Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The last day of November

The last day of daily posting, I've kept at it, though somewhat tersely some days, and now a satisfying number of photos can perhaps be shunted off to the external drive, and some old notebooks can also perhaps be stowed away, having yielded anything they're likely to.  And I can get on with making the Christmas cards.  Thanks for stopping by.

December, Advent, my birthday and the winter solstice and Christmas are all ahead; it's been suddenly, intensely cold, but beautiful with it.  I feel at peace with the season, and myself, just now.

The one below is not an old one, but of the moment.  It is missing an epigraph, but, to include the epigraph, I would need to ask permission, and I don't quite have the nerve to do that, so it'll have to stand alone.

Advent 2010

From blue ground under frost
layers of hedges and hills
the translating gold of beech leaves,

from the white field lying
beside the round stone tower
the lapwings' flight
over striped winter fields,

from the stiff and matted fur
and rigour of grief,  
from joy, ruin and rapture -

peace rises.


Monday, November 29, 2010


Onward and up

Sorry, fresh out of original thought, and time, tonight.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

All thanks to St Antony and St Jude, a mystery, and other bits and pieces

Walking  the approach to Bogard, on Wednesday late afternoon.

There is a poem in these poplar woods, but I haven't found it yet.  The gaunt old hamadryads are guarding it jealously.  Or I'm just not very good at looking for it.

That was the day when I perceived that something was wrong with the zoom and shutter button of the camera; the zoom was slithering about like a car on ice, and the shutter sometimes wasn't shutting.  Damage occasioned, I realised, the day before, when I had to throw a wet and muddy Molly over my shoulder to prevent her from getting into a fight with a neighbourhood German Shepherd dog five times her size.  She was not impressed and struggled and kicked, insisting that she be allowed down to give the young whippersnapper a good hiding and/or, probably and, die in the attempt, showering the camera round my neck with water and mud.

I was annoyed.  The camera is still under guarantee, but the German shepherd should be kept under better control, its owner is an unprepossessing halfwit with whom any kind of rational exchange seems to be impossible, and I would have to make a journey into St Brieuc with the camera and probably be without it for however long it took to service.

I set about looking for the paperwork for it anyway.  Bureau drawers, kitchen pinboard, dear little clip in the shape of a wading bird in the kitchen, shelves by the washing machine, bedside locker drawer, shelving units in my room, ancient cardboard wallet in plastic box upstairs with receipts from twelve years ago when Jean-Paul the mason knocked the holes in our back wall, plus the one from the last emptying of the septic tank - oops, was it really that long ago? - under the telly, behind the bookshelves... everywhere a piece of paper could be, and I found every bit of paperwork for everything we have ever paid for except that one.  I started to cast baleful and accusing glances at He-who-insists-on-throwing-things-out, especially empty cardboard boxes that things came in, while I wring my hands and say  'But if it goes wrong we'll need the box to send it back...'.  He maintained and I knew that he would not just have thrown out the camera box with paperwork in it, to say nothing of instruction manuals on disc and paper, spare cables etc, but in desperate times people are sometimes accused of crimes they haven't committed.

Anyway, I finally found the whole box complete with guarantee, receipts, manuals, cables neatly stowed in the shelving in my room.  Yes, I had already looked there.

But just by way of an experiment, I left the camera in a warm dry place with one of those silica gel packets on top of the zoom-shutter button, and by the following morning, it was functioning completely normally again.  I thought of burying it in rice, as I've heard that works, but I don't think I had enough rice avalaible, and I don't suppose green split peas would be the same.  So, do what they tell you and don't eat the silica gel, you never know when you may need it. 


I ended up cancelling work on Friday, it's really much too early in the season to be having to do this.  I spent some of the morning watching with interest and a gratifying sense of self-justification while other people tried to get their cars around the corner as their wheels spun merrily.   Charmless bulb grower gave up after one attempt, little Remy in his rubber-band-powered, sans-permis, not-so-smart car gave it four tries and finally made it.  The post girl did it OK in her yellow van, but they're made of sterner stuff.  On Saturday morning I ran out to meet her at the fence.

I can't believe I did this.  And I thought I had flat feet.  The yoga must be working.  Ten minutes later these footprints had disappeared.


Tom has just googled himself, for some reason this commonplace act of narcissism is one he has not thought of before.  Our name is not really very common,  I have a namesake on-line in the US, another in Australia, that's all.  He found someone who apparently shared both his first and middle names as well as his surname, listed as a company director (which he never was) in Gloucestershire, where we used to live.  There was a postcode, which he looked up, and it was for the road we used to live on, about sixteen years ago.  Sinister ideas of a supernatural kind about shadow lives and doppelgangers, and rather less supernatural but equally sinister ones about identity theft and false identities, are now causing us some unease.  

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Three images of Morlaix viaduct

- I should have done these yesterday, then it could have been viaduct vendredi...

Friday, November 26, 2010


A stray Chartres poem from last year, which didn't make it then, got tinkered about with plenty but still I'm not sure if it makes it.  But it's Friday night, late in the daily blogging stretch, I'm a bit bog-eyed with snow and long hours and typing e-mails on the tiny computer, and I don't much mind.


from gentle darkened depths
she draws you   mermaid blue
wrack red   blood gout anemone
poppy petals creased transparent
over the limestone white sheet light
the gleam of ringing river water

iris gold hearted fibrils
a tongue speaking clarity
fractured to rainbows
sieved through meshes of meaning
broken from a prism into the seagreen
wings of the announcing angels
flood blue robe blue cobalt soda

and the saffron of haloes


Thursday, November 25, 2010


We shouldn't really be waking up to this at this time of year.

We've not even really had any frost yet; the flowers were still enjoying a last fling,

and the autumn leaves and fruits were still in full swing,

and the hydrangeas were still only mid-purple, their autumn colour, between summer blue and winter brown, as they're really leaves, just posing as flowers, of course.

It's all rather pretty,

but I'd sooner not have to drive out in it tomorrow morning - it's still here tonight.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Woodwork Wednesday

Remembered this time.  These are from my brother's woodshed, its outside structure.  It's made from all sorts of odds and ends of salvaged and rough cut wood,

with nails and bark and wire and other hardware and ironmongery, 

and nature remaining and appearing in the cracks.

And after a bit, things, characters even, start to appear in it, and out of it.

Some of the shapes look rather sinister,

 to speak frankly, some should be censored.

The one below my brother put to one side and nailed up as decoration; she is perhaps some kind of owl goddess...

whereas we wondered if we ought to tell the Vatican about this last one.

Happy Woodwork Wednesday!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Matters to smile about

A hard morning's rising, but tea and  toothpaste, orange juice and toast, coffee and marmite and marmalade, all combine to make the waking world a place where I'm happy to be again. 
The bamboo steamers stood stacked in the middle of the table like some marvellous dream; each time it seemed we emptied them, another layer was removed, revealing yet another filled again with the steamed dumplings. And the smells of plum sauce and honey, star anise and cloves sweetened the house for days.
On the road which passes through the market gardens on the way to St Brieuc, I pull up behind a tractor with a trailer loaded with Brussels sprouts. It makes me think of Christmas.
My friend G, he of the Gallé cat etc, has just opened a Wordpress blog for his paintings, which are glorious coloured abstract landscapes, or at least the two he's posted so far are.  He's being sniffy about blogging and says he probably won''t do much on it, so I reckon that means he has to be chivvied a bit.

(Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lucky girl

Molly's dad bought her a new beanbag all of her own, because she's been poorly.  (And because the old one was so manky she wouldn't get in it any more.) 

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Come. Walk by water
turn things this way and that
around and over, yet
let light glance, dance,
pass through.
Keep calm, carry on.

(For Clémence)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Still my darlings too

We all walked at the watermill.

Mol seems better.  Thanks to HHB for the grass seed suggestion;  I don't think it was that, though.  It's not grass seed time, and  she hasn't been rummaging anyway grassy, more likely something with her mouth I think, but, fingers crossed, it's mending.  Weren't no how anyone was going to get a close look anyway.

Just finishing off a last glass of Gewurztraminer, which went well enough with fresh pineapple, ginger in syrup and coconut ice cream.  Washing up and visitors done and dusted, and so to bed.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A list for the day

  • Molly has a sore head, yelps inexplicably with pain at some moments, is wary of being touched there.  Borrowed time - ten months with no ear trouble - makes us nervous.  Yet she has a cold wet nose, eats with gusto, walks round the plan d'eau very cheerfully, and rubs her face on the ground in her usual 'mad dog'  fashion.  Keep calm, sufficient unto the day...
  • Yoga.  A wobbly new warrior pose.
  • Banana, peanut butter and Nutella toasted sandwich.  I have lost 5 kg since the end of September.
  • Writing a very long e-mail.
  • 'Middlemarch' for the how-manieth time.'Celia could not bear for Mr Casaubon to blink at her.'
  • Trying to answer a question.
  • A low drone, something disconcerting and out of place.  A large wasp wavers across the kitchen, I think it has come out of a log I've put on the fire.  It lands on the cooker hood where with committed violence, I make an end of it with a fly swat.  It is nearly out of the fire and into the frying pan.
  • .A quick Waldorf salad, with the fresh walnuts Marcelle gave me over her fence.  Tom picks them out and leaves a small pile of them on the side of his plate to eat last.
  • Silly Putty has, it seems, become Science Putty.
  • Getting a necessarily short answer to my very long e-mail, but one which is full of the writer's customary cheer and good sense.
  • 'Wycliffe'.  Cornwall looks uncharacteristically pretty, the people seem disturbingly happy, something is very wrong here.  Sure enough, within minutes a dead body is found nailed the the door of their holiday home.  Ah, that's better.  We do like Wycliffe.  They actress who plays Lucy shares a name - both born and given - with my lovely sister, our unmarried name, that is.  She is so watcheable, I can't think why she hasn't been in more things.  She'd be a shoe-in for the role of Maud in AS Byatt's possession, if they were to make a good film out of that.  They did make a film, but I gather it was rubbish. 
  • No wine, peach squash.  I have lost 5 kg since the end of September (yes I know I've already said that). It doesn't show much but I know it's gone. Now if I could get as much off again by Christmas...
  • The work I planned for last time will last two lessons, so no prep needed for tomorrow. Hooray. Still have to get up at six though. 
  • Well, I quite forgot it was Woodwork Wednesday yesterday.  I had some good ones too, but now it will have to wait until next week.  You'll have to have Tropical Fruit Thursday instead, and some Mad Mangoes.  I can do lurid and tacky too, you know.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fun with Zig and Blue...

... who were rather taken with the camera, which sometimes throws a red sensor light onto surfaces, here the floor and my leg, not quite sure why.  Irresistible to cats though..

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Straw ear-rings # 2

There followed some weeks of application of Savlon antiseptic and turning the ear studs night and morning, and a certain amount of inflammation and oozing.  I wonder now if the anaerobic conditions created by the studs, rather than being more hygienic as was claimed, was more likely to provoke this than turning rings would have been. I still don’t know how people can bear piercings in more intimate, sensitive or moist areas.  Sometime after Christmas though, when we could think ahead to being able to wear other earrings, we took a walk along Hemel Old High Street.  

Hemel Hempstead is best known as a post-war new town.  I don’t know what it’s like now, but in my childhood and early youth it was an array of fairly typical and generally unlovely 1950s and 1960s architecture.  It had a somewhat unusual covered pedestrian bridge over the main road, resplendent in citrus yellow fibreglass panelling (on the outside!), which led from one upstairs shopping arcade to another on the other side.  As I say, not really a place of beauty, though as youngsters we liked it.  For the grand opening of the bridge, Batman and Robin came and drove down the high street in the Batmobile, we watched them from above, though I was rather too small to see properly.

But if the New Town represented modernity, with its yellow bridge leading to the Wimpy bar and giving a glimpse of superheroes, there was what seemed like a half-forgotten tranquil fragment of another age just a few hundred yards away in the Old High Street, which always seemed quiet, leafy, almost rural, I remember it as looking something like a set for a film adaptation of Middlemarch or similar.  Unlike my older brothers and sisters I didn’t grow up in the town but a few miles away, and was barely aware of the existence of this quarter of it for a long time, even though one of its tall, white, foursquare and fine Georgian edifices was the House Where Dad Was Born.  It was handsome by then, restored and well-kept, but in truth when my father had been growing up there, it was, I gather, a rather poorer place, crowded with his numerous siblings, sometimes cheerful but more often dogged by the uncertainties and insecurities of poverty and the fragile physical and mental health of his parents.  Grandfather, it was said, was sometimes in trouble for watering the milk and putting sand in the sugar he sold, and he often kept a pig in the back yard, possibly against the by-laws. One of my father's most abidingly horrid recollections of early childhood was having to sit on the pig and hold it down while Grandfather castrated it (I sometimes think Dad had a touch of Jude the Obscure about him...). Grandmother struggled; she fed her large and hungry brood on brawn made from a sheep’s head, and her own fragile spirit with chapel religion.  They both died, broken and insane, long before I was born.

Yet with all the nasty and brutish aspects of its history, there was, as I say, a sense of stepping back into a quaint and gracious pocket of past times, which was affirmed by the presence of the only shop I can remember there, the Basket Shop.  This establishment sold nothing but  items made from wicker, and straw and cane and rattan.  It gave an impression of a world before plastics and machine tools, filled with light structures, fragrant and warm and sepia-toned.  There was every kind of basket, of course, cat baskets and shopping baskets, picnic hampers and fishing baskets, but also some wicker furniture, stools and ottomans, peacock chairs and rockers, and those egg-shaped swinging seats that hang from the ceiling, and also trefoil-shaped long-handled carpet beaters, which I still have a fancy for as objects, even though I would probably never beat a carpet.  And somewhere in a corner was a case of small, exquisite articles also made from straw like tiny corn dollies as jewellery, including ear-rings.  They caught our eye; Az bought a pair for herself and a pair for me.

Ear-rings are funny things.  You don’t always know which ones you’ll take to, which you’ll stay with, or which will stay with you.  They can look beautiful in the shop, indeed be beautiful objects, but they’ll never sit right on you.  They can be finely crafted and formed, but then have some snicky bit that will catch in your hair or scarf or coat collar, or else they have a fragility which causes them to break irreparably .  I have had other pairs which I have loved to wear but they have left me, gone when I took off a jumper, or taken off when they started to chafe of an evening and were put to one side then lost, knocked on the floor or dropped down the sofa or gone with the vacuum cleaner.  Sometimes one is left alone which languishes forever in a box or drawer, because I’ve felt a sense of guilt and responsibility towards it, having by my carelessness lost its partner so I don’t feel I can perform such an act of callous betrayal as throw the survivor away (for a time I thought I might have an extra asymmetrical hole made in one ear to give a home to these waifs and strays, but it didn’t happen...).

I’m more careful now, and I’ve a few pairs that have done well: a quirky little silver sun-in-splendour for the right ear, with a hey-diddle-diddle crescent moon with a profile smile for the left, that I bought from a roguish and very talented silversmith in a Somerset village twenty years ago; a pair of irridescent glass pebbles coloured like oil plumes with pewter rims which Tom gave me when we were first together; and the small amethyst teardrops she-who-calls-herself-Firebird sent me for my fortieth birthday, nearly nine years ago now. I love all of these and wear them frequently.  But the tiny straw corn-dollies from the Basket Shop are the longest-lived of all, the very first ear-rings I owned after the studs.  They are light as feathers, of course, and never drag on my ears.  Being organic material,  they have deepened agreeably in colour, and they go with any bead necklace or pendant - wood, ceramic, shell, glass,and with any clothing.  I fell back on them so often, and really didn’t give them much thought, or where they came from.

Now though, I’m afraid to wear them.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Straw ear-rings # 1

This was a piece I started writing a while back, and though it's about finished, it's getting rather long and digressive, so I think I'll make it into two parts.  Daily posting is demanding enough of you I think, without long meandering memoirs to read all at once.  Though I'm really very touched and pleasantly surprised when every morning I come down thinking 'Surely there won't be anything this time...' and find a clutch of comments on the night before's offering, even though with posting here more often, work and a plan for a Qarrtsiluni submission which is taking me some way out of my comfort zone (sorry, cliché alert but I can't think of a better expression) and exercising me quite a bit, I'm not getting round to all of you as much as your deserve.

Blogging's like putting out lobster pots, I often think!  (Not that I've ever done that...)

By coincidence, the Nablo people earlier put up a prompt suggesting one write about a piece of jewellery and its associations, but I had already started to write about the straw ear-rings.


Straw earrings

There were only a few girls at school, mostly, I recall, those from the few black or Asian families, who wore small gold rings in their ears before their teenage years.  Other piercings were truly unheard of; the first nose studs began appearing about the time I went to university.  My friends and I would linger after school or on Saturday mornings looking in the windows of the jewellers on the corner of Lower Kings Road, whose name I now forget, not at the expensive and glittery dangling or jewelled ear-rings, but at the tiny studs with their discreet motifs of horseshoes and anchors, flowers and cats and, most wished for of all by me, a pair of miniature owls.  Could we wear them as keepers, we wondered, would they be allowed?  They would need to be gold for hygiene’s sake, we knew, though we hankered for silver.

No one in my immediate family had pierced ears.  I have a vague memory that my grandmother might have done, a vestige of  Edwardian femininity, luxurious and exotic as Brighton Pavilion and the Masonic ladies’ nights she went to  with my grandfather there, as remote as corsets and long hair swept up in tortoiseshell combs.  Between that and my girlhood lay two world wars and a depression, art deco, girl guides and girls on bicycles, the missing young men and the surplus women of my mother’s youth, utility and rationing, my five siblings and finally the 1960s, that decade of bold, bright and chunky clip-on experimentation.  Now though, tomboy from a no-frills tradition that I was,  I wanted real - that is pierced - ear-rings.

My sister Az, nine years my elder, was also looking at ear rings, and a lot more besides, and doubtless rather further and wider afield than the corner jewellers.  She would take me with her, she said, to Watford, to a proper place, for my 14th birthday, and we would have our ears pierced together.  I can’t really remember what kind of place this had to be 35 years ago - an optician’s comes to mind, or perhaps just a registered jeweller.  Whatever, we had a good afternoon window shopping in the town beforehand, then as the December evening fell, and the shop windows and street lights bloomed and glowed, we made our way up some stairs to a warm carpeted room somewhere.  Az had hers done first, then the bespectacled elderly man sprayed my earlobes with something cold before applying the piercing tool - like a light pair of pincers with a sharp point bent at a right angle on one part and a round bit on the other. This was in the days before the high speed guns which fired the studs directly into your ears.  I heard more than felt the metal go through the flesh, a slight, mildly sickening squelch.  

I have always been a pathological, spineless, squeamish wimp.  Honestly, it’s not the pain, it’s the thought (or in this case the sound).  Once when I was about six ( stop me if I’ve told you this before...)  I vomited in the doctor’s surgery merely because Az was having an injection.  Knowing what I was like, my mother shoved me behind her so I wouldn’t have to see, but it was too late, my imagination had done its worst.  The doctor, a rather severe woman, was unimpressed.  

‘When my children are sick ’ she harrumphed ‘I make them clear it up themselves.  That soon stops them.’

With a lot of work and willed detachment, I have got a little better; I was even complimented a few years ago by a dentist on how calm and collected I was about injections.  Even so, when I have a blood test I have to hope I can just make it to the car or back to bed before embarrassing myself and fainting.  Living in the UK during the years of BSE, mad cow disease, has spared me the humiliation of giving blood here - I have volunteered, truly.   It’s often a delayed reaction; on this occasion, I got down the stairs and into the street with adequate face saving bravado.

‘Come on,’ said Az ‘I’ll buy you a cake.’

We headed for the the warm, bright sweet-smelling space of the nearest baker’s, where I sunk down against the back wall of the shop in a woozy whirl with a black centre.  I can still remember biting into the fried sugary crust of the doughnut, and how it restored me to myself.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Soup anyone?

Tom found this while he was demolishing the front viburnam hedge. He carefully removed the whole stem and branches around it intact, and planted it in the lemon geranium bed for a photo call.  It probably belonged to a blackbird.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Rosy-fingered dawn

From not so long ago, about the 21st October.  There are still a lot of flowers, no frost yet, but so much of the lovely autumn colour is being washed away by the rain.