Cranial Capacity 1400cc

I finished my fourth memoir earlier this year. It’s called Cranial Capacity 1400cc and covers the decade between 2007 and early 2017. The book goes into a lot of the French stuff that I often bang on about on this blog and it runs to about 64,000 words. This fourth memoir is a bit different from the previous three, in that the previous three memoirs related action and adventure and travel to weird and wonderful places. Cranial Capacity 1400cc is all about my life in France, a country I haven’t been outside of for the last ten years. The problem I had with the book is that it starts with the renovation of a large 300-year-old stone house, and plasterboard and paint is not exactly high adventure. However, once you get beyond the first chapter I start telling the story of a radio production company I tried to get off the ground here in south west France. The following excerpt is from chapter two, ‘Local Radio France’…

Beneath a vast blue sky, vineyards stretched away to every horizon. I turned off the lane, drove down a short track and pulled-up beside a stone barn. A fifteen minute drive from the town of Cognac had brought me to the barn, which was the home of Chris and Mandy Smith. Mandy was a jazz and cabaret singer who played with a band in the local cafes. She was about the same age as me with medium length blonde hair. Mandy took me into the huge kitchen and introduced me to her husband. Chris sat at a counter while he put some finishing touches to a painting of the surrounding vineyards. Mandy went upstairs to get herself ready for the interview. While she was gone Chris made me a cup of coffee and we talked about renovation work. It had taken him and Mandy two years to do up the barn (sound familiar?). Now they were in the process of doing up two smaller properties next to the barn, which they planned to rent out as gites. They were also in the process of putting in a swimming pool.

When Mandy returned she looked rather glamorous. It turned out that she thought it was going to be a tv interview. I showed her the digital voice recorder and microphone and she laughed. We went to her office and conducted the interview there. I was having a bad day and made a balls-up of things. Mandy didn’t mind and practically interviewed herself, all the while we were interrupted by her nine-year-old daughter. That interview with Mandy later took an awful lot of editing.

France is a very big place, you have to do lots of driving, and so for the Musique sud-ouest stuff I always tried to line up two or more interviews on a given day. After seeing Mandy my next port of call was to see the jazz and blues singer Sophie Borgeaud. Mandy idolised Sophie Borgeaud and jumped at the chance to come along with me and help with the interview. Sophie Borgeaud lived in the town of Saintes, in the Charente-Maritime. From Savignac to Cognac is about a three hour drive. From Cognac to Saintes is about an hour’s drive. Mandy and I jumped into my 2CV and headed west.

In her younger days Mandy had been a presenter on the British Forces Radio Network in Germany, and she was intrigued with me and Local Radio France. She’d given up her singing career when her two daughters were born. Now that the daughters were older, Mandy had recently resumed her singing. Mandy possessed a great sense of humour and was not afraid to taunt the boss of Local Radio France.

Saintes is quite a big place with a lot of historic buildings. During the Roman times it was capital of Aquitaine. Sophie Borgeaud’s house lay in the old town, on the left bank of the Charente River. Mandy and I got totally lost in the maze of streets, and ended-up going the wrong way down a one-way street in order to get back on track. We found the house, and after ringing the doorbell a middle-aged guy with a big handlebar moustache emitted us into a cobbled courtyard that had a glass roof. We were then ushered through some imposing double doors, into the house. It was a huge, old place and I half expected to see a butler and maids walking around. Sophie Borgeaud was waiting for us in her drawing room. We sat down at the table. The middle-aged guy brought in tea and cakes and joined us.

Sophie Borgeaud’s career is an interesting and varied one. As well as being a jazz and blues singer, she worked in French television, worked for Fortune Magazine in New York, and as a studio actress in the Los Angeles Theatre. She has also been a tour manager for artists including Harry Belafonte, Lou Reed and Rickie Lee Jones. Sophie was a small woman who for some reason reminded me of Edith Piaf with blonde hair. As we munched on our cake she tried to put us at ease.

The middle-aged guy went by the name of Jean-Marc. A guitarist, Jean-Marc had recently teamed up with Sophie to make an album called The Best Of Love. The interview we were doing was to promote the album. Normally when carrying out these interviews I made notes beforehand, scribbling down the kind of questions I wanted to ask. For some reason on this occasion I hadn’t done this. As I’ve said, I was having a bad day. I asked some really dumb questions, to which Sophie responded to as best she could. There were long, pregnant pauses when I couldn’t think of anything to ask her. The interview staggered along in this manner for about five minutes. Sophie, Jean-Marc and Mandy tried to stay serious, but eventually they began cracking up with laughter. This broke the ice. Mandy, who knew a lot more about Sophie Borgeaud than I, sort of took over the interview, which then started going really well.

I’m a fan of Lou Reed, so when the interview was done and dusted I asked Sophie what life had been like on tour with Lou. Her eyes twinkled and I was told some tales, tales which I couldn’t possibly repeat here.

Cranial Capacity 1400cc is available from Amazon as an e-book and paperback, and is also available from most other online stores.

The (heavily edited!) interview I did with Sophie Borgeaud can be found here.

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