In the latter half of the nineties, I co-ran Bluntcut ltd. with Mark Waugh. These pages serve up a tasting menu of projects we developed over a five year period. www.bluntcut.com is still online but was reduced to a single page a decade ago.
WHEN I WAS TEN, MY FAMILY WERE TOLD BY plonky GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS THAT WE WOULD HAVE TO MOVE FROM OUR HOME NEAR LEICESTER TO AN IDENTICAL MARKET GARDEN IN SUSSEX. SO, ON a HOT SPRING DAY, ME, MY TWO BROTHERS, MUM, DAD, TWO CATS AND VARIOUS PERSONAL BITS CRAMMED INTO OUR SMALL ESTATE CAR AND SET OFF SOUTHWARDS IN SEARCH OF THE NEW LIFE. UNFORTUNATELY WHEN WE REACHED THE COAST THE OLD COUPLE WHO LIVED IN THE HOUSE WEREN'T READY TO LEAVE. IT WOULD BE ANOTHER WEEK AT LEAST Before we could move in.
MY PARENTS MADE AN INSTANT DECISION, THE KIDS WERE ALREADY OFF SCHOOL, WE HAD NOWHERE TO STAY,NONE OF US had been abroad before, AND FRANCE WAS JUST THERE, ACROSS THE CHANNEL. COME ON, LETS GO ON HOLIDAY. WE said good-bye to the cats THEN RELUCTANTLY squeezed BACK INTO THE CAR, ALL OF us still extremely crabby and niggly after the long journey from the Midlands. the OVERNIGHT drive TO Folkestone was horrible, my brothers were really annoying, why couldn't they sit still ?
THE FERRY was cold and miserable and Normandy looked just the same as suburban south east England; dull. So much for the mystique of the continent, my first emotions on arriving on foreign soil were to have a massive scrap with my brothers and finish them off then and there. Slowly we meandered through France, memories of war dead on the Somme, acres of them, mix with Luke warm beans, sliced bread and a nice cup of tea in lay-byes. We might have been in France but we still had a lot of bags and boxes from England in the back of the car. Our solution to the frugality and boredom of it all was to sing and chant 'We are refugees' at every opportunity.
My mum and dad's dream holiday to the nation of culture, something they had scrimped and save for years, had turned into an utter disaster, even theIr lovely children were wielding the petty sledgehammer of sarcasm. rebellion was in the air, three days constant travelling and we had yet to see anything of even slight interest. the sliced bread had run out and we were tormented by the horrors of something called french toast. there was an attempted hunger strike that lasted only till the next helping of bacon, egg and tinned tomato soup. It was getting late, but we were nearly there. 30, 20, 15 kilometres (divide by eight, multiply by five), nine point three seven miles and then we were in Paris, city of liberty, equality and brotherhood (forget that bit), the refugees went straight to the left bank, haunt of revolutionaries, bohemians and source of cheap hotels.
And my god did it live up to it's name, my dad had driven his whole family and their possessions into the epicentre of revolt without realising it, or maybe he thought it was always like this, A 1789 theme park? Paving stones had been ripped up and were arranged in neat piles on what were once the pavements, tonight's ammo. cars, overturned and burned out were "dans la rue sous les arbres' (it was meant to be an educational holiday to help the kids with their french). ambulances, fire engines and les flics (we did know one french word) zoomed everywhere, sirens SQUEALING, water from their hoses and water canon soaked THE streetS. overlying all of this, and I can still taste it now, the wicked wicked smell of tear gas wafted by the spring breeze.
Forget gitanes, CHANEL or cafe au Lait THIS unique acrid fume IS THE PARFUM DE PARIS. i've only smelt it twice and both times it has brought on gut wrenching fear. WE stayed there for five days, did all the usual tourist things, going up the eiffel tour, stroll under the crappy arc de triumph and out to versailles to look at the gold and gardens of the ancien regime. They all stayed resolutely open. we NEVER DID SEE ANY ACTUAL RIOTING. it all happened round the corner, down the road, whatever, it still felt powerful to be close, even for a rural ten year old. A creative energy was electrifying the city with an excitement and happiness that I've only felt fleetingly since, in riots and general mayhem closer to home.
jonathan swain may 1998