Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Yellow water lily


June sun turns the risen yellow globe
to lost wax, the curling tongues of leaves
to rotten lace into the overlapping water.
The proud, bossed chalice falls
back on itself, spends its melted-down
gold, lays bare a wholly different vessel:
a calabash of rough and solid green.

Monday, June 27, 2011


Pink oriental, just opening, looks like Fortuny silk (link is to some gorgeous photos of a Fortuny gown on a Flickr photostream, with thanks to Atelier Sol).

If I never get to see Venice and die, I think perhaps the Fortuny museum might be one of the things I shall most regret not seeing.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Some things from the garden in May

Going back through the stuff salvaged from the old computer.  Can't seem to find the photos from Winchester cathedral, must be somewhere.

But this is a Winchester cathedral rose anyway.

Blue geranium and red wallflower, the latter now over, the geraniums still going, as they do.  I like them very much and so do the pollinating insects.

Those big loud yellow flowers again, whose name I still haven't established.  They behave oddly like dandelions in their habits of flowering and seeding.  French lavender in the background, whose flowerheads have since died off, but a second lot seemed to be waiting, so I've snipped all the old ones off to give them some encouragement.  We've not grown the French lavender before.  I can't quite get sorted out between French lavender, spike lavender, lavandin, or whatever.  I've always thought of this one with the tall flowers with the long bunny-rabbit ears of a more reddish purple and the rather turpentiny scent as French lavender anyway.  Googling didn't make anything clearer, but if you want a feast for the eyes, just enter 'lavender' into a Google image search.  There, I've done it for you.  Which led me incidentally to discover that you can now drop an image of your own into the search box, and it will find you 'visually similar images'.  I did it with the above pic and got lots of pictures of stage acts with wacky lighting.  Very strange.

Oriental poppies, growing under some dogwood bushes which threaten to swamp them, but which make for some interesting light and shade effects and whose variegated leaves do set the red off nicely.  There were pink ones too, but I made a collage with those which I'll put up another time.

These are also now over, the annual self-seeded, double-petaled, opium-type (how's that for a row of compound adjectives?) cultivars are just beginning now.

Allium.  Not quite sure that I took this in our garden, as I can't think how I'd have managed to get the white background, but if not then where they were escapes me, we had them here too.

 And a red red rose.  When I was a kid there was a box of greetings cards in the sideboard drawer called 'The Rose Bowl', with photos, self-evidently, of bunches of brightly lit, blowsy, typical roses, in china vases or silver rose bowls.  For some reason  I hated these cards, they seemed insipid and pointless, I liked naturalistic pictures of horses and elephants and lions and such like, later perhaps I cared for landscapes.  I liked real flesh-and-blood roses, loved their scents and colours, and one year when I was about ten made a cordial from the petals of the Elizabeth rose by the drive, I don't know where I got that idea from, had no recipe, I think I just thought the perfume was so delectable one ought to be able to eat or drink it, which is a principle I've been working on ever since.  But pictures of flowers, especially photos, left me cold or worse. Now I do enjoy photos of flowers, taking and looking at them, and try to do it in such a way that might offer some drama or surprise.  But a small part of me thinks it's a bit of a cop out, somewhat bland and simpering, that I shouldn't just be fobbing my camera and blog off with gifts of flowers.

Still, I expect I'll get over myself.

Friday, June 24, 2011


... is a serious business.  For dogs and their carers.

'Can you please pass me:

my three sudoko books
my pen and pencil
my reading and distance glasses
the TV remote
a fruit sweet.

I've got the dog on me.  She's so comfortable, and she's poorly.'

'Yup.  Here's the Tippex too.'

'Watch it, cheeky bugger.'

[ Tippex - whiting-out fluid. Some people will not admit to making errors where Sudoku are concerned.]

This was several days ago, dog is actually very much better, very bumptious and moving normally, but still restricted by big yellow bucket on head around the house, which she enjoys bruising our legs with.  Emy is quite sure she can take the stitches out next week without the use of anaesthetic, to which proposal I expressed some doubt, this is Molly we're talking about, but if she can so much the better.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Dale pointed the way to Kathleen, and this.

Kathleen writes, poetry and other things, on her blog to a very high level, very often, and seems to do a lot more besides.  Something I like is that she, like many, picks up Rilke's exhortation :You must change your life, and adds to it 'so that's what I keep doing', which is salutary.  Epiphanies, enlightenments, revelations, lights on the road to Damascus, we can be in danger of hoping they'll happen and that'll be that, we'll be changed and fixed for good and all and never have to do it again.  Which can lead to disappointment, not least when no archaic torsos of Apollo seem to speak quite like that to you.  But changing is becoming, and you have to keep doing it.

Also on her blog was this. We all Google ourselves, now don't we? ( Or rather we Google our names, there is an ontological difference, I guess) But Kathleen's I Googled Myself prompted me to steal her idea and go into it a little further.  As she found, it's ends up being quite a memento mori exercise.  I heard somewhere that the dead no longer outnumber the living on the earth (which is fairly mind-boggling if true), but they still seem to on the internet, with the plethora of genealogy and related sites.

It's kind of variation on found poetry, I suppose.  I like found poetry; it has something of the same appeal as land art and theatre of objects, of using what's there already and just arranging and presenting it in a new and interesting way, or decontextualising things so that they surprise us afresh.  Perhaps it's in a spirit of reuse and recycle, a sense that already we have so much, too much, we don't need to clutter up the world making new things, but just play and make with what we have already, then let it wash away with the tide.  Only of course that's what  we do with language anyway.

It could become a meme, but nobody does memes these days, which  I can't say I'm all that sorry about. I'm not sure I've got the blogging motivation for them any more, and they were sometimes a bit of a drag, and it always irked me a little that meme was a misnomer in the context, as well as being a concept of dubious scientific validity in the first place, from which the originator has, I gather, somewhat distanced himself.  Furthermore I was never quite sure how to say the word.  Mind you,being tagged in memes (which I did to others plenty of times) wasn't as irritating as those little awards you were supposed to cluttter up your sidebar with and pass on ...

I am turning into a grumpy old blogger.  Here's my version of I Googled Myself.


I am not a school librarian in Illinois
(though if I were, I'd have been proud, to win that prize
for the medieval narrative project...)
I am not 93 years old and living in New Mexico.
I am not 20 years old in Arizona either,
nor am I really called Lucille,
though sometimes people heareabouts assume I am.
I don't live anywhere near Beverly Hills, and anyway
it isn't Compton with a C but Kempton with a K.

I am not and never was nor do I want to be
on Facebook, thank you.

The one in Cornwall is about my age
and lived with one man then two women,
(according to the electoral roll)
I wonder what's the story there,
and if the mining and construction company
in Brisbane, who employs the other as PA,
and also as the TMS controller (whatever that may be...)
has any links with Moly mines?

(The librarian, it seems, has not yet tweeted...)

I was not born in 1829,
I did not have a son on Christmas Day in 1830
who died, in infancy, on date unknown.

Mylife is happy to assist you on the quest...

(The libriaran does not do well in students' ratings, sad to say
but then only ten out of nearly two thousand kids turned up to vote,
and they were probably the ones she kicked out of the library for some good reason.
I wouldn't pay much heed to that if I were you, librarian!
Which, of course, I'm not...)

I am not a restaurant with a saucy name, at a race track in South Africa,
I am not a race track anywhere, in fact, although I sometimes say 'as in'
to help with spelling on the phone (this only works in English...)

I am not a member of Find a Grave but still I got distracted
browsing the yearly necrologies and posthumous reunions, 
and strolling through the online cemetery.

I did not die in 1866.
I did not die in 1910,
I did not die in Wellington, New Zealand in 1931
beloved wife to Walter...

Find everything you need to know...
... if you have any information please e-mail...
... 13 birth records...
... join for just $12.95...
... 1 marriage  record...
... has not joined any groups...
... 14 divorce records...
... full names, including maiden...
... 5 death records....
... wagon wheels carry me home.

Nearly a million and a half results, in point one seven of a second.

Everything you need to know...

(...Not gone from memory not gone from love but gone
to the heavenly home above...)

Everything you need to know
everything you need
everything ...


 (Moly mines is a company in Australia.  Somehow or other people searching for it sometime fetch up on my Out with Mol blog, along with some who are looking for Malaysia On-line...) 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A dose of funnies

Every now and then someone, usually my sister-in-law and she it was this time, e-mails me some irresistible funnies.  These were, allegedly, sentences exactly as typed by medical secretaries in NHS Greater Glasgow, but probably weren't really.   I think 18 might be my favourite, or perhaps 24.

1. The patient has no previous history of suicide.

2. Patient has left her white blood cells at another hospital.

3. Patient's medical history has been remarkably insignificant with
only a 40 pound weight gain in the past three days.

4. She has no rigors or shaking chills, but her husband states she was
very hot in bed last night.

5. Patient has chest pain if she lies on her left side for over a

6. On the second day the knee was better and on the third day it

7. The patient is tearful and crying constantly. She also appears to
be depressed.

8. The patient has been depressed since she began seeing me in 1993.

9. Discharge status: Alive, but without my permission.

10. Healthy appearing decrepit 69-year old male, mentally alert, but

11. Patient had waffles for breakfast and anorexia for lunch.

12. She is numb from her toes down.

13. While in ER, she was examined, x-rated and sent home.

14. The skin was moist and dry.

15. Occasional, constant infrequent headaches.

16. Patient was alert and unresponsive..

17. Rectal examination revealed a normal size thyroid.

18. She stated that she had been constipated for most of her life
until she got a divorce.

19. Both breasts are equal and reactive to light and accommodation.

20. Examination of genitalia reveals that he is circus sized.

21. The lab test indicated abnormal lover function.

22. Skin: somewhat pale, but present.

23. The pelvic exam will be done later on the floor.

24. Large brown stool ambulating in the hall.

25. Patient has two teenage children, but no other abnormalities.

26. When she fainted, her eyes rolled around the room.

27. The patient was in his usual state of good health until his
airplane ran out of fuel and crashed.

28. Between you and me, we ought to be able to get this lady

29. She slipped on the ice and apparently her legs went in separate
directions in early December.

30. Patient was seen in consultation by Dr. Smith, who felt we should
sit on the abdomen and I agree.

31. The patient was to have a bowel resection. However, he took a job
as a stock broker instead.

32. By the time he was admitted, his rapid heart had stopped, and he
was feeling better.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Mol would like to thank her public, the stats dream is over, bubbles and hoverflies.

Mol would like to thank her public for all their good wishes and sympathy.

She has improved quite literally by leaps and bounds in 24 hours, as Emy the vet predicted but as it was hard to believe yesterday when she was sore and woozy and wobbly, though she clattered upstairs to bed energetically enough.  She had a good night's sleep, woke us with a racket as she scooted, bucket and  all, under the bed and out the other side at about 6 am, clattered down the stairs for a pee and then clattered up them again to insist on joining us on the bed for a lie-in, which after the long and gruelling day yesterday we all appreciated.

The bucket is irksome, as it really is a very big one, bigger than was required for her ears since she can't be allowed to get anywhere near the stitches, and she's worked out how she can get to her back paws even so.  She's still amazingly good about it, and after a trip in the car and a short walk in the arboretum this morning, she was allowed to be free of it for a trot down the road this evening, which she enjoyed.  The scar looks a bit alarming and long, Emy took out the neighbouring lymph glands to be on the safe side, but running the length of her body rather than across it, it's not as troublesome as it might be. She really is running and jumping again already, and doesn't seem to be in any pain, just sometimes uncomfortable when she's sitting around, but that might be the bucket, or thirst - she needs to drink a lot, but doesn't always realise that's what she needs - or her insides settling down again.  She's on painkillers and antibiotics, and the stitches out in a fortnight.   She's eating like a horse and I'm quite sure she's enjoying barging the back of our legs with the bucket for attention.  She sometimes needs to flop and sleep in a cool quiet dark place after a burst of being up and about and up for anything.

She had a small drip bandage on her front leg which Emy said we could take off any time, but Mol wouldn't tolerate me getting anywhere near it - she never trusts me around her paws.  This evening she snuggled up next to Tom on the sofa as is her wont, and later when I came by, he held out the bandage, which he had quietly worked off without a murmur from her.

Submitting an animal for surgery is a difficult thing to do.  You can't explain to them why it's happening and what the alternatives are, they can't explain to you how they're feeling.  You have to abandon them for the duration.  We said we wouldn't put her through anything like that again, but when it came to it this seemed like the better choice, and seeing how bravely she's coping with it and how well she's recovering, and how ready she is for a good few years more life, we're confident, fingers crossed, that we've done the right thing.


Stats are back to normal, a star is not born in me, nor in you, if you're on Blogger and were getting delusions of grandeur.  They finally explained that it was indeed some blogroll widget erroneously registering as pageviews.  The moral is, as we keep saying, do it for the love of it and for your real friends, not for the stats.


We like the new computer.  We like Windows 7.  We especially like a new screensaver which comes with it which generates a random image of translucent bubbles which bounce around and off each other and change colour, and simply overlay rather than replacing the display below.


Now for some hoverflies.  The small-, purple-flowered* container plant whose name I have forgotten again seems to be a hoverfly magnet, it is alive with scores of them all the time when it's dry.  Hoverflies are wonder-insects, they pollinate everything, their larvae eat baddies like aphids, they look cute, they don't sting and they don't live in the stonework of your house.  So the more the merrier, I reckon.

* that's a German punctuational trick, that repeated hyphen for two compound words with the same second element, it doesn't really exist in English but it should, so I use it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Philadelphus (top left, bottom right) is perhaps my favourite shrub, or even flower.  The ferns I'd photographed before when they were just fiddle heads, but I never got around to posting the pictures, now they're all unfurled. The pond and its water lilies never cease to beguile.  This year I have seen huge water beetles, including a mating pair, and small ones, tadpoles of course, and newts, and many damsel flies laying eggs, and also the strange ghostly empty shells of their nymphs which have crawled out, hatched and flown. We still haven't finished the small 'secret' garden, where all these things are, but the pond  has matured and is home to many things, and I can spend ages kneeling on the warm slabs beside it watching the life of it going on beneath.  The philadelphus is in the same corner as a rampant patch of sweet cicely, so with the combination of anise and bubble gum perfumes it smells like a sweet shop.

The new big laptop computer arrived very quickly from the UK.  I started setting it up and was frustrated that it simply wouldn't connect to the wi-fi.  It kept telling me to turn it on with a switch or a function key, and I could find neither.  I'd not had this difficulty with any other machine.  I contacted the supplier, who said try another function key - I'd tried them all - then told me to contact the manufacturer's tech support.  Their UK line was permanently engaged but I got the French one, who said use an ethernet cable you should have one with the Livebox...

I didn't have one so I rang the worthy and ever patient James, everybody's favourite computer doctor from down the road, who arrived bearing said cable, went through all the business but still no connection, picked up the computer and pointed out a very small switch with a wireless symbol on it on the front, which in my numbskullness I had completely failed to see.  Prat.

James said he's seen worse, like the woman in Loudeac who kicked her computer in a fit of pique, sent him to fetch all manner of gubbins from St Brieuc in the other direction to repair it, only for him to find that her coup de pied had accidentally turned it off, and all that was required was to turn it back on again.  He'd only accept a bottle of brown beer from the micro-brewery from us for his trouble.

Which has kind of served a little to distract from the main worry of the moment.  When Mol went for her haircut last week the groomer noticed a lump which she said was probably a mammary tumour, and advised getting Emy the vet to look at it.  We went yesterday, and Emy said best have it out now; it's a simple operation which done now will probably mean she will live to her normal span, whereas to leave it would be a risk, even if it isn't malignant.  Emy does these ops routinely, it's a common problem with bitches of a certain age, and she says people are usually surprised how quickly and well their dogs recover, it's nothing like as difficult and painful as the ear surgery of a few years ago. Mol's heart is strong and good, she said, which we could have told her, of course.

She'll have to wear a bucket on her head again for a couple of weeks, to stop her getting at the stitches.  At least the weather's not hot, she's cool and clean with her new haircut, and we don't have much in the way of other commitments for a couple of weeks now.

Even so, for all this looking on the bright side, it's a worry. We aren't looking forward to tomorrow, when she's going in, and we'll be glad when it's over.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Something odd, and a rainy day in the herb garden.

Something odd is happening with my blog stats.

When Blogger foisted stats on me, and everyone else, a year or so ago, after I had long and resolutely refused to have any thing to do with them, I had determined I was not going to be a stats whinger.  At that time, I was getting about a hundred hits a day, increasing a bit from time to time, like during Nablopomo, so it varied from a bit over three to a bit over three and a half thousand a month.  I've no idea, and only very limited interest, honestly, if this is good, bad or indifferent, but anyway.  Over the last few months, there has been a general decline to an all time low last month in May of about two and a half thousand.

Since a lot of people seem to have been bemoaning low stats of recent times, and knowing that people were reading on feed readers or deserting old-fashioned blogs like this one in any case, I just assumed this was how it was going to be.  Though comments were down a bit too, I know that plenty of old friends and new are still around, and that's the main thing, and I am aware I'm not quite as assiduous a blog visitor myself as I might be.  There were certain posts which continued to get more views than others, notably my brother's guest post on Cats, which persistently got twice as many as anything else - I even added a PS to that one asking where everyone was coming from, but with no result; surely people don't just feed the word 'Cats' into Google and read all of the nearly half a billion (yes, I've tried it...) results that come up? Other perennials are the post about how to tell sweet chestnuts from the inedible ones ( I like to think I might have prevented a few cases of indigestion there, so serving humanity in my own small way...), and the collage of the North Porch of Chartres complete with numbered key, which was rather Look-and-Learn-ish but I was quite proud of it.  Other occasional hits were the couple of posts, one of which was only in the a comments thread, wherein was provoked a discussion about Nutch, a now defunct and, I gather, fairly disgusting chocolate spread product of near mythical renown which I personally have never tasted, but the only information about which seems to be on this blog.  Anonymous readers on Google searches are sometimes kind enough to leave comments on this one.  I've always done quite well out of image searches.

I digress ( but what's new?).  Accepting my place in an evolutionary blind alley in internet terms, I regarded my dwindling blog figures philosophically.  Then, about a week ago, Box Elder's stats shot up from an average of perhaps 70 a day to well over 200, getting on for a threefold increase.  What's more, they've stayed there, and gone up some more.  All kinds of posts from the archives which I'd forgotten about have been looked up,   And not only this blog, but Out with Mol, which was lucky to get into double figures most days, particularly when I neglected it as I frequently did, started notching up fifty plus, and even Compasses/Questions, the ball of which has been sitting dead on the ground in my court for a month or more, has started looking quite perky on the visitors front.

(No, I'm not putting self-promoting links in, the stuff's on the sidebar somewhere...)

So what's going on?  Have I become famous and nobody's told me?  While I shall lap up any compliments anyone cares to leave to the effect that I thoroughly deserve this recognition and a book deal is surely round the corner, frankly it seems to me inexplicable (and I don't actually imagine stats of 200 odd a day warrant a book deal, in fact, it hasn't gone to my head that I'm that deluded...).  I have been posting frequently but frankly unremarkably.  I have rather felt of late, in fact, that I have been treating this blog rather like a sidelined spouse or parent, fobbing it off with  gifts of flowers and postcards from holidays but not really sharing anything very important with it.  Perhaps it's actually happier with that arrangement, of course...

(Which raises the question of what exactly is the persona of a blog, its writer or its readers, or some other entity created by the connection between the two?)

Blogger's stats recording is fairly rudimentary, but the traffic sources don't indicate anything special; referring sites are mostly those of regulars and friends as ever, and though the traffic is up from all of them it doesn't account for all of the rise.  Search keywords give no clues either, and the geographical audience is much as ever: USA, followed by the UK then France, and all the others in double figures only (come on you Aussies, let's be having yer!).  I don't get that many from India (probably accounted for by Anil and my cool new mate JP), the few from Malaysia are probably Hliza and friends, and none registered from China.  Those funny Ukrainian boys and girls who I'm not sure if they want to sell me something are still hanging around but they don't worry me.  Neiither followers nor commenters have increased significantly.

So where are they, you, coming from?  Has blogging become so old hat as to be now charmingly retro and undergoing a revival of interest?  Has anyone else noted similarly elevated levels of traffic?

Never mind, it's probably a flash in the pan. Whatever, it's having the positive effect that I'm thinking I ought to be lavishing a bit more attention on all my blogs, (I might even have something to say about kites and swallows soon...), and I've even gone so far as to edit one or two of the older posts that were being looked at a bit.

The downside is, I appear to have become what I vowed not to be, a complete stats bore.
Enough.  Here are some pictures of the herb garden, an assortment of containers on the terrace, in the long-awaited rainy weather.  Mostly the bronze fennel plant, which I love as a plant, though I don't use fennel much in cooking, and don't really care for the bulb vegetable at all.  Anise flavours seem to me a very French taste; we Brits like ginger, and vive la difference!  However, I may pluck a discreet few fronds for a potato salad with pickled herring tonight.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Elder still

It's that time of year again.

Added some rose petals to the brew this year, as an experiment.  Smelling good already.

( Elderflower cordial recipe included in this post ).

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Evening primroses

What do they have
to teach me of grasping and letting go?

(Vespertine, Luisa A. Igloria at Via Negativa )

I happened on Luisa's poem and the patch of evening primroses, still up and about, on the same morning.  So glad I did. Timely and beautiful.  I am continually astounded by the the glorious Luisa's wonderful work at Via Negativa, such a delicate and generous profligacy.  I want a book of it.  Please.

Our main big laptop computer died suddenly and without warning a couple of days ago, carrying quite a few photographs, and rather more important things on Tom's side.  However, the Erwanns and Erwannettes of Gigahertz,  while not able to save the machine itself, or not least not at any worthwhile cost, were able to shunt everything on it onto the external hard drive where it is sitting until its replacement arrives, presumably some time next week. So, although I could access the other photos,  at the moment I'm just working with recently taken stuff directly off the SD card in the card reader of the notebook, which is really rather refreshing.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Being appreciative in the south of England 3: Genostine

" Genostine is buried in the cathedral of Winchester," my students asserted.

They are a knowledgeable lot, and I could only assume that Genostine was a mediaeval saint or similar of whom I was ignorant. The stress was on the last long syllable, rather as Dylan pronounces St Augusteen in the song wherein he says he dreamed he saw him (alive as you or me).


But my evident perplexity did not satisfy them.

''Yes!  It was in the text you gave us about her...''

The penny dropped, ''Oh!  Jane Austen.''

Call it a story against myself, as it doesn't say much about my drilling of their pronunciation, I suppose.

Jane Austen's relics were one of the expressly desired objects of this journey, which surprised and pleased me, as I didn't know she'd been taken up with such enthusiasm hereabouts.  She is indeed buried in Winchester Cathedral.  Which was another object of my appreciation.

I contacted their 'groups manager', who's called Michael.  Yes, they could do a French guided tour, no, no deposit needed, just turn up... The guides and admissions staff at the Cathedral appear to be retired angels, some with northern accents, silver-haired and clad in very smart raiment, and they seem to radiate modest and gracious joy in their task, whether showing around a group of French people of a certain age, or excitable schoolchildren, or anyone else.  Our French speaker, whose name unfortunately has eluded me, gently marshalled my lot together and took charge, here they are being good as gold for him,

and here they are doing homage at the tomb of Genostine herself, as I'm afraid she will henceforward often be known.

His French was very good, they said, and he really knew his stuff,and had the right terms for everything.  I assumed he must be a retired professor of French, but no, he said, his wife's mother was French so they had travelled there quite a lot, and he had delivered quite some papers in French, at conferences and so on...

Seeing them in such good hands, Helli and I were able to loiter behind and do our own thing, sometimes being engaged and told about and shown interesting things by other free floating angelic guides.  I took more photos in fact in Winchester probably than anywhere, so I'll probably put a few more of them up here as and when. The only problem was both guide and group were so absorbed that they probably could have gone on more than twice the allotted time for the tour, and I had to be the tiresome person who kept calling time because of a waiting minibus.

While on the matter of things Austen, even more delighted appreciation and a big treat and special thing for me was meeting wonderful Bee Drunken!  Bee's been a blogging friend for a few years now, and I've always been in awe of her well-read-ness, and the lucid, intelligent and inviting reviews she writes about what she reads, as well as her baking and gorgeous house and garden and all kinds of other life skills she seems to have at her elegant fingertips!  She's been working as a volunteer at the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton , for a couple of years now, and I was very pleased when she agreed to meet us there.

(This, from Hervé, is the only picture I have with Bee in it at all, and she has her back to the camera!  She's second on the left.)

Isn't it funny how people are so often even more like they are on their blogs than they are on their blogs, when you meet them in real life?  I suppose it's the pleasant surprise of the living breathing reality, combined with the back-story and insights we already have about the inner person.  It seems to permit us to look at each other with a more direct and open curiosity.  Bee really is every bit as lovely as anyone who knows her only from her blog might imagine she is.  We didn't get as much time to relax and talk together as would have been nice, as I was a bit preoccupied and as always having to keep looking at my watch (as well as carefully relaying orders for cream, custard or ice-cream on apple crumbles from English to French then back again then finding myself delivering them in French to the baffled waitress, this happened quite a lot...), but she very kindly stayed on for the afternoon after her morning shift at the Museum, and watching her in action, talking about the house and Jane and sharing her amazing knowledge and even more delicious enthusiasm was a joy in itself.  Despite the language barrier, she had my lot hanging on her every word and very impressed, and I was able to bask in plenty of reflected glory and unearned pride at being able to brag 'This is my friend...'  

Hooray for blogging, that brings such people with it!

(Inside Jane Austen's house at Chawton, photo by Bernard.)

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Being appreciative in the south of England, 2: The Bell

If you are thinking of taking a break in the south Hampshire, there must be nowhere nicer to go than Alresford. And if you are going to Alresford there must be no nicer pub and hotel than The Bell.  We took up all seven of their rooms and a large section of their restaurant every evening and morning for three days. I vowed I would give them a plug when I got home, because they were just lovely.  The manager, Jean-Christophe, is French but he's been in England for ages; the first full day we had there we got back early evening tired after sight-seeing for hours and driving hither and yon, getting hot in Salisbury and cold at Stonehenge, and he was in the foyer waiting, and swept everybody up with welcoming words in French, chatted about the menu and took all their orders for dinner, and I just sat on a sofa with a beer and watched and enjoyed.  His under-manager, Tiago, is Brazilian and warm and friendly, the kitchen-cum-bar-cum-waiting staff are an Australian, a New Zealander, a North African (I think), oh and one came from Hampshire, and all seemed incredibly young and energetic and whatever time of the morning or evening it was they were always bright and cheerful.

The food's delicious  and the portions enormous.  The watercress soufflé is not to be missed, neither are the risottos, nor the pork and crackling, nor the chocolate brownies...  Someone remarked about the trip being about practising English, well, everyone certainly got good at ordering bacon and eggs(scrambled or fried) and brownies and ice cream by the end of the three days anyway.

(Bernard took this photo, yes, that is a moose head on the wall.)

And I just loved being in a good English country pub, loads of different beers, one big room doing everything, no division between restaurant and bar, trendy youngsters and elderly couples in for drinks and food, old regulars at the bar, women having coffee and cakes in the afternoon, dogs, kids (but not too many of those), a nice back courtyard with flowers and herbs in pots, being able to eavesdrop freely and people butting into each other's conversations and answering any question you cared to ask. It was enough to make me homesick.

Here's a view of it from the street, which Hervé cleverly managed to catch without too much traffic clutter, so he must have got out early to do that.  Alresford is busy.

And here I am hurrying in, probably to get a beer, while Helli converses in the background with Jean-Paul, whom she referred to as Mr Beautiful-Hair.  She couldn't remember everybody's names so we gave a few of them epithets.  As you may see on the blackboard, the Bell won a Hampshire hospitality award, which is very well deserved.

Perhaps more on Alresford, and on epithets, later. If I haven't convinced you about how good The Bell is, hie on down there yourself and try it.  You can even get there by steam train.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Being appreciative in the south of England, 1.

In fact I didn't take an enormous number of photographs in England, compared to what I usually do when I go away. We were only there for two whole days, and I wasn't able to enter my usual leisurely gawping and clicking mode  because I was being a bossy tour guide, which wasn't really compatible with it.

I was accompanying a small group of my very grown-up English-learning students, with their attendant spouses, on a whistle-stop tour out of Southampton to visit places of touristic interest in Hampshire and Wiltshire. In fact they didn't really need me bossing them about much at all, since they are, as I say, very grown-up and quite capable of self-direction, and were also very good sports, drinking tea with milk every afternoon and eating bacon and eggs, with gusto (waiter, can I have some gusto with this please...?) every morning.  However, they did occasionally need a bit if chivvying because they were just so busy enjoying everything, or fell in with people there who were so interested in showing them things, that I sometimes had to tap my watch and shoo them along, when the estimable Paul the Minibus Driver had already been waiting on an unauthorised taxi rank for a while or was needing to get to his next airport pick-up job.

But I took a few pictures and, happily, others took plenty, notably Hervé.  Hervé is a personable, quiet chap who is married to Madé, whom I teach.  He carried a mean-looking and powerful camera with him at all times, which I noticed at first but quickly stopped noticing, as while he used it a lot he didn't make a fuss about it.  Within a couple of days of our return he had sent round an on-line album of beautifully edited, lovely photos, which he generously said I could help myself to.  Some of his architectural and landscape shots were so gorgeous I was tempted to nick the lot and pass them off as my own, but I resisted and just borrowed a few.

So, as I say, I had to be a bossy tour guide,

that's me in authoritarian black with the waggy finger, trying to get the order for lunch sorted out outside the Cassandra's Cup tea rooms in Chawton. The disembodied hand counting to three in the foreground is  that of Bernard, who was being of great help in marking down the exact number of quiche, jacket potatoes, apple crumble, lemon drizzle cake etc required or desired.

I think one of the reasons I've been stalling a bit about blogging about this trip, is that there are  so many people and things I want to express my appreciation of and admiration for, that I haven't known quite where to start, and I fear posts that end up resembling Oscar acceptance speeches.  For one reason and another the organisation of it wasn't without stress, but over and over people when we got there were kind and helpful and conscientious and enthusiastic.

So perhaps I'll just try to do a string of little posts, and gush freely about what and whosoever.

Left to right, me - pulling what Tom calls my funny photo face - my lovely sister Helli, who joined us, kept me company, picked up my stuff after me and generally cheerfully fitted in with whatever I had to do, and Madé, who's married to Hervé', who's taking the photo.

More anon.