe Toulouse's culinary speciality, cassoulet. Look it up.


Just got a call from Mrs. F, stating the bleedin' obvious: that they were at the family's place and didn't know when they'd be home. This was only two hours after I'd have received a ritual castration for doing the same thing. Why the fuck does this bother me so much? She gets on well with her sister-in-law (as do I) and it's great that the Fingernails play so easily and well with their cousins, but it's this complete disregard for anyone else which every visit seems to engender. In the olden days days of truly disfunctional, underachieving co-dependance it was a true plague, slamming the brakes on any initiative and ambition Mrs. F and her siblings may have had. These days, the family vortex takes place under a more benign star in a different location, but the germ seems to remain. I think she'll only really be free when they're all gone. Mrs. F is the only one in the family to have had the nous to leave and pursue her own life and I still feel guilty for dragging her back to her home town, but work was work and the best gig was here.

I suppose I should see it differently; that she feels so relaxed and easy that she simply loses all concept of space and time when she's at her brother's place. Right, that's going to be my one-step plan to further understanding my wife. I just hope she's as understanding when I choose to stay out all night with that shapely lighting designer from work…

Unless I'm very…

…much mistaken I think I'm writing a carbon copy post of last week's rant about my divine spouse going into family vortex again. Dinner's been ready for an hour and there's neither sight nor sound of either her or the Fingernails. I honestly don't know why it upsets me so much. It's the lack of consideration I suppose: no call, no message, no note, just plain ol' absence and no explanation upon returning. If I did the same thing I'd be chastised or - which amounts to the same thing - given the silent treatment. I don't do silent, I think life's too short for that kind of pussying around. At the risk of repeating myself I'll stop right now (I can't be bothered to check what I wrote last time). Grrr.