A Naroques

Return to earth – moving to France

In the end we decided not to and moved to a place down the road. The area is noted for being the most rural of the french departments, which is saying something in a country which is more or less fields. Gascony is seven north-south valleys, carved out as the Pyrenean glaciers retreated towards Bordeaux. It has cold winters and hot, dry summers. Napoleon turned it into France’s corn belt by building hundreds of kilometres of canals that bring irrigation water down from the Pyrénées. Its rolling countryside has english overtones with the snowcapped mountains to the south giving the scene a spectacular sense of scale.

Where this pull of the countryside came from is a mystery. I had no agricultural upbringing. My grandad on my dads’ side was a clever man but born into a working class family on the Thames in 1904 he was sent to work in the paper mills at 14.  As things heated up towards the general strike in the late 20s he ended up as the spokesperson for the shop floor. The result was being blacklisted by all the local industrialists. Around the same time a charming and unscrupulous doctor unnecessarily removed the appendix of my dad and his 4 brothers and sisters and sent their parents the bill. It made them homeless. What kept grandpa going during the years of walking miles for any odd job he could find, or to harvest nuts when things were really bad, was music. He was to become the longest serving member of Gravesend Salvation Army Band, a band in which at some point or other, he played every instrument. My dad also joined the band. During the war they would run the 3 miles back home from band practise under arcing searchlights, grandad throwing his son in doorways every time the whistle of a bomb came close.

50 years later the family music tradition along the banks of the Thames continued, but I was on housing benefit and had no gigs apart from some jazz piano for a free dinner in a Phil Collins themed restaurant in Clapham called No Jacket Required. A friendly bank manager lent me enough money to buy a mixing desk despite having no guarantee or income. 4 sleepless years with the studio in the bedroom passed. An introduction via my girlfriend led to making a few tunes with her mate Tom in exchange for him teaching me how to play football. The result was the first Groove Armada E.P.  Fifteen years on the road followed. In the middle of it all and unable to afford a permanent London studio, I decided to move onto a boat. It was a lovely old dutch barge, but big. 30m long, weighed 500 tonnes, and the first time I moved it, crumpled pontoons as if they were butter. To cross the channel I had to become a Coastal Skipper, but it was worth it. There were times when getting from a French canal to , say, the Tunnel Club in New York was a logistical challenge, but moored up with some bread and cheese, life was simple and good.

Maybe it was these canal side memories that pulled us out of Barcelona and into the Gascon countryside. If so, any illusions that being a french Paysan is the route to such simple pleasures are a long way off this morning. Auch, the old Gascon capital; in a 60s office building of the type designed to amplify summer heat and winter cold, are the sprawling offices of the local agricultural accountants. 18 hours ago I was DJ-ing in an eastern republic on top of a greek temple with a micro light dropping confetti on the crowd and the defence minister in the booth with sausage dog balloons around his head. With him, a man who put his fortune down to “sucking on the sweet teat of the Ukraine”. I’ve been travelling ever since. On the table in front of me is the paperwork generated by less than a year of farming on a relatively modest scale. It looks like an end of trial clear out at Jarndyce and Jarndyce.  I’m very tall and gascons are often a small breed, no doubt adapted for pyrénéan hardiness or, as my neighbour says, to make the soil closer.  The accountants seem to have made this a key aspect of their selection policy, making my meetings there feel like Gulliver’s adventures in Lilliput. The nub of the meeting is singing off accounts which confirm a large annual loss at the farm.  Adopting the tone of a disappointed headmistress, she lowers her glasses and asks ‘well’? Sleep deprivation brings me close to tears.  I pause and gather, before announcing that it’s going to get worse before it gets better, that I’ve been on the wrong track and that I’m putting my faith in restoring Life to the farm, which will involve the addition of livestock, the planting of hedges and research and machine adaptations to grow everything with cover crops.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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