Thursday, 4 July 2013

Le Mans (Part 1).

In November last year, I put down my pen on Slice of Life. Partly, and I'm happy to admit this, it reflected a certain lack of direction. I was drifting and wasn't sure really whether this kind of apparent aimlessness should be subjected to public scrutiny. It's all very well scratching one's navel mentally, but who wants to watch that? It's worse than daytime TV.

But more than anything, I was concerned that I was becoming one dimensional. Parkinson's this, Parkinson's that. And there's nothing more crushing to the spirit than to realise that, whatever the subject of conversation, you find yourself accidentally steering it back to Parkinson's. Without realising. It's bad enough to have Parkinson's. In some ways (and this is by no means a criticism of my employers who I love dearly) it's worse to work in Parkinson's. But the cruellest cut of all is when it takes away the last of the person you were.

I greatly enjoyed being "Jon, the scientist", "Jon, the glass artist", "Jon, the writer" or "Jon, the Jag driver". Increasingly, I'm just "Jon, the Parky". People interrupt my anecdotes to tell me they have already heard them. People finish my sentences so that they can steer the conversation back to more comfortable territory. In short, I'm in danger of becoming a Parky bore.

I have this on high authority.

And I won't take it.

I plan to fight back before the little bastard takes what's left of the person I was. I won't go gently into that night. No, I plan to rant and rage against the dying of the light.

There's too much that I want to say and do. Like the weekend before last when Alex and I found ourselves at Le Mans. When I say 'found ourselves', that conveys a rather more arbitrary tenor than I intended. As though we had woken after a stag party to find ourselves on the train to Timbuktu. In actual fact this was a tidy military operation -- well a civil service coach trip starting on a bleary eyed Friday morning in Ebbsfleet -- to take in the 24 hour race.

Of course any coach trip is at best a lottery. I lose track of the number of times I have found my allocated seat to be amongst a Welsh rugby club, Canvey Island stag party or worse. And this occasion was no exception. Many of the coach party had embarked at Stansted and, it was swiftly apparent, tended to be thirsty. In particular one quartet seemed determined that the entire coach should benefit from their trenchant views on immigration, the building trade and their assessment of French plonk. And there is something uniquely cringeworthy about men in their 50s leering at a coach full of German girls returning from an exchange visit. If the ground could have opened...

It took nearly a month of driving to get the racetrack although, due to some fracture in the space-time continuum, this seemingly occupied only 36 hours of terrestrial time. Oh how we looked forward to the return journey.

The journey was broken in Chartres where we stayed at an Ibis hotel -- incidentally Alex, an ibis is a small wading bird. Not an Alpine goat. That's an ibex. An easy mistake. We spent as little time as possible in the room, heading up to the cathedral quarter for a fairly decent dinner in a small family run restaurant.

It turned out that we had arrived in the evening of the annual music festival. Whereas in Britain, such a festival might be sequential, with performers appearing after each other for instance, no such constraints appeared to apply here. As best we could tell, the various musical ensembles had simply taken up residence wherever they could find a vacant space. So, dotted around the cathedral were mediaeval madrigal singers, an African drum group, a small classical orchestra and, most inexplicably of all, a Led Zeppelin tribute band. There is no experience more dislocating than having your ears subjected simultaneously to Gregorian plain chant and Stairway to Heaven.

But the most astonishing part of the evening was a breathtaking light show, using the cathedral as backdrop. For some 30 minutes, we watched the South side of the cathedral bathed in an ever-changing pattern of lights, both abstract and figurative. It was even worth putting up with a decidedly second-rate reggae band for the pleasure. Even they couldn't drown out the oohs and aahs of the gathered crowd.

The lights faded and the applause dwindled to silence, the spell only broken by the sound of British voices at the far side of the square, arguing about Polish immigrant bricklayers.

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