'Not the yellow Provencal August of the English imagination...'
I picked up my copy of 'The sea, The sea' to check that quotation, which I'm ever fond of citing at this time of year, and was struck so much with the beauty of the language and whole passages I had no recollection of reading before that I thought I really should read this again. Only the characters, and what they get up to, are so weirdly repulsive I'm not sure I want to spend the time with them. On reflection most of Iris Murdoch's characters are weirdly repulsive really, I suppose. Then again there's the sea monster and cousin James who would certainly bear a second look. Somebody once told me they found her books fascinating because they reminded them of people and their interactions they knew in their own life, but I'm very happy to say they don't do that for me. 'The land of Iris Murdoch' a newspaper critic also said 'which is like no other but Prospero's'; which is rather more like it, I think, and heavy on the Caliban.
However, looking out on this chilly wet and blowy day through the the back lean-to, where the canvas and wood deckchairs are somewhat wistfully parked, opened and empty, in the dwindling hope of being pulled out onto the terrace at a moment's notice if the sun should shine, glad of a shawl over my bare feet and a hot cup of coffee, watching the swallows, in their urgent late season feeding, blown about the skies like rooks, it seem to me that the amalanchier tree, its soft round open foliage turning early towards shades of apricot and flame and olive, does have a quite Provencal look to it. Even the birches have the odd fleck of gold in them.
My yoga buddies have cried off, pleading visits and visitors. I like cancelled commitments sometimes, a small sum of time for oneself refunded. I caught a window of dry weather to paint the door yesterday, and though I'm minding less and less the idea of going through teaching stuff and ordering a new coursebook or two for next year, I'm not feeling like doing it yet. We entertained the idea of a trip to Dinan to see the Doisneau exhibition, but we went to bed and got up too late, and didn't fancy driving there in the rain. It's on till the end of September anyway.
What I do fancy doing is taking a walk to the mirabelle trees, since the windy weather should have dropped plenty of the little traffic-light-coloured plums on the floor for the gathering. I'd make them into chutney, a new version using some chopped dried figs I found cheap somewhere. They're good in jam, of course, but in fact we eat little jam, and the last batch from a couple of years back we're only just finishing. Preserving is good, a happy balance between self-indulgence and a sense of industry, pulling out stones and sniffing up the smells of vinegar and sugar and spices while the radio or a talking book chatter away peaceably. I'd take some photos and write a post and offer it up to the Festival of the Trees, that's the idea, anyway, but it's raining, so we can't get out.
So, here I am, thumb-twiddling again, an activity to which I'm seldom averse, truth to tell. So perhaps it's time to show you some bugs.
Some years we get swallowtail butterflies. One year we grew carrots and parsley, and we had swallowtail caterpillars on them. We noticed they were disappearing overnight, something was eating them, so we rescued the last handful and kept them in a bottle garden, where we planted carrot tops for them to feed on. Some of them pupated, winter froze them solid but a couple emerged the following year. We watched and watched but still missed the actual moment they broke from the skin of the chrysalis. We photographed them but it was in pre-digital days, and I've yet to find the prints and scan them. I tell many people this story.
This year, though butterflies in general seem down in numbers, we've had quite a few flying visits. I can tell a swallowtail from any other butterfly from some way off by its size and manner of flight, I saw this one from the kitchen window, grabbed the camera, ran outside, it posed for one shot and then was gone. They're like that.
My brother and sister-i-l and my niece went down south in May, and reported extra-special swallowtails. My niece took these and they e-mailed them to me, so the resolution's a bit low - because they are sensible people who shrink their photos before sending them (WHY DOESN'T EVERYONE DO THIS?! It's very simple, makes them easier to view and saves everyone's time...this is one of my personal bugbears).
These two above, my niece's photos not mine, are in fact another species, another genus in fact, called scarce swallowtails. Where they saw them, in south-west France, they are not unduly scarce, but they are called scarce in English because in England they are.
Finally, a few of damselflies. I don't know if I just happen to have been to rather a lot of places where damselflies hang out, but it seems to have been quite a year for these delightful creatures, which I think perhaps are my favourite insects.
Something that is often noticeable when one photographs them, even at some distance with the zoom and haphazardly, is that when the photo appears they are quite evidently looking straight at the camera, clocking you clocking them, lens to lens.
That is unless they're busy doing something else ( I know you've seen these two before, but that was from the other side).
Other particularly frequent and less welcome insects hereabouts this year have been hornets. Not the malevolent, aggressive, invading Asian ones which murder bees, fortunately, but the standard ones, the big buggers, which we see occasionally most years. The odd thing is we didn't see them at all earlier in the summer, and we don't see them during the day, but late at night, usually when we turn the outside light on to take Molly out for her last perambulation, suddenly there's a couple of them beating at the light and then at the glass door. From my limited researches, they may be the young ones emerging from a nest somewhere on their mating flights. The males do the business and die off, the females then hibernate and come out in the spring to found new dynasties. I'm afraid to say they tend to get swatted, since we have no wish to share our living space with them, thank you. Deep greens, pace. I've no photos of them since I don't hang about to take their portraits, but there are plenty on Google Images of people with them crawling over their hands, just to show what cowardly anti-environmentalists we are not wanting to be their friends.
Well now, still raining, so I'll just have to find something useful to do indoors.