It's been a dirty noisy messy place round here, quite a lot of the time.
I finally admitted defeat, that even with more time on my hands, there was no way I was going to get the back wall of the house pointed within my expected lifespan. Nothing for it but to raid the piggy bank and call in our favourite stonemason, Jean-Paul.
Perhaps stonemason isn't quite the right job description in English, since it sound rather like someone who makes tombstones or statuary or mullions or something, which he might be able to do but probably wouldn't care to, as it would be a bit fiddly for his preferences. JP is un maçon, a builder and worker of stone in stone buildings. He is about my height, and rather thinner, and prodigiously strong and wiry. In two days he had knocked out most of the old mud pointing and re-shaped the stones where necessary, a job that probably would have taken me months, by the end of the third he had repointed a significant area, cut out the face of a scruffy concrete lintel over my blue-room window and started re-cladding it with stone, and scrubbed the blue granite dressing stones which we had always assumed were dull brown so they shone like new. He won't do anything by halves.
We really like him a great deal. Whenever he comes in he can't resist looking into my blue room and exclaiming 'Qu'est-ce c'est jolie, la vie en bleu!' He enjoys the garden and to my delight he is a fellow pumpkin enthusiast; we wax rapturous about the thought of eating pumpkin soup all winter, and the amazing way they get bigger every day.
When he first came to work for us, about fifteen years ago, he lived alone, apart from a dog, some sheep and a miniature pony, all of whom he loved dearly; it was always a huge relief to him when the sheep gave birth to a ewe-lamb so he wouldn't have to eat it. There was, we gathered from others, some sadness about a wife and child whom he no longer saw. Now though, he has a new lady in his life, who, we have heard, is very large and a faith healer. He looks sleeker and cleaner and generally better cared-for, and is always going somewhere nice at the weekend, either to some festivity to do with her family or their wider community, or further afield on some jaunt or excursion. We've discovered a few gems of places tucked away out in the countryside on his recommendation, including a monastery where she likes to go to get books and music for her line of work. She has, he assured us, cured him of multiple things that ailed him by means of prayer.
'I think that was probably love that did that, Jean-Paul,' said Tom.
'That too,' he agreed.
The only trouble with him is he leaves a trail of rubble and devastation in his wake, and will help himself to anything that comes to hand while he's working - only to borrow, not to take away, or else to finish things, so some useful piece of wood or stone or whatever that one might have put aside for something is likely to end up immured. We were kind enough to put the lidded bucket that we collect the dog poo in prior to disposal out of his reach so he didn't grab it with a view to mixing something up in it and get an unpleasant surprise.
It was a bit dark in the kitchen while he was bashing away outside, but better than broken windows. We did feel a bit like we were under siege.
So we're kept busy clearing up after him, but the job will be done long before the winter, and it cheers us to feel we are bringing a rather neglected bit of the building into better repair.
That's on the outside, but inside there are upheavals and improvements too. A long time ago, Tom built the kitchen. He did floor tiles and wall tiles and worktop tiles, he did a cooker hood and things to hang things on, he built nice cupboards all around the outside of it on the floor, and he built one cupboard up on the wall... and then he ran out of steam, and I hung up old Victoire's ancient pan rack again and stuffed the place with stuff all over the worktops and propped and pinned things any-old-how and that was how it stayed. It looked like it did in this picture, most of the time. Every now and then I moaned that he might at least put me up a shelf (occasionally threatening to do it myself except as I didn't know where the electricity cables were he knew I was bluffing), but he said no, he would build the wall cupboards properly, one of these days...
Then one of these days arrived! And in just three and a bit weeks we have a full set of beautifully crafted hand-made cupboards, painted inside, varnished out, with task-lighting under them. This was a typical scene of work in progress, vegetables jostling for space with glue guns, chisels, screwdrivers etc. There's still nothing in them, as many of the kitchen contents are still spread around the house, pots and pans on the table, spices in the laundry-room, and I've not got around to putting them all away again.
That's a courgette from the garden. They aren't a great success; I think they're being bullied by the pumpkins.
While we're on the subject of building work, I am rather taken by this sign which has appeared on our neighbours' gate.
An artisan poseur. I am hoping for Guy-Roland to appear in his blue overalls and strike some effete attitudes or try to engage me in conversation about Derrida, but it hasn't happened yet.
A propos of nuffink in particular, as they say, some fruit,
and some flowers, dead ones. Some left from the kids, who are always nice about buying me a bunch when they come, with some cornflowers and corn-marigold-ish things from the garden. The leaves turned to yellow and the flowers burst into downy seeds, and I was just about to throw them out but thought they had a kind of elegance in decay about them, a bit Miss Havishamish. I like a bit of elegance in decay.
I took some of these to a friend who has been ill and in hospital, but is now home again. She's 87, was always tiny, and now seems even more so. Her son cares for her with astonishing delicacy, gentle and loving but at the same time brisk and efficient, and respectful of her dignity and independence. He has cleared everything out of the downstairs front room and set her bed up there so she looks out on her beloved walled garden, its apple trees and hydrangeas, and she told me how the light moves across the room through the day. She has always been a watcher of the light.
I greeted her in English as usual, but it was evident that moving between the two languages demanded too much, and we stayed in French for the time I was there, except for poems. She looked at the sunflowers and asked if I knew the Blake's
Ah sunflower weary of time
Who countest the steps of the sun...
I remembered the first and last two lines, the rest came back later. She surprised me with most of Kipling's Road to Mandalay, making me shiver and laugh by turns, and I bless my upbringing that equipped me to chime in with it. Her son came in again later,
'Where's your English? You speak English with Lucy!'
'It's fine,' I said ' I know it's always more tiring for H to speak English, and it's good for me to speak French.'
'Nonsense, it's your first language,' he chided her 'and you don't usually seem to have any difficulty when I hear you talking together here!'
She got up and had tea with me, and though she's very frail and had a little trouble focussing, and expressed fears that she might not have the strength and energy for the things she wants to do, she spoke of them hopefully. She has had an amazing, difficult, full life, with seven children, twelve books of poems, wonderful achievements and sad losses, but always with such a white-hot core of inner strength, and always turning towards the light. Evidently it will take more than a virus to beat her, thank goodness.
And speaking of wonderful word-workers I'm the better for knowing, I promised I'd show Marly I'd got this, as her own copy's gone AWOL somewhere in North Carolina.
Some things persist as mystery
No matter how we seek
A raveling, no matter how
We vaunt, no matter how -
Slanting above our lifted faces
Like rain shot through by sun.