Skipped yesterday, I suppose you might say the strain is beginning to tell now. Partly that of daily posting, partly of dog hosting. Poor Bram, at just over a year old, after three homes and two refuges, he doesn't know he's only here for a few days, that his mum will come and get him on Friday, (or indeed what Friday means) and restore him to a two-dog household so all the onus of doggy responsibility is not on him, that no one means him any ill, that when Tom bends down to scratch his leg across the room he is not intending to do whatever nasty thing it was someone* used to do when they bent down, or that I am not the one and only resource he has left in the world so that I must be stuck to for dear life and guarded from all comers, or at least from Tom.
Poor us that we really can't find a way to communicate this to him firmly but comfortingly, and he's a big, young dog with impressive gnashers so we begin to fear that unpredictable reaction prompted by fear and misunderstandings could deteriorate into actual aggression, which we're not prepared to cope with. A single false move seems to undo days of apparent progress, and it would take months and experienced patience and even possibly the intervention of an expensive dog psychologist to properly remedy the situation, none of which we have, but in fact we've realised it wouldn't really be what we would want to spend precious time and money doing anyway. When E entrusted him to us, with typically robust optimism, she suggested that it might help to get us over our reluctance to get another dog, but I'm afraid it has had the opposite effect, and made us wonder whether we really want to take on such a thing again at all. It seems to me a terrible thing to rescue a dog from a refuge then find you simply can't integrate its peculiarities, problems and general hitherto unseen baggage into your life and so have to take it back again, but I can see how it happens. And this week has made us miss Mol more than ever, and appreciate how marvellously balanced the triangle of the relationship we had with her was, with never any sense of preference or jealousy or hierarchy needing to be expressed at all. Plus she never ate poo, or other disgusting things, or indeed farted so as to strip the paint from the walls (another downside of being the object of his devoted, closer-than-a-brother, attachment). But then she had awful health problems from overbreeding, so it seems like you can't win.
However, E is besotted with Bram, is not a worrier and has plenty of time and space to devote to bringing him round, and no man in her life nor any plan to have one, which is just as well, as I think Bram would put the kibosh on them if she had, and if it came to an 'it's me or the dog' ultimatum with E it would be the dog every time. He came to us as she had to go to Paris to fetch a passport, a plan already arranged and paid for before she got him, his big 'brother' Moos was already booked into the kennels with the dog of the friend she was going with, and she thought he'd be better at home with us. In fact though, if she goes away again after a while, I think he'd be OK in the kennels, which are a ruggedly female-run establishment owned by a terrifyingly competent and bossy British woman, he's not too bothered by the presence of other dogs and he loves his meals and walks which he would have there.
Anyway, deciding the best thing was to get a bit of space between Bram and himself, Tom decided to make a virtue out of expediency and pretend he was going into a monastery for the day, ensconcing himself upstairs in his study with books and computer and monastic sort of music**. Except of course he gets Bovril and tea and biscuits and wine and chocolate brought to him by his wife, whom he also gets to sleep with at the end of the day, so it wasn't very monastic at all really. Unless you believe the people who told Henry VIII why he should set about the Dissolution, which by and large I suppose I do. He rather enjoyed himself anyway, and still came down for meals, when he and Bram mostly managed to ignore each other very deliberately.
Iceland mostly all planned and bookings made, rather a hectic time for us, what with plunging into hot springs, chasing the aurora, slithering around the Golden Circle (diamond geysers!) and bouncing about on Icelandic horses which are not to be called ponies. One of the few sagas I read at university in its entirety in the original Old Norse was Hrafnkel's Saga, where the horse is the agent of much mischief, I recall. I rather wonder whether we shouldn't have stuck to mooching about Reykjavik, eating and drinking and looking at museums of archaeology which I'm sure could easily have taken up three days. Should we invest in ice walkers, I wonder? What are ice walkers, I wonder, and can one buy them in Decathlon? These questions and more will doubtless be answered.
Here are some spring flowers to brighten up these sad November days.
* presumably a man since I and any other woman he meets seem to be able to move as and how we will without a negative reaction.
** which only differs from how he spends his time normally by the upstairs element, and perhaps the Gregorian chant.
After a good start with Bram, things went a bit pear-shaped last night, and, disheartened and worried, we felt that the few days might be more to be endured than enjoyed for all of us. Tom decided to go to bed and read, only to find his still-quite-new shiny Kndle p@perwhite seemed to be broken, freezing weirdly or failing to come on altogether, then flashing up unhelpful messages. Assuming it would have to be sent back, I looked around for the very deluxe packaging and paperwork it came with, without success. I snarked at him about this, then e-mailed the relevant French limb of The Megacorporation from whence I had bought it. Within the hour we had a phone call from a very patient and polite young woman who calmly took me through the elaborate procedure of holding down the on-off button for forty seconds and waiting a few more, which miraculously resuscitated the device. If it did it again though, she said, let them know, as it might mean it really was faulty. No fuss about packaging and paperwork.
Bram's much better too, and the rain cleared by after lunchtime so we had another good walk. One of the things about having a dog to walk which gets you out on a regular basis is that even, or perhaps especially, in these quiet parts, you run into people, stop and talk, keep a bit up to date with things. Our former neighbour, who looks after our field, stopped his van, curious at seeing me with a dog again, and we chatted about dogs and exchanged information and thoughts about septic tanks, to our mutual benefit. When we got back, Tom said he'd go out alone on a provisioning foray. Bram seemed in fact quite bothered by his absence, and, while still quite reticent, genuinely pleased to see him and join in the rather deliberately exaggerated welcome home celebrations.
Less regular walking also means I'm more ignorant about what goes on in the fields round and about. When E came the other day, she pointed out (with a view to where it might not be a good idea to walk) a rather fine young silvery roan bull in one of the pastures. He was new to me, and I realised that the handsome gold coloured Limousin who used to be seen all over the place, a rather gentle seeming character, easily bossed around by the farm dogs and his harem of black and white cows, and who sometimes featured in my Molly walking blog, I hadn't seen for a long time. Scarcely earth shattering, you might say, but of no more nor less importance than many other things. When I did get out walking this year, back in the summer, I noticed a lot more fields of these pretty violet flowered peas:
sometimes on their own, sometime mixed with field beans, like small broad (fava) beans, and a cereal type plant:
(there were some fields of just the beans, which I sometimes filled my pockets with and cooked, can't remember how)
I picked a bunch of the flowering peas and put them on the window sill, sometimes using the top shoots for salads and stir fries, but mostly just to admire.
What they were used for I don't know, they didn't seem to be there long so they clearly weren't harvested for the peas and beans, but whether they were made into silage or simply ploughed in as green manure I never saw, or spoke to anyone to learn. Pretty while they lasted anyway.
Tom was fed up; just when he thought he had finished with the dentist for a while, he broke another tooth. Feeling I had been getting away too lightly, I began to suspect sensitivity and incipient toothache. When our shared appointment arrives, the dentist says that the broken part was where she'd already repaired earlier, and fixed it again without pain or problem, and my toothache having evaporated, any worries prove to be groundless save for a small amount of gum withdrawal (if that's the right expression), she blows the puffer round my teeth almost with impunity. We go home relieved.
I am in e-mail communication with the potential future landlady of Simone's and Jean-Felix's daughter (see previous), an Indian lady (I think) in Golders Green. She sounded nice, and very well-spoken, on the 'phone, her written English is slightly quirky. She says it's necessary to let them know, 'We have a quite cat as pet. Tabby is an old cat and does not purr a lot.'
Bram, who is staying with us now, is a noble and handsome dog:
though nervous of many things, goats, cows, tractors, Tom...
Also unfortunately rather attracted to cow poo, though he takes to heart being told off for eating it,
'What me? Noooo!'
But it's good to have a dog to walk again, and to reacquaint myself with the beauty of our hilltop on a late afternoon in winter.
I go to bed giggling, at a late comment from Glenn on this post telling me that 'we have learned' (how can one ever dispute something that begins thus?) that Nigella's programme is really all staged, her friends are actors and her perfect home is in fact a hired location. This leads me to this piece which suggests playing 'Nigella bingo', scoring whenever certain familiar Nigella tropes occur, such as: 'triple alliteration, eg “basking in bronze beauty”, “gorgeous golden globules” or “fruitful foraging in the fridge” ' or 'she licks something erotically from a spoon' or ' strolls around high-end London shop, picking out produce - even though in real life, she totally has someone to do her shopping for her'. There is also the observation that a 'party of glamorous guests descend for candlelit supper. They look faintly important and influential, like you should know who they are, but you don’t', which may well substantiate Glenn's allegation. The comments are also often funny, especially the man who must be on a promise.
Simone and Jean-Felix were once our insurance agents, now they're retired and just sort-of friends. It's nice seeing people go from being soigné and professional and restrained to soft and scruffy and expansive on their retirement, I've observed it quite often. They ask me for help - translation, phone calls etc. - with finding short term student accommodation in London for their daughter, whom I've known since she was just a little thing and I used to help with her English sometimes. I feel a sense of weight and reluctance, but I do want to help. I worry for these children I've known, who touch my heart when I don't always want it touched, and if I worry how do their parents cope? It's good though, to sit and chat for much longer than I meant to, and Simone forgets to take her pinny off all the time I'm there.
On the way out to see them, there are two buzzards and a heron in our field. I slow down and have a good view of all three taking off and wheeling away in the chill wind. I've not quite forgiven the herons for persecuting our fish, but they are still magnificent.
A newcomer to Quess'quitricote, a petite woman perhaps my age, is fun and lively and bright, and not at all shy. She is wearing a skirt, quite short, made from vivid hued, densely patched crochet squares, and from her bag winks a multicoloured ball of glossy, flossy yarn.
E brings Bram round on a preliminary visit. The rain clears and we take a turn around the square of fields I used to take with Mol, along the ridge road. It is breezy and splashy with sunlight after rain, and Bram is brisk and alert and a fine dog to walk. E remarks on how very beautiful it is up on our hill, and I realise I had rather stopped appreciating it.
A good, medium sized cauliflower for just 65 eurocents. I roast half of it with olive oil and cumin seeds to go with a couple of mackerel fillets.
The Ile de Toëno, or perhaps it's just a presqu'île: one of those funny sort of causewayed excrescences up on the Pink Granite Coast, with nothing much there but a menhir, a small boatyard, a place to buy oysters and other shellfish, and rather pleasant motel type hotel, where we spent a night back in early October, to attend a concert at the Lanvellec early music festival. The concert was a disappointing washout, which made us cross, but it doesn't seem to matter much now, and I spent a pleasant hour or so scrambling about on scrubby granite pavements and rocks and headlands enjoying the views and the sight and sound of the sea, which one can never have too much of.
I am having trouble looking forward to our coming trip to Iceland. We have never travelled much in winter, so many things can go wrong, and in the cold, short days it just seems more advisable to stay at home. Now, feelings of apprehension and impending doom, and a certain reluctance to focus on fun and frivolity, are casting a pall over it, and I find I'm avoiding making even necessary arrangements. I took out basic insurance with the first flight, but even finding something more comprehensive and suitable seems to be difficult for a couple of ageing expats. However, we talk it through, decide the extra cost is worth the peace of mind. I apply myself to a more thorough search and come up with something clear, appropriate and not ruinous, and now I find I can better enjoy making plans.
We watch a programme about the home life of the Georgians. It's lively and full of interesting detail you never knew about. We end up agreeing that, whatever the problems of the 21st century, for ourselves anyway, we're glad we live when, where and how we do.
I scan the things on the table, and though it's a bit messy and not-dealt-with, mostly I like what I see and how it reflects our life. There is a book by Simon Schama about the Dutch Republic, a leaflet about a museum in Châtelaudren that wasn't open when I went to see it, catalogues for organic garden seeds and gifts in aid of the SPA, a pad of 2mm graph paper and one of ordinary squared, a to-do list from an indeterminate time ago, a printout from my brother of something he wrote about Green Man ornaments in a church in the Orne, the monthly free departmental magazine, scissors, matches, pens and pencils, reading glasses, the stalled septic tank project papers, vitamin pills, books about drawing and painting and meditation, a book of very difficult sudoku, two Kindles known to have at the top of their contents the accumulating works of Patrick O'Brian and CJ Samson, blood test results, a basket of walnuts and a large and handsome plate unusually containing a good selection of fresh fruit.
Some of these things really should be tidied away though.
E has a lot to do, and must walk her dogs afterwards, and yoga only lasts about half an hour, about the same as pre-yoga coffee. Her older dog Moos, having lately acquired an adopted younger brother, is expressing rather puppyish behaviour and pointedly steals one of her wellington boots to play with.
The corners of my blue room, it being at something of a dead end of the house, are beginning to smell slightly musty. I set about clearing them out a bit in the afternoon - my sister quoted once a much respected elderly lady, who had cleaned for other people for much of her working life, who said that if you take care of the corners of a room, the middle will take care of itself. Along with a number of boxes of things no longer under guarantee which can be thrown out, I displace my old tapestry frame. I'm loathe to get rid of this, Tom bought it for me during a fairly short phase when needlepoint was a hobby, before we even came here, and I feel it may one day acquire a new usefulness, even if not for needlepoint or not for me. I unrolled the stretchers and found the last thing I began on it, again before we came here.
A very large self-designed canvas of some hyacinths, along with the full sized background cartoon and the original design it was scaled up from (together with a short list of vegetables and some figures, which seem to me more possibly more interesting, being inexplicable).
I no longer, for now at least, have any time or motivation for activities whose outcome is purely decorative; I'm not sure or rigid about what might be included in this category*, but I think I can say needlepoint is, unless I suppose one was a mediaeval person with enough of it to hang on a wall as draught exclusion. I know you can make it into cushions, but that's about it, and they aren't particularly useful cushions. Anyway, the wool for this has long since mostly been knitted up into other, more useful, enjoyable and visible things. Needlepoint can be a pleasant and satisfying activity and can be extremely beautiful, but I'm not sure, looking at this, about trying to translate a style of visual art - those kind of closely observed, highly shaded still-life and botanical drawings I've been fond of doing in the past - into the medium of wool and canvas, though there are artists, like Kaffe Fassett, who have done it to good effect.
The main problem with it though, is something that has been the bane of my life forever, starting something hugely ambitious, insisting on it being entirely original, and never finishing it. I have had too many beautiful, and even more not so beautiful, fragments of unfinished things lying around, making the corners musty. Yes, I guess I am talking figuratively as well. Taking stock though, I have think I have fewer than I used to. I embark on things I have no hope of completing less often, I think, and have the staying power (and the time, when I set about these kind of projects I was considerably more busy with working life etc) to finish more. On the other hand I suppose, if no time is wasted, process can count for something even if the product never happens, if one enjoyed it at the time.
Not quite sure what I'll do with it, I can't quite bring myself to throw it out yet, but that's what needs to be done in the end.
Not just spinach curry, but also rounds of aubergine dipped in egg and a mixture of breadcrumbs, polenta and seasonings and fried. Delicious.
* and I'm not imposing it as a rule for living on anyone else.
Didn't post yesterday as I thought Sunday night's link would do, and was, I'm afraid, too confounded by heartache, anger and despair which I don't want to spill out, or indeed seem to be fishing for comfort for, here.
But I'll turn to and come back to the daily postings, if only not to give in. Maybe some 3BT for a bit would be helpful, and for pictures, if I don't take any, to have a trawl through the web albums and even the external hard drive, on which languish many thousands of old ones.
Here's yesterday's for today, a pattern I might follow.
Monday yoga being postponed, but needing to get out after the weekend anyway, I drive out to Lamballe to shop. On one of our frequent resolves for a dietary spruce up, I buy wholewheat loaves, unsliced, and cut them into doorsteps for freezing, and now the fruit and vegetable stocks are also satisfyingly, but realistically (we probably will be able to get through them), replenished. Better still, I persuade Tom to turn the 400 gram bag of spinach into a curry for tonight.
While I was out, the 'phone went, and rang and rang. Tom doesn't usually answer on the land line when I'm not here, as he can't understand the caller if they're speaking French or hear them anyway even if they're English, and he gets in a state trying. 'I wondered if it was Doreen.' he said. This is a bit odd, since his sister doesn't ring often and he's unlikely usually to think about a call being from her. She is a kind and courageous woman for whom I have always had a great deal of time, not least because she loves her brother with an open, generous, persistent affection despite his rather offhand gruffness with her. I do the redial and it is indeed her number, so I call her back.
'I've been so worried about you,' she says 'I know you're nowhere near, but still. And I've been reading what you wrote on that Facebook thing you do.'
I don't do Facebook.
'Huh? Oh the blog?'
I am surprised and touched. I gave them a link to a post about their beautiful dog Lara, now sadly passed away, which I wrote much earlier in the year after they'd visited, but didn't imagine they'd follow here after that. I tell her Tom had an inkling it was her, which pleases her, and we talk about her new adopted grandchildren, the brave, sometimes hard, but loving road their parents have taken. They are not to spoil them with toys at Christmas, she's been instructed, but rather give them games for sharing, perhaps tickets to a pantomime, and - here her daughter is going back on her initial refusal of hand knits - could she perhaps knit them a traditional Aran sweater, in natural wool to go with everything? We talk soothingly about wool and cables, then end the call easily. We, Tom and I, are both warmed and heartened.
As often we watch Nigella, not quite sure why we do; the food isn't really our kind of thing, and the lifestyle porn aspect and her awful friends get up our noses somewhat, but it kind of rounds off Monday evening telly after the quizzes, and we did like the her quoting of Terry Pratchett: something along the lines that chewy burned sticky crunchy bits were a separate food group.
A patch of scrubby woodland up the road was cleared a while back, perhaps as a future building plot, and sown with grass. These girls, there are up to half a dozen of them, are sometimes to be seen maintaining it. Though of course any goat worth its salt would rather have had the trees than pappy old grass.