Thursday, May 31, 2007

Tales of the runaway garden # 2

Perpetual spinach, likewise rainbow chard, and indeed all leaf beets, were, as we understood it, just that, perpetual. Which is to say they don't bolt. Great, we thought, as we're not planting many vegetables this year, we'll just leave them in, leafy greens in perpetuity.

But of course, any degree of reflection on the matter of the birds and the bees would have told me that any leafing plant will, at some time, have the need to produce flowers and seeds. The plant turns out to be biennial, so yes, it does bolt.

Bitter as can be, they'll have to go the way of all surplus vegetation, the compost bin. But they are rather magnificent, with an architectural, muscular quality, and a lot of colour.

The elephant garlic too, is reaching for the sky, but that's as it should be.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing"

The post about change just now (Sunday morning observations), and the comments that followed made me think about this passage in The Screwtape Letters, which I like very much.

'The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart – an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship. The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, the Enemy (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating pleasurable. But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rythm. He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme. He gives them in His Church a spiritual year; they change from a fast to a feast, yet it is always the same feast as before.
...Once they knew that some changes were for the better, and others for the worse, and others again indifferent. We have largely removed that knowledge. For the descriptive adjective 'unchanged' we have substituted the emotional adjective 'stagnant'. We have trained them to think of the Future as a promised land which favoured heroes attain - not as something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.'

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Matt's butterflies, and the lackey moth.

The other day I found this chap sidling up the door frame, and was rather struck by how well he went with the colour scheme.

However, despite looking in my butterfly book, and on one or two lepidopterous websites, I was unable to identify him. What I did find, though, was Matt's European Butterflies, a really beautiful website, with an invitation to e-mail. So I sent said Matt the photo, and, Bob's yer butterfly, the very next day he was able to inform me that what I had was a lackey moth caterpillar. Lackey moths are little brown jobs, very unremarkable, but their caterpillars are rather fine, as can be seen, with cute blue and black googly 'eyes'.

So thanks Matt!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Sunday morning observations

" The modern, western, world" said Tom " is in a continual state of low-level grief."

We mulled. The pace of change, the need for novelty, is such, we decided, that as soon as we have one thing, it is snatched away from us, and we are flooded with new information and new stimuli we must adjust to, with no time to grieve for what's gone, or even to recognise that we are grieving. So we live with a yearning, a sense of something missing that we can't account for.

" Take the news," he went on " no sooner are you told one story, involved with it, than it's not news any more. You don't hear any more about it, it's left unresolved."

We pay a price to allay our fear of boredom. We could not, we think, go back to the time out elderly friends and neighbours regret the passing of, say was better and kinder, when you mostly stayed in the same place, saw the same people, did and talked about the same things, ate the same food,kept up the same round. That very sameness, the stasis, would, we feel, drive us mad, and many of them couldn't wait to get to Paris anyway, either through economic or educational necessity, or simple restlessness. But have we confused movement with meaningful journeyings?

" It was ever thus," I counter " people have always been confounded by change, beset by loss. Perhaps it's just the human condition."

'All is flux, nothing stays still,' and

'All standeth on change, like a midsummer rose.'

" And anyway," I added " in the old days, people died more."

The goldfinches are suddenly gone, I realise, as I look out at the chestnut tree, just in this last day or so, after a few brief weeks of nesting. As with the mistle thrushes which set up last year in the laurel hedge right next to the house, I didn't see the going of the young ones. For the space of a day, dawn till dusk, the parent thrush called and chivvied persistently perched above the nest, then all was silence and stillness. Similarly I was aware of the adult goldfinch on the swaying, springing twigs around the ivy-clad trunk where the nest was, tseeing softly, drawing more attention to itself than previously, but seeming to make no further effort to enter it. Now the frenetic comings and goings to the sow thistles have all ceased, and with the bullfinches likewise. Unlike the sparrows, robins and blackbirds, but as with the thrushes, they don't appear to stay around human habitation with the young - the baby blackbirds are a worry and a heartache at this time of year - but are gone away to the fields and hedgerows.

No more excuses; we can pull up the sow thistles now.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Isobel's birthday

Tom and Isobel on the beach at Val-André.

The exquisite and delightful Iso is ever more so now she is pregnant. I'd heard tell this happened sometimes but have to say I'd never really witnessed it before.

As she was at a loose end on her birthday, we met her in Lamballe, where Tom observed this feral terrapin sunning itself for all to see on a rock in the Gouessant river.

Well there's a thing!

Then we went out to Val-Andrè for lunch. Moules-frites, cider for me, rosé for Tom, but, alas, just plain water for Iso.

Then the walk on the beach. Not too many people; when there aren't too many, they're always more interesting, out-of-season types, I think.

Pretty little sailboats,

sunny buoys,

washed-up jellyfish ( Tom, tender-hearted even to invertebrates, except the clams he ate for lunch, put this crystalline entity back in the sea after I'd photographed it)

seaweed dragons,

and yin-yang dogs.

And the good thing is, since Isobel's job is playing the ingénue in the hilariously brilliant, Edinburgh festival prize-winning, Fiat Lux mime company, her doctor has rather frowned upon her travelling long and wearisome distances, staying in hot and sticky places in uncomfortable hotels, throwing herself energetically off high platforms and other props, and generally jumping about as she does, so has signed her off work for somewhat longer than ordinary maternity leave, and she will therefore be at a loose end much more often over the summer, while Pascal, her other half, must continue to ply his trade about the world disguised as a gauche fisherman or pink-clad middle-aged lady. So that means we'll see Iso more often.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Tales of the runaway garden # 1

Sow thistles are one of our worst weeds.

Goldfinches and bullfinches are some of our best birds.

What can you do?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Affect. Verb to noun to adjective, affected, affection, affectation: a protean, tricky, problematical word for a difficult matter. From the wholesome neutrality of cause and effect to the sense of potential damage, from the springy turf of affection to the sliding, hypocritical sands of affectation, are small, mistaken steps.

I let other people affect me, still, too much, their moods and humours, atmospheres and auras. when I was younger and lived in the city, I used to speak of 'personality erosion'; too much time spent with others, most of all those who had a prevalent idea which governed their lives, left me feeling reduced, the bedrock of my personality too weak and friable to withstand their tread. I vacillated between persuasion and revulsion, but did not feel enough myself either way. Now the strata laid down by time and age and experience have compacted and firmed my sense of self; I have accepted my introversion, my uselessness at late hours (which happily has matured into a liking for early ones), my need to be mostly involved with the one over the many, without any longer feeling obliged to apologise for these things. Time spent in company, which now I turn out to be quite good at when called upon, leaves me tired but not so much lessened. Nevertheless, I cannot blithely go on my way when those around me are unhappy or angry; I feel beholden to confront or make it better, even when it's nothing to do with me, I take it personally. This exasperates me; I would prefer to detach compassionately.

"Most of all, do not feign affection."

I had a friend who is a friend no more. My error, my unkindness, but she was, I decided, a maddeningly affected person. Not having known her for long, and lacking an understanding of and true affection for her, I sought to aggrandise myself by affecting a concern and compassion for her situation I could not really own. She held to her resentment, her hysteria, her tears, her need to be wounded, her exaggerated drama and the primary and sovereign importance of her emotions over all and everyone else - including and especially her own daughter, and eventually I let all this affect me; disgust and anger overwhelmed me and I turned on her, thereby compounding and confirming her in her own self-image. I am not proud of this detachment by rejection, but feel the mistake was made at the outset, when I feigned affection.

I am puzzled and rather embarrassed at how I, like so many others, was so bizarrely affected by the death of Princess Diana. Not hysterically, you understand, I wouldn't have waded through flowers to keep a vigil, and wept in the street; we were newly living here, anyway, with no TV and little contact with the outside world, except our neighbours who petted and commiserated with us. But I did follow the news obsessively, and shed a few tears at the funeral ( I'd like to say only at the Tavener and not at Elton John, but it would be a lie). I am wary now of the vein of craving for overt, shared emotion that was unearthed then, and which is tapped into so gleefully, and I have to say I find the media's exploitaton and manipulation of the horror of child-abduction obscene and grotesque.

The risk of emotional dishonesty in allowing myself to be affected dogs me. I am afraid of induced, fetid, over-heated mawkishness, or simply of pretending to an emotion I do not really feel. I don't know if I fear this more or less than actual loss of control. That is not to say I haven't faked feeling, wanted to be in on a drama, adopted histrionic attitudes, and otherwise lost the balance of humility, but having done so, too often I have come to with ashes in my mouth, and a sense of self-contempt which makes me feel a discontinuity with myself, a dis-integration.

My siblings mostly know about this blog, read it sometimes and make appreciative noises, all but one, as far as I know. This one, nearest to me in age, for whom I have great respect and real affection, though we are not affectionate together, I hesitate to tell. I do not wish to impose, and if told, duty of affection would compel them to read it conscientiously, and I think perhaps that would be an embarrassment to both of us. As I said to one of the others, that one is uncomfortable with affect. Together as children and adolescents, we affected an attitude of cynicism and mockery, of smart-alec sophistication. The unthought-through final offspring of elderly parents, bookish and spoiled, talked to rather than played with, ill-fitting and uncertain, sometimes picked on, our words were too long, our parents too old, our manner too intense and pompous, so we wrapped ourselves up, not to be affected. I'm certain I suffered less than my sibling, and little overall. The enlarging false claim of childhood unhappiness is not one I care to make any more; I have seen enough of those who can legitimately make such a claim to know it's not something one should envy, and count my blessings that it was not so.

I let my relatonship with my father be affected by my mother, a truism of course. In my teens I was often rude and unkind to him, yet I never saw him angry. But when we were alone together we were amicable. The tension at the root of my behaviour, I understood quite quickly, was my mother's resentment, irritation, disappointment, (understanding didn't stop me doing it). Her self-control prevented her from expressing these things openly for herself, but they were never far beneath the surface, and, as I have said, I was and am a reactive person, easily affected by the currents around me, so I expressed them for her. This situation had the advantage that I could then be upbraided for my unacceptable insolence to my father. I'm not letting myself off the hook, I was still obnoxious. Compassion for one's former self should never descend into self-pity and denial, and the inner child can be as tiresome as any other infant. I was on some level aware of a pity for my father for so many things, which I was not mature enough to be able to transform into affectionate compassion, and which I had a horror of allowing myself to feel, to be affected by.

Our father was born 100 years ago this year ( he died in 1988, my mother 7 years later). A move is afoot for all his offspring and sundry grandchildren to contribute to an online but private memoire of him. A nice idea, though one I having trouble getting started on. (The aforementioned sibling happily supports the idea, but is disinclined as yet to contribute, saying, Bartleby-like, 'I am not sure there is anything I could or would want to say'. The ambiguity of the modals seems to express more eloquent possibilities than any amount of eulogising!) I suppose I am afraid that when I try to think about my father, and to do so with genuine affect, I will fall into the trap of affected emotion, sentiment, dishonesty, artifice. That the temptation to make a good piece of writing, or to be seen to have deep and creditable feelings will cause me to be fundamentally dishonest, for the fact was he was a quiet, background presence, lacking in forcefulness, very much a supporting role in the drama. Much of the time I didn't really take a lot of notice of him. Which is not, obviously, the whole story. Alternatively, I also fear that, in seeking to be truthful, not sentimental, I will say something inappropriate to the spirit of the project, that might upset ( weasel word!) or discomfort someone else.

But I think it will be OK. It isn't a therapeutic exercise, that isn't necessary. Affectionate things will be said, and perhaps some affecting ones. My father was by nature an affectionate man, I believe, but life got in the way of his being able to always express it, or of my being able to receive it.

But as we were, he and I, in this picture, we seem to have been affectionate, and unaffected.

Many thanks to Tall Girl and to Jean, whose very strong, beautiful, courageous writing, unaffected and affecting, started me thinking about this. This post has, along the way, morphed into something other and longer than I intended. For better or worse.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


Last weekend suddenly got busy. My niece organised a last minute foot passage to Roscoff for Sunday morning, so we were up and off as early as we could manage to be the first relay to collect her; my brother, her dad, who lives in Mayenne, which is even further east of us than we are of Roscoff, then came and fetched her from our house. They stayed to lunch, where she ate two good helpings of garlic chicken and vegetables ( speciality of the maison), which was probably her first meal for about 36 hours, on account of how her philosophy of travelling light through life involves spending as little money on keeping body and soul together as possible. She regaled us, as ever, with funny stories, such as how, when cycling round the Crozon peninsular in Finisterre, she somehow fetched up in a village hall in a small fishing port in the company of a band of anarcho-punk vegans, who were almost pathetically grateful to meet another anglophone, and who went on to entertain their audience of perplexed Breton fishermen with a number called 'Vegetable Attack' ( the title phrase being repeated loudly and often). We agreed that they might have had a more sympathetic reception had they been playing Roscoff, capital of the onion (pink) and the artichoke, where the performance might have had more artistic resonance.

She was also able to fill me in on the details of the anecdote about the stones' revenge. Since she was quite a young thing, she has had a fascination with standing stones, and has toured most of the megaliths of western Europe. Many years ago she persuaded her less interested parents to take a trip to Morbihan to visit Carnac. This involved a deal of travelling and traipsing, and my brother was making no bones about his weariness with what he saw as a pointless hippy pilgrimage to a collection of stones of no significance. In the middle of his grumbling, he stubbed his toe hard on a concealed stone. As they drove off, a small stone flew up and into the windscreen, cracking it. Later that evening, an anonymously thrown stone broke the window of the gite where they were staying.

So the story goes. I warned Tom about it when he was grumbling about the non-experience of Carnac; don't say it too loud, I admonished, they may exact revenge for your unbelief. But in fact, most people seem to find themselves disappointed with Carnac. Its impressiveness lies in its extent, not in imposing massiveness, and, of course in its unexplained mystery. But that too is a frustration, the enigma blocks rather than beguiles: what is the point of this? one finds oneself asking. I've concluded that where standing stones are concerened, size matters. the bigger specimens were more striking,

than the crowds of indistinguishable toothy-pegs,

and those which could be seen to possess faces, or characteristics, caught the attention more. This one below, with its benign and distant gaze, put me in mind of the episode of Noggin the Nog ( anyone else have a soft spot for Noggin the Nog?), called 'The Firecake', where Olaf the Lofty invents dynamite, and awakens the sleeping stone people, one of whom attaches itself to Little Knut and follows him... (oh do shut up you sad woman, you'll never be taken seriously again!)

This one is, I believe, much beloved by New Age pilgrims for its resemblance to a whale. Very like a whale.

The alignments have been so much frequented by tourists over the years that now they have been fenced in with robust, chest high, plasticised green fencing, else the erosion of all the feet going over the soil around them would cause the stones to fall over, and what is the point of a standing stone no longer standing, especially one which takes it on itself to squash a well-intentioned visitor? The mesh around the burial chamber had been prized apart a little, presumably to make an aperture for a camera lense, which I took advantage of.

It came to me later, though, what the experience brought to mind: walking around a zoo of dispirited and decontextualised animals. The larger ones, the elephants, buffalo, hippopotami, et al, will inevitably impress by their mass, the herds of small unremarkable grazing herbivores soon cease to interest, but with all of them, something is gone out of them. The beautiful and mysterious images of Carnac one sees in books and postcards all appear to have been taken in misty sunrise or sunset. On a chilly afternoon in early May, in the company of a few handfuls of other tourists equally nonplussed as onself, the stones are mute, grey, lifeless things, ungiving, absent. Whatever or whoever the beings or spirits who raised them, they walk here no longer, except, perhaps occasionally, they may pass by fleetingly at those threshold times of half-light and solitude. I wouldn't know.

Ah well, tell them I called and nobody answered.

The evening we walked on the beach, I bent and picked up stones, aimlessly, as you do. Why does one pick the ones one does? Later that night, I took them out of my pockets; just three, unintentionally, one for each of us. The middle one is evidently Molly, small, bright, intense, shot with colour. Close your eyes, I said to Tom, pick one for you. His hand closed over the whiter, rounder bulkier one, slightly damaged and uneven, with a trace of a face in it. That left the flatter, more amorphous, translucent but more coloured one for me. Who's to say stones can't be imbued with spirits, with a touch of light, and imagination?

Friday, May 18, 2007

More on boats

Me, I just like taking pictures of all the kind of bits of miscellaneous,

shabby sea-washed,

frayed and rusted and tangled,


nylon and plastic and perished,

sand and salt-faded this and that you find on boats. Or near them.

Or something lovely someone else made, on boats, or other subjects: these stained glass windows from the thick-walled little church by the harbour at Locmariaquer, each pane and shard a thick and brittle grozed chunk, like blue and gold and pink and white boiled sugar, broken with a toffee hammer.

Or sometimes I just sit on boats, and let other people take the pictures.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Tom's boats, bubbles and one good tern.

As I mentioned, Tom likes to take pictures of boats. Here are a few of the ones I like best, this tern, which I would have been pleased to capture,

... and bubbles. He's not having the camera again until September.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


By way of an aside, I wouldn't want anyone to think that I've been too absorbed with stuffing myself with seafood, walking on the beach and photographing snails over the last week to have had any awareness of or opinion on events in the country I'm living in.
Until I can vote in that country, where we live, where I work and where we pay all our taxes, I will always feel a less involved outsider, which is not to say I don't understand that what happens in the national life will nevertheless have a bearing on me, even in this peaceful and peacable backwater I am blessed, lucky and happy enough to call home. Being such a political outsider has advantages: I don't feel quite so obliged to express, conceal or even have an opinion, I less afraid to ask questions and have things explained to me, or to question why other people hold the opinions they do. Appearing ignorant is more permissable.
I don't particularly relish the prospect of living in a country whose leader is held either in fear and loathing or in a fawning and self-abasing admiration for their strength/ruthlessness. I've done that before and I didn't like it then. Ugly and aggressive rhetoric and posturing and actions make for ugly and aggressive reactions, which appear to justify each other endlessly. I could go on but I see little point; it's not what I do here.
I am not certain, though, that the appeal was altogether and only to xenophobia and masochism, but possibly to something closer to a better nature; the desire to be able to work one's way out of the moroseness and haemorrhage of morale that seemed to have gripped the country. I have come to the conclusion, contrary to received ideas and the way I might have been heard banging on about the matter in moments of frustration in the past, that in general, French people are responsible, sober, undemanding and very hard-working, with an admirable capacity for counting their blessings. They just don't tear around chasing their own arses, going nowhere fast, making a lot of noise and heat and very little light, burning vast quantities of fossil fuels in activity of ultimately dubious usefulness, living ludicrous distances from their place of work, putting themselves in hock for ever and ever on their homes, bragging on about their wonderful work ethic and how stressed they are and how they've got no time for anything, drinking themselves stupid in the name of having fun, etc etc. ( yes, I know, it's all right for me, believe me, I never cease to appreciate just how all right...). Or at least not as much, not yet. But they do often feel constrained and frustrated by restrictive policies, practices and attitudes, and a dead weight of intransigent bureaucracy. Time will tell if the possibly good intention of wishing to change that will be really a paving slab on the road to hell, the bargain just made a Faustian one.
Others have spoken from different angles more eloquently on the matter than I can, Lesley, Jonathan and Jean to name but three. And though I am a little wary of extrapolating on the state of the nation from local anecdote, I found the article below moving and apposite; I wanted simply to supply a link to it, but it appears not to be due to be published on the website, so I am very grateful to Michael Taylor, the author, and French News, for their generous permission in allowing me to post it. It was written on the eve of the election, with, in my opinion, wit, compassion and lightness of touch; I only wish I could have written it.

Which way will the vote swing?

Hergé, the 'father' of the Tintin comic strips, was born 100 years ago this month. Though he pioneered a characteristically 20th-century art form, he sometimes fell back on devices invented in that first age of storytelling in picture sequences: the Middle Ages. When one of his characters struggles against temptation, an angel in a nightgown and a devil wielding a pitchfork appear in the space above his head, wrangling like a pair of irate cabdrivers, urging him to yield to, or triumph over, his worst instincts.
These first days of May, as French voters prepare to cast the final vote for their next president, I think of these quaint (but really momentous) little crises of conscience. Not that either of the two candidates in the second round represents a dramatic choice between good and evil, or even, as some of my French friends tell me, worse and less worse. Simply, like most presidential races in these troubled times, the disappointing, lacklustre course à la presidentielle has brought out both the best (a little of it, anyway) and the worst (abundantly) of this admirable and maddening nation. There have been noble declarations about more democracy, greater equality and a reasonable and reasonably generous pride in being French in a world that is fast forgetting the value of reason. But we have also been subjected to the rank belches of the tight-lipped, clenched-jaw kinds of nationalism and national selfishness. To put it in simple terms, as Hergé might have done, it’s been a struggle between the devil of not giving a damn about the next man – especially if he’s not a born Frenchman – and the angel of feeling that we humans are all in the same boat together, lifeboat earth, as it was once fashionable to call it.
In a sense, the hamlet where we live, a cluster of half-a dozen foyers, or hearths, set among fields and woods in a not especially prosperous (though compared to the Darfur incredibly green and bounteous) corner of rural France, is a microcosm of the nation as a whole. It’s a little universe of its own, morally divided, like a fairytale kingdom, between two old men, two grandfathers haloed by the dimming aura of their former stature. Off a sandy lane to the east lives Monsieur Moreau (it is significant that we never think of him by his first name), a podgy, gimp-legged 70-something-year-old who I’ve never seen wearing anything other than his military-looking hunting outfit. His co-patriarch, so to speak, is Albert’s father, Papi Pierre, whose realm is his kitchen, sweltering in winter, cool and dark in summer, and its adjoining vegetable patch on the western side of our hameau.
Both men survived a war, though not the same war, and both are given to reminisce about their times under the bombs, as they were the most eventful years in their otherwise tranquil rural existences. Monsieur Moreau, who is the younger of the two, served under the French flag in Algeria when Algeria was still a French colony and it was the metropolitan soldiers’ job to suppress the Algerians’ struggle for independence. Whatever action Monsieur Moreau saw there (he is vague on this point, either because he spent much of his time in barracks or because it was mostly shameful), his stint south of the Mediterranean has left him with the mentality of a guard dog. This is especially true where foreigners are concerned. My wife and I are all right, at least provisionally, but then we’re a shade lighter than he is, we probably pay more taxes and we’re able to exchange greetings and pleasantries in his own singsong accents.
Albert’s father, on the other hand, was one of the millions of Frenchmen shipped to Nazi Germany to toil as forced labourers – in other words as slaves. One would understand it if he harboured anti-German sentiments, or even anti-British ones, for he lost the hearing in one ear when a RAF bomb struck a direct hit on the factory where he was working in Berlin. Nevertheless, he is one of the kindest men I’ve ever met and perhaps the only one who seems incapable of bearing a grudge against anyone or anything (including the illness which took his wife from him almost 30 years ago). The morning after the first US missiles struck Baghdad in 2003, he came over to our house to apologise for being angry with the Americans. "It’s just that seeing the strikes on the news reminded me of those times." There was no need to ask him what he meant by "those times". "The reason I’m for Europe," he said on the eve of the European referendum (about which he had many reservations but for which he nevertheless voted), "is because I do not want my son or his children or anyone to live through those times again. Not here, ever."
The cherry tree in Monsieur Moreau’s garden has blossomed beautifully this year and the young cherries have formed, green and as hard as the stones inside them. When they ripen, as they soon shall, Monsieur Moreau will station himself in a white plastic armchair in the shade of the tree. He will be wearing his khaki gear and will be holding his shotgun at the ready, and any thrush hardy or hungry enough to venture near it will get, as he puts it with relish, "a taste of lead".
Papi Pierrot, who is half if not three-quarters deaf, will be too far off to notice. He will potter around between the spring onions and lettuce of his potager, his neatly laid-out kitchen garden, which he shares with a trio of cats and a large brown rabbit that escaped from its hutch a couple of weeks ago. Papi Pierrot, who speaks to the creature in patois, claims it is impossible to catch it, but I suspect that he hasn’t the heart to force it back into captivity.

© Michael Taylor, first published in French News, May 2007

Monday, May 14, 2007

"rhododendrons just like your dresses"

I love rhododendrons. Gladioli I can't quite cope with in the big loud flower stakes, but rhodos need make no apologies for themselves. They come in so many vivid colours, the more clashing the better, and they really do look like they're made of some wondrous tissue stuff. These purple ones though, seem to be the prototype, how they revert when they naturalise ( and yes, I know they're a menace when they do that, acidifying the soil etc).
Azaleas are pretty good too, especially the yellow ones that have a perfume like ylang-ylang.
Thanks to Tall Girl for the title. Ekphrasis makes the heart grow fonder.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


In fact, I didn't have the camera all that much of the time down in Morbihan. As I said, it is shared property, but Tom relinquishes it to me most of the time, so it seems appropriate to for him to use it more on holiday. Anyway he likes taking pictures of boats and scenery, which I don't especially, so I tend to relax and occupy myself with Mol and the simple experience of being away, taking in an unfamiliar scene; stopping to take pictures can be a distraction, an encumbrance.

However, I did get my hands on it the day we went to Quiberon.
Funny how when you go somewhere, the temptation is always to compare it with somewhere else, to make sense of it in terms of what you know already. Driving down the long spine of causeway into the Presqu'ile, it reminded me of the Isle of Portland ( folk from Portland must have been great travellers and settlers, there seem to be places called Portland all over the English-speaking world), not least because of the great fearsome prison building that lours over the causeway. I wonder if the inmates can see the beach below, and the free and cheerful wetsuited young men who splash about there on sailboards, added salt to the wound of their captivity if they can... The prison's aspect clearly doesn't discourage holidaymakers; in the summer the population of the peninsular can increase sevenfold. Then further on through the long ribbon of settlements, one of us observed that it really is remarkably like the scruffier parts of Torquay. We were unimpressed, despite the lure of the sardine-canning factory, a much heralded tourist attraction.

But then we reached the very tip of the land, and at last here was a place with rocks and shapes and colours.
Where other creatures make their homes.
It was rather wild and windy, so we went for a bracing walk before eating our sandwiches, which, in view of the epicurean indulgences of the fruits of the sea we'd been having, were rather plain and simple, and washed down with fizzy water.
On the return journey, we made our way up the west coast of the peninsular, which is as fierce and lonely as you could wish it to be; you won't find many beach huts here!
And Molly and Tom agreed, Quiberon is a rather good place, to sit on a rock, and look out to sea, with your fur all blown the wrong way.