Friday, November 30, 2012

Last day of November

Probably a title I've used before, since most years I have made this strangely binding commitment, to myself and the outside online world,m whatever my state of relations with the blogging medium, to do this every day, and, as with most years, I don't mind that I've done so. Having an rendezvous here every evening has indeed been quite helpful this year, when I've found myself somewhat beset with perturbations and not altogether pleasant distractions. It's been good to be obliged to post something, without fretting too much as to whether it's likely to be worthwhile, or whether I've got anything to show or tell, and even when I've been quite sure I haven't, I've found I have after all, worthwhile or not. If that makes sense.

Thanks to all of you who've looked in and left comments. I think I feel a little more reconnected with blogs and blogging again, and hope I'll be more often moved to post more often and more unselfconsciously again. I look forward now to being able to get around to visiting all of you and yours, apologies for neglecting to do so, and to the recent newer visitors I've not paid return calls to yet. I thought I might try to make the final post one of answering the comments I didn't get around to replying to at the time, like Catalyst's question as to why I left the scanner lid open when I scanned the liquidambar leaves (I hoped it might give a darker ground and a more 3D effect), but I've rather run out of time to comb through, and you've probably forgotten what you might have said by now anyway and not to worry.

Now needing to bend myself to sorting through the dazzling array of submissions for the Alphabet Soup exhibition at Clive's, ( I've linked to it plenty, if you don't know what I'm talking about by now...) with the excellent back-up that I have this will surely be only a pleasure - I'll keep posted with progress for that here as well.

So a quick pic of some cockles put to soak.  Sho Shellfish.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

29 things for the 29th

 Dried liquidambar

 Red green and blue baking dishes
 Our 10% off day at the DIY store
Oily brown wood-pulp firelighters in an old tea caddy with Notre Dame on it
The odd word 'caddy'


Deciding not to order bathroom tiles even though it's our 10% off day
Glad to have finished A Place of Greater Safety
I like the flat lid shells of scallops better than the dish-shaped bottom shells
Mind my car
Molly munching pea pods
Sun through the red plastic funnel like a red balloon
Big bags for garden clearing


Rubi the labrador is thirteen, and rather overweight.  He lay down too much and got bedsores, but now he's much better
Vermeer's Lady at a Virginal; she looks a bit drippy
Black leggings under purple yoga pants.  Bug-rug-snug
Where did the hills stop and the clouds begin?
Garlic mushrooms good, baked beans better *

Little boat: best (non-edible) thing ever in an ice cream

Yellow glints of sallow leaves
Two packs of chestnut wood floorboards


Thinking about birthday lunch
Thinking about Christmas dinner
Soft foxtail larch tops against the hill
Just one more thing...

Bwha- ha-ha-ha!

* with baked potatoes

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tipping points and other matter(s).

Hard to say what the feeling about the tipping point is.  Not exactly the imminence of death, as I suppose Anne was talking about in her comment, though doubltless related.  More perhaps the sense that the capacity to grow and benefit from vicissitudes and reverses seems to wane, that overall the balance seems to be towards lessening, that experiences cease to augment one's stock and substance, and tend to diminish them.  But such metaphors are probably flawed; what stock, what substance? I suppose I assumed that the gaps left by losses would always be filled by something else, now I'm not sure.  But the tendency to look on the bleak side is at least in part a function of one's nature as much as one's age and stage, which doesn't mean you shouldn't try to curb it.



We really must eat more baked potatoes.


The bank manager rang.  I am easily confused on the phone about who people are.  He reminded me he was Sophie's and Stephanie's dad and then I placed him, but instantly assumed there was a problem.  Well, he did say he was concerned about our account.  I ran upstairs, 'phone in hand, to consult Tom:

'He says we've only got X euros in there!'
'Well, that's more than usual...'

After a bit, and after I'd spluttered apologetically about having to move some money over from the UK, paying the gardener and getting another car, but how we'd managed to scrape up the funds for that in liquide by other means, he went on to say that if we didn't need it all there he recommended we move some of it over to the savings account. He was not reproving us for inadequate funds but the opposite. It was our instant reaction, though, to an authority figure to assume we must be in trouble, even if he is Sophie and Stephanie's dad.  

Though why bother, we wondered, it's not as though we'd get anything on it anyway, interest on savings being a nice idea but not to be dreamed of again in our lifetime.  We speculated that perhaps in response to the increased Greek bail-out, all the bank managers of France had been issued with instructions to move as much money to more usable places.  Yes, that must be it, we are doing our bit to help with the Eurozone-in-crisis.

I promised him we'd move some over, and sent kisses to Sophie and Stephanie.


'Phone in hand.  Yes, we have a cordless 'phone at last,  I finally faced the fact that my fear and loathing of the telephone, which has made me stubbornly refuse to have any more to do with it than I had to and so not to modernise in any way, was cutting my nose off to spite my face.  It was even worse to be pinned in the corner by it and not even able to move around and do anything else. Still no answering machine, though, that would be going to far in conceding to the Watson-come-here-please-I-want-you tyranny.


Touching wood, crossing fingers, and performing all manner of other superstitious contortions one can think of, the plumbing leak seems to be fixed on the second attempt.  


Tom likes the new car.  It's nippy and fun, and he likes the change.  I still don't really want much to do with it.  Tom refuses to even acknowledge the possibility of a tipping point.


Looking through old pics to find one of interest, I came across this one of the emptying of the septic tank, which, it turns out, took place about eighteen months ago (so we don't need to think about having that done again just yet, photos and blogging are so useful for keeping informal records).

Fear not, nothing too detailed is revealed of this necessary but always to my rather prissy English bourgeois sensibilities, slightly embarrassing operation.  At least not to you.  However, as may be seen, Victor and his sister Hélène couldn't get close enough.  They are both over ninety, and we don't see all that much of them these days, but no sooner had the septic tank emptying truck arrived than they both got wind of it, so to speak, and turned up to chew the fat while peering down the hole at our bodily waste products and their evacuation.  They greeted us only perfunctorily, it seems it was our poo they were primarily interested in. Bless them.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Manitou and little Mol

RRobinson expressed a familiarity with the brand of French heavy building plant 'Manitou'.  Our Jean-Paul was very proud of his Manitou, which he brought along when he re-aligned our lintels and smartened up our chimney.  He was very keen we should pose in the shovel of it at some height from the ground, so here am I,

and here's Tom - blimey, he still wears that shirt: 

Those were taken probably fourteen years ago, long pre-digital, scans of old film snaps I've looked out.  The changes in the landscape, how trees and garden have grown up since, is noticeable to me in the first picture.  Looking into the old photo album is quite unsettling, possibly salutary.  In many ways it feels as though life didn't really begin until we came here to live, and since then that time has stood still; I can't quite believe it's been well over fifteen years, that I was still in my mid-thirties, Tom not yet into his sixties when we came.  Yet looking over those old pictures, it's apparent that we have covered quite a bit of ground, and indeed aged.  I'd pick out more to scan and show here, but it makes me feel rather sad and shaky to look too much at them.  I find myself wondering if we haven't reached the tipping point.  I'm afraid I do think there might be a tipping point.

Those days were also pre-Molly, and later pages show her puppy years, which also makes me feel a bit  wobbly inside.  But it's been good, and worth everything. I'd be a coward to say otherwise.

Molly, in her first year.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pumpkins and kippers for soup, and a bombastic bloater.

Got a couple of collages done for Alphabet Soup today.  I think I'm probably on course to get perhaps a half-dozen completed, with ideas for the rest which might or might not come to fruition once the deadline heat is off.

So here is P for pumpkin:

That thing in the middle of the right-hand pumpkin flower is a messed-up scribble, which I meant to do something to correct but forgot to.  But the good thing about this technique is you can stick stuff on top!  So I think I'll make it a bumble bee.

The next one proved to be somewhat topical:

Kippers.  I have mixed feelings about these smoked members of the herring tribe, indeed about most smoked fish really. We used to get them in England that were boil-in-the-bag, from a man with a van who came round.  His stuff was so expensive the kippers were all we could really bring ourselves to buy, and I know that b-i-t-b is shameful and Not Proper Food but these were just so good and so easy and didn't stink the place out.   Now I often swear I will not buy kippers here again, but then Tom looks at them with such longing I give in, knowing the ordeal I have in store in the preparation of them, often for a dry, salty, disappointing result.  Those vacuum packed Breton smoked herrings in oil are not much better, but at least you don't have to wrestle with fins and bones and stuff, and they don't smell quite so bad.

So when we were at a low ebb in the supermarket the other day and my dear one's eyes fell upon a bloater, or un bouffi, as it is known hereabouts in pleasingly transparent translation (and as an adjective it seems that also means 'bombastic' according to the dictionary), instead of saying 'put it down it's disgusting' as I might have had I been feeling stronger, I allowed him to put it in the trolley.

I have never actually handled a bloater before; it took me a couple of days, until today, to square up to the thing and only then did I realise it was whole, all it's innards still contained within its plump form - hence its puffiness and its name, I suppose.  Fortunately it was in a sealed pack and well within it's eat-by date, as the well-documented 'gaminess' and it's bloating tendencies might have been really unmanageable.  I was by this time feeling slightly stronger and less self-sacrificing, and picking over it's smoky, slimy guts, jaundiced eyes, intact gills and hairy bones I felt little compunction in saying that 'I am only putting myself through this because I love you and because I'm still feeling mortified about smashing up the car, so yes I am largely doing it out of guilt.' He ventured to say he might not in fact enjoy it much under those terms but I said he'd bloody better do so.

But then something happened when I looked at the generous and firm portion of roe that emerged from it, which one source described as the cook's treat, I couldn't help myself thinking, and saying aloud: 'That looks good!'.  The bronze, gold and silver skin with its delicate criss-cross patterning was also rather exquisite, and by the time I'd cleaned up the fillets and put them, with the roe, under the grill, and having eaten a good portion of Jean-Paul's crisp and cleansing scarole salad, I was coming round to the idea that I might have some after all.

It really was very good indeed, much better than any kippers we've had here, and it was very inexpensive.  The roe was saltier than the flesh, but spread on a piece of bread was very interesting too.  So I will buy them again, now I know what I'm letting myself in for, or else find a way to persuade Tom that dissecting and preparing a bloater for consumption is a project that he really needs to engage with for his moral, intellectual and spiritual betterment.

(Kedgeree is also a good smoked fish option, and also begins with a 'K'. Kippers don't in fact make one's breath smell, so kissing is not completely out of the question.)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Low light and camera shake

Left it late to get out on a glorious ormolu autumn day.  Thought I'd take the camera anyway and see what inadvertent effects might be achieved.  Not much editing involved beyond wilful ineptitude and a bit of cropping.  


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Three good things for today

We got invited to visit Jean-Paul, our stonemason, and his girlfriend Huguette.  The live in what was once a fairly ordinary concrete house on the edge of a small town near here, but which JP has entirely covered with salvaged stone, perfectly shaped and pointed.  They ply us with wine and coffee and rather too much sweet stuff, but the best bit it JP's loft, which covers the whole house and is, very tidily, full of his stuff, including a set of toy models: a little house, a yellow crane, a very fine die-cast Manitou (like a JCB), and a fork-lift.  On the day of his sixtieth birthday and so of his retirement, when he would have given up the full-sized versions of these things, he said, he came downstairs to find these laid out on the kitchen table for him.  There was also a figure of a man in working clothes with a shovel, which, I pointed out, was somewhat out-of-scale and too large for the toy vehicles and plant.  Well it's only an imitation, he said.


Laying the fire before we went out, so it only needed a fire-lighter and a match when we came home.  The chimney needs sweeping, but an advantage of this windy weather is it's drawing better than usual. (Which doesn't make up for the hammering the south-west of England is taking, I know.)


Part of young Eve's bird alphabet, which arrived today by e-mail for the Soup.  The girl is seriously gifted.

Friday, November 23, 2012

More spicy goings-on in the kitchen

Reached out for the black peppercorns, the lid came off the jar!

It reminded me of once when I saw a woman drop a punnet of blueberries in the supermarket.  They fell through the mesh of her trolley and dispersed across the smooth floor like an explosion of lapis marbles, a fruity super-nova.  She looked around as if she wished she could flee, but there was nowhere to run, the berries were everywhere, and if she had wheeled the trolley over them, the carnage would have been terrible.

On dropping the peppercorns, I exclaimed, gasped, nay squealed. The area of impact seemed far greater than the consequent inch or so of vacant space in the jar would seem to indicate, in the same way that it seemed like far more than a mere punnet of blueberries that spread across the supermarket floor.  Tom came running to the rescue.  Knowing it wasn't as bad as he must have expected from the noise I made, I let him find out for himself and experience the relief that there were no actual breakages, no lacerating shards (it was a plastic jar), no chemicals hazardous to health, involved.

Yet the clear-up was no simple matter, each time one tried to gather any up, further dispersal seemed to result.

Finally he disappeared upstairsand came down with the right tool for the job, a hogs-hair fan-brush, which accomplished the task admirably.


( The upside-down pink plastic beaker in the first photo is the Spider Cup.  It usually has a postcard beside it, I use those which people send me from various global locations when they start looking a bit tired on the shelf or pinboard, considering it a useful way for old postcards to end their lives. Arachnid appears, oop-la, pink beaker over the top, postcard underneath, out of the door with her...)

And that piece of inconsequentiality really is my post for today! 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Sniffing the spice rack

The bay leaves reminded me to do this.  I can recommend it, as pure immediate pleasure but also as a mnemonic way down at the limbic level.  Some draw surprise memories, yet some draw blanks, are simply what they are, among these were some of my favourites, coriander, cumin and cardomon.  With others it's hard to know whether the smell is genuinely provoking the response or if a more complex and intellectual series of associations is taking place.  Not that it matters too much, it's just fun.

Open each jar, place nose over, inhale deeply, catch the memory. If you've forgotten what was in the jar already, so much the better. This is more or less the order mine come in.

  • Garam masala: R's house, winter afternoons, c. 1984, her cauliflower curry and sweet rice. Having no idea how to teach English.
  • Ground ginger: one year, my mum made some home-made ginger beer.  She used ground ginger and yeast. It fermented wildly - it wasn't meant to - and was fairly horrid.  Many of the bottles exploded violently at the top of the cellar stairs, we kept finding bits of the broken glass for ages after.
  • Juniper berries:  (You have to crush one) Gin, of course. It's hard to separate it from the associated flavour of tonic.  I had my first sip from my sister-in-law's tumbler on the banks of Llangorse Lake in Wales, when I was maybe eleven or twelve and my brother was sailing there.  It was sunny and the glass was pretty. I've never been a great gin enthusiast, and went off it later; I could probably drink it again now, but don't, preferring to macerate sloes in it .  Now it reminds me of Doug, who died last year, and his dry Martinis.
  • Paprika - oddly reminds me of big pans of chilli at the veggie restaurant in Cardiff. This is good stuff, warm and fruity, which B the German doctor brings back for me when she visits her sister in Hungary.
  • Turmeric - again, the veggie restaurant, sesame potatoes, sautéed in the big iron woks, served with yoghurt and cucumber.
  • Almond essence - marzipan, which in turn reminds me of Tom, who loves it. The smell creates the sensation of the ground almonds in the mouth, in the same way that a convincing peach aroma provokes the feel of peach-fuzz on the lips.
  • Caraway - seed cake, my dad's funeral.
  • Cinnamon - cinnamon toast, visiting my GI bride auntie in Pennsylvania, when I was thirteen.  Also a strange red translucent toothpaste also from my teen years, I forget its name, when there was a notion that toothpaste could taste of anything but mint.
  • Fennel - Greece.  Ouzo, perhaps, but also the smell of the warm air when you got off the plane.
  • Five spice - simply of stir fries.
  • Nutmeg - old larders, twilighty and cool, somewhat fusty.
  • Oregano - pizzas, of course.  Perhaps the the take-away in Belsize Park where Fire Bird sometimes worked when we were students. Or is that just an association with the idea of pizzas? Perhaps the oregano just reminds me of pizza-flavoured things...
  • Sumac - a relatively recent acquisition, and elusive in cooking; unexpectedly, the smell makes me think of some kind of powdered drink mix from childhood.
  • Tarragon - Bearnaise sauce, steak restaurants.
  • Vanilla pods - every ice cream ever. 
  • White pepper - as a child, white pepper was the only kind I knew, on the table with school dinner.  I didn't like it, and though I have come to appreciate it as different from black but of quite serviceable flavour, it still smells a bit yuk.
  • Black pepper (in a large pot in the corner) - this is such a commonplace that I didn't really expect it to have any particular associations, yet it was one of the most vivid surprises, as it took me back to the summer of the cabbages. When I was sixteen, my parents moved to a house in Brighton with a pretty and productive garden around it.  The old boy who had lived there before had planted a number of magnificent, heraldic cabbages.  They were full of juicy green cabbage white caterpillars, but were so substantial that there seemed to be plenty left for us, but you had to pick them over really carefully. This was my job and I took pride in it.  Lightly boiled, with butter and a good twist of black pepper, it was the first time I realised quite how good both cabbage and black pepper could be.  Once we were out and asked my dad to prepare the cabbage, he simply quartered, rinsed and boiled it.  I lifted the lid of the pan and saw a shoal of fat caterpillars bobbing and bubbling on the surface of the water.
Try it yourselves, see what comes up.  It's a whole world of travel without leaving your kitchen.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A bunch of bayleaves

The hedge cutter man is savaging the garden.  It's really no bad thing, everything will look better for it in the end, but it's kind of brutal and rather stressful, and we feel he goes a bit far sometimes. I'm sure he thinks we're daft English and too soft on our shrubs.

Tom brought a branch of bayleaves up which he felt needed sparing from the bonfire, did I want it for the kitchen?  I like the flavour of bay, one of the first things I learned to cook after I'd left home was a very simple potato soup, from Diet for a Small Planet I think, and the bayleaf was the making of it.  The smell of the leaves reminds me of a family holiday we took at an old house somewhere in mid-Wales called Gwynfryn, it was just before my siblings embarked on their first wave of emigration, so I was six.  There were gardens with lawns and tall bay hedges, and a sheepdog called Fly.  My sister Alison took the varnish off one of the dressing tables with nail-polish remover, my other sister was pregnant and cried when our sister-in-law got cross with her little boy, our nephew.  He and I shared a bath and some rude words.  We were happy and sad.  For the rest of her life I could crush a bay leaf in my hand and hold it out to my mum and one of us would say 'Gwynfryn'. Some of these memories may be slightly muddled but all of them are real.

The hedge man said he had a brother living in the country near us somewhere.  I questioned that he didn't know quite where.  He said he had fallen out with his family fifteen years or so ago.  I made the conventional noises about these things happen, sometimes it's easier to get on with some family members than others...

It was about his children, he said.  He and his wife adopted two Vietnamese children as babies, a girl and a boy.  I met his daughter, who is now seventeen, briefly once when she was working with him next door, perhaps a year ago.  She's beautiful, and so bright and open and grown-up, and clearly had such a good co-operative relationship with him, that I thought briefly that she was older than that and might be his younger wife, before I understood she was his daughter.  He speaks of her with great admiration, for her drive and hard-work and ambition, and it amuses him that the famous King Charles spaniel sleeps on her bed. His son he speaks of with a more rueful but equally genuine love and affection.

But when they told his parents about the adoption plans, which presumably came about because they couldn't have children of their own, and showed them a photo of their future baby daughter, the naked, cruel racism of both of their reactions was shocking, and much of  it unrepeatable.  His father said he would be ashamed to be seen holding the hand of such a child.  His brothers were less offensive but gave them no support.  A couple of years ago he did attend the christening of one of his brother's children, with his now-teenage daughter, the first time anyone in the family had seen her.  His brother commented, quite seriously, on how well she spoke French.

When his father died a few years ago, other family members exhorted him to build bridges, make an effort, resume relations with his mother and the rest of the family. No, he said, it's too late, finished; they made no efforts for him, and why risk being hurt again and hurting his children too?

When they go on holiday, they leave the King Charles spaniel with his wife's mother. Do they get on all right, I ask, the dog and the mother-in-law?  Oh yes, he said, she's a good mother-in-law.

He left earlier today to take his son to ping-pong and his daughter to her driving lesson.  He puts in a fairly short day but works non-stop, his armoury of machinery is formidable and nothing is too hard for him, he's a hard man.  He's working elsewhere tomorrow, so we can at least have a bit of a lie-in and a day without the whirr of the hedge-trimmer.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Scanning the leaves

Working outside, raking up was a wholesome and soothing activity.  But again, I missed the light to take any pictures, and it was mostly rather gloomy today anyway.  So I grabbed a handful of the fallen liquidambar leaves just before dark, which falls quickly these nights, and brought them in to play with.  I never sweep these up anyway, as I think the vivid patch of litter on the ground around the tree is as good a part of its display as anything, and let them blow away or get mowed up in their own good time.

My printer doesn't do those amazing sharp, deep scans with the black background that Marja-Leena's does.  I did it with the lid up, then messed about with some Picasa editing:

this one (above) simply has the contrast and saturation turned up a little,

this is with 'cross process' effect,


black and white,

'pencil sketch',

and with inverted colours.


And that must be all for tonight.  What is frustrating me rather, so that I don't feel I'm keeping up very well, is not so much the daily posting but not getting around other people's blogs, when I know so many of you are also upping your posting rate and doing lovely things, and still finding the time to get here and offer me succour and encouragement. It just seems as if the odd five minutes or half-hour that I can snatch here I'm using for putting up a daily post, or sometimes trying to do justice to the comments you leave by replying.  However, we're two-thirds through the month and I've kept it up so far, so I'm resolved to finish.  Thanks for staying with it too!

Monday, November 19, 2012

How the universe will try to titillate my weary appetite for life with sweetmeats.

The damp wall proved to be a sprung leak under the sink and seemed to have grown even worse overnight.  Plumbing problems are the pits, second only to car smashes, maybe.  I did everything I could to help, emptied the cupboard, carried the ruined sponge-wet floor of it outside, found cloths to mop up, containers to catch the continuing drips and the small fan heater to help dry it out.  Then there wasn't too much else I could do.  I laced on my walking boots, told Mol firmly she must stay and look after Tom, the house and herself, and set off to yoga, giving myself a good hour to cover the ground. My loved ones despondent faces at the window were mortifying.

I met the goat on the old rail track, and since I was dog-less, she condescended to talk to me, and once I'd pricked my fingers on some brambles to feed to her, allowed me to stroke her.


In the woods going down to E's my mobile went, it wasn't Tom, and I didn't recognise the number, which was that of another mobile.  I got no connection when I answered, but thinking it must be something important to do with our ongoing troubles, I called back.

'Vous venez de me rappeler?'
'Eh, sorry, who's that?'  a man's voice sounding familiar 'Lucy?'

It was my brother in Australia.

'Did I just ring you?'
'You must have, but it's my mobile. I didn't know you had the number.'
'Neither did I. I must have pressed the wrong thing.'

I didn't even know my ancient Nokia and never upgraded Breizh Mobile tarif even reached to Australia.

'I'm in the out in the countryside, in the woods, in a kind of sunken lane.  I can't hear you very well.'

But it wasn't true, he sounded as though he were only just down in Moncontour.  We realised we needed to get off rather hastily.  I suppose in an instinct to grab at the salient point I told him I loved him, which I don't think I normally do, not on the 'phone anyway.  And in the way that things happen when part of one's awareness is suddenly displaced, the translucent yellow of the overarching beeches was stamped with finality into my memory.


Tom came to E's door to meet me as we're dispersing. He hung over her half door, kissed her dog Moos on the nose when the latter jumped up to greet him.  Everybody seemed suddenly rather jollier.

'Tom,' said E 'get a plumber!'
'Can't do that, he'd rip all the walls apart.'

But now he has seen his way through, and we headed down to the local hardware store, which hasn't been open in that location for all that long but is proving useful of late, and now a preparatory construction of a new tap tap and flexible tubes is sprawling across the table like a metallic squid.


The very large man who comes to cut the hedges is ripping through them with his fearsome equipment. He is somewhat macho but adores his King Charles spaniel.  He has rather over-quoted for the job, but we get half of it off our taxes, and he keeps looking round for extra jobs he can do, so I've decided to try to take him up on it and find him some.  He says he'll come and plant us a wildflower lawn on the difficult side area in the spring, having first treated it for weeds - spare us the frowning about chemicals, it's really the only way to ensure a decent take of the wildflower seed.  Tom is embarrassed that I go out and rake up the cuttings while he is indoors, and makes clear that it is a plumbing crisis keeping him away.

'Has the plumber been then?' asks Monsieur the Hedgecutter
'There is the plumber,' say I, pointing at Tom.

Honour is satisfied.


We have a kind of kedgeree for dinner made with brown rice, a smoked mackerel fillet, coriander, cumin, cardomon and turmeric, with a salad of some pak choi that the flea beetles and late cabbage white caterpillars haven't managed to ravage, some land cress and a bit of lamb's lettuce, coriander seeds sprouted like mustard-and-cress on the windowsill (cheffy sorts call it micro-coriander), and a handful of toasted pumpkin seeds I shelled while watching Pointless. Oh, and a poached egg on top.

Tom's eating pink and white marshmallows from a chipped white ramekin, while drinking red wine. He has an unorthodox palate.

I keep meaning to try to take some photos in this strange sepia, gamboge and buttermilk light, but then it gets too dark.

I haven't heard from either the insurance agent or the girl with the car.  Sufficient unto the day.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

From the dark end of the street, to the right side of the road.

Spent quite a bit of time looking up defensive driving.  That mostly seems to be the US term for it, where the awareness of it and courses in it figure quite prominently, it seems.  And the Institute for Advanced Motoring in the UK do a fantastic offer where you can more or less get all the help you need for as long as you like to pass their Advanced Driving Test, with lots of other goodies and benefits thrown in for very little money, since they are a charity.  It might almost be worth going over there to do it, except of course it would be on the wrong side of the road again.

However, we are not so well served here. Someone on a well-known expat site here asked if there were defensive driving courses here, for her son to take, and she only received a somewhat flippant reply to the effect that wasn't defensive driving something of a contradiction in Brittany? There are various courses for road safety awareness, mostly attended under duress by those who have accumulated the limit of points on their licence; photographs showed groups of predominantly youngish, stubble-headed and tattooed males sitting recalcitrantly around tables looking at severe but fatherly men with Powerpoint displays.  I didn't really fancy those (the courses, not the men, well, not anything about it really).  There was in fact a free course for young people who have only recently acquired their licences provided at the Chambre de Commerce  with the aim of reducing the number of them who die on the roads here and especially to equip them for the hazards of winter driving, using simulators, which looked like it might have been interesting, but it has been and gone already, and I don't suppose a middle-aged English lady with a crisis of nerves and no experience of left hand drive would have qualified to attend anyway. Otherwise there were day courses, with tracks and skid pans and water features and obstacles and generally the works, but I'd have had to travel a long way to get to them, they mostly seemed to be geared towards training commercial drivers, they involved comparatively little time on the practicalities and a lot of talking, evaluation, feedback etc (well, this is France) and to cap it all they were hideously expensive.

So I started browsing the driving schools, seeing what they offered.  Mostly their reason for being seemed to be to process French teenagers through the labyrinth of their code de la route and their permis de conduire as quickly as possible so they can launch themselves out onto the highways of this fair land with nary a care in the world.  Then, however, I found one in Loudeac which offered something called recyclage tous permis. Not, as it might sound and as I mostly still feel like doing, chucking one's licence and all one's driving related documentation into the waste paper to be turned into  egg boxes, selling the house and moving somewhere where I won't ever have to drive again, but for those who, regardless of age, hold a valid licence but for whatever reason, no longer feel à l’aise taking to the road, have got into bad habits, or who have fears about their own reflexes, or of driving in the dark, or the rain...

Figuring that I tick enough of these boxes, including as it happens, a mild rain-driving phobia, with the additional special case of needing to make the RHD-LHD switchover, I wonder if this is the place for me.  I felt instantly hopeful that I am evidently not the only such basket case and that there somewhere prepared to take us on.  Though I'm not sure how, even in Brittany, they can guarantee rain for those who fear driving in the rain, but still. So I shall set about finding out more, and even book a lesson this week if I can.

I've also had a very pleasant time organising some of the exciting Alphabet Soup submissions into a web album - deadline end of this month, still time to do something, open exhibition! - and when Mol and I were out walking at sunset a flight of maybe fifty magnificent curlews sailed across the sky above us - they moved in such elegant slow motion it was possible to count them.  

So there are things to keep me clear of the slough of despond (in my mind I always read it as 'sluff'), though relatively small matters, - never mind watching the news - can push me towards it. Such as the sudden blooming of horrible mouldy damp in the kitchen corner cupboard, which used to smell slightly musty sometimes but nothing worse, and we wonder if Jean-Paul's outside repointing, with the large amounts of water needed to soak the wall to make it stick, and the hydrofuge nature of the mortar, has caused the cold moisture to come through inside.  Or the poor little  hunters' beagle abandoned outside for the night, with soulful eyes who followed us most of the way round, appearing at every gap in the hedge with her tail curled under her but just twitching hopefully, I knew if she carried on to our door I'd have to give her a bed and a meal in the garage then waste precious hours tomorrow ringing round the loathsome hunters' associations or finally the mairie to get her impounded, but she left us at the next hamlet to ours. 

But there we are.  And here's a collage of pretty patterned or shiny kitchen stuff, just to brighten things up a bit. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Pumpkins and Panhards

Following up on two of my current topics:

a contemporary advert for the Dyna Panhard - it can overtake a horse-drawn buggy!

and I could have got one with RHD back in the day...

In fact we're inclined to wonder if the Panhard in the Bon Coin advert in the previous post in fact has an engine in it, otherwise why would it be so cheap with such low kilometrage?  I'm half inclined to contact them out of curiosity.

It rained and rained today, but I made it to the bottom of the garden, picked scarole (I think that's a kind of endive) and Welsh onions, and Chinese leaves and a last few peas, for a kind of home grown petits pois à la français, and made another small dent in the pumpkin mountain, to bake with rigatoni and cheese - Tom had chicken and butter beans.

The pumpkin made a scary face at me.

That's it for tonight; thanks again for all the kindness, laughs and fellow feeling, I'll try to answer get round here or at yours ere long.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Cars - suite

Thanks ever so for all the kind and supportive comments, of course it could all have been worse, and we'll get through it and come out the other side, and at least it gives me something to write about.  There are still dark shadows flickering around, and I know there's much still to be done; Zhoen's suggestion of a defensive driving course is a good one, though I'm not sure how available such things would be out here in the wilds.  On the other hand, perhaps a couple of paid lessons to help with getting used to the LHD might be useful anyway, and I think the driving schools sometimes have simulators, so that could be a possibility. 

The evils of White Van Man and his reasons for being seem fairly universal. Which is not to say I see him as personally evil you understand.  But striving to be reasonable, seeing both sides, often to my own detriment, is a reflex I sometimes have to be careful of - mixed with a tendency to self-denigration it can be a bloody nuisance. 

Odd things come back to me, how annoyed I felt that I was having to walk in mud in a new pair of lovely simple soft leather black walking lace-ups I'd treated myself to a little while ago, and that when I rang to cancel my lesson I said I'd had un sinistre, rather than the more usual and probably more appropriate un accident, which was kind of odd, that I thought to use that word.  Though actually in the etymological sense of something nasty and baleful coming from the left it was rather a good choice. 

We liked the look of the other Saxo very much, it was in better condition than mine was even when I got it, although I think it may be a bit more basic in some ways even though it's the same year. The young woman who was selling it was really very young; she'd had the for her eighteenth birthday a year and a half ago, she was on her own all week because her boyfriend who she lived with, who took my call yesterday, worked away all week, her parents lived out in the country where she wished she still lived - though Lamballe is a small and pretty town, I often think I could happily live there myself, she found it noisy and unsympathetic - and I think she said she was pregnant too.

Our new garage man agreed to come out in his lunch hour and meet us there to check the car and ask the important questions (and to drive it back to the garage under his insurance if we bought it), he looked under the bonnet, said there was clearly some oil leaking, which might be nothing much but might mean a fairly whopping bill, it needed checking, told her she should do that before selling it and also get an up to date controle technique (equivalent of MOT) done as you aren't allowed to sell a car without that (I'm pretty sure people, especially expats, do so all the time, but he was quite right), who was her garagiste? Yes, he knew him, he'd sort it out OK... and he told us we shouldn't consider buying it until these things were dealt with, though otherwise it was a clean and well maintained little car. He was kind but firm and she looked very young and lost and we felt terribly sorry for her - I'm perhaps particularly susceptible to vulnerability in others just now (except for White Van Man, who, it is necessary to belive, has none), and Tom said it reminded him of being young when you sally out thinking you can do this or that and make a bit of money here or there and then some grown-up in the know puts you down.

He left and we went in with her and exchanged details, I reassured her we honestly did want the car, that we didn't expect it to be perfect but we needed to know the facts and do things properly, and she reassured us that she would reserve it for us and even if she had to pay the whopping bill she would because she needed to sell the car. I think we all felt a bit small and bossed about, though we were glad of it really, at least in part because as Tom said, if we'd bought it as a pig-in-a-poke then had to foot the whopping bill ourselves, think how stupid we'd have felt and how much finger-wagging we'd have had from the garage-man, as well as being even further out-of-pocket, and we are paying for the his services to look after us and our interests.  

So I suppose we've only got each other's word on it; she might sell it to someone else who was prepared to take it as they found it as still fairly good at the price, but if she does, she does.  If she turns others away and keeps it for us, we could as easily let her down; we won't but we could. 

(Update, she has just e-mailed to say she's booked it in tomorrow to be looked at and for the CT on Monday, so she's obviously not sold it to the other people who were supposed to be seeing it this afternoon).

In the meanwhile, it gives us a bit of time to regroup our forces, see what happens on the insurance, and go about things a bit differently for a week or so, not being able to rely on our habitual independence of mobility: make better use of journeys, walk and stay home more, spend more time together, none of which is so bad.  We've been very good and patient and kind with each other, even when we've been quite tired and ragged - I even let Tom have raw onion with his cheese and crackers tonight - and we've laughed quite a bit throughout, not always out of hysteria.  Mol's had quite a bit of extra walking and car time already.  Nothing much will happen about anything over the weekend, so I intend to get stuck into other things, like sorting out the really good stuff that's been coming in for the Alphabet Soup exhibition.

And I just thought I'd show you the car which was advertised on le Bon Coin the same day as the Saxo but which I didn't look at, though surely one might be tempted, since it is priced at just ten euros and has, it says, only one kilometre on the clock, and it is quite adorable.

Panhard Dyna, z12, 1960 or before (though it must be before, as according to Wiki, they stopped making them in 1959). Sweet.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A sorry tale and a whole bunch of self-pity.

Well, here goes, and I hope it's cathartic, it can't really make me feel any worse.

A long stretch of my usual regular route in the direction of St Brieuc and everything on the way, including one of my coaching jobs, has been closed for roadworks for a very long time.  I've taken the recommended diversion route when I can, though it's a great deal further and the other evening a normal forty minute trip took me nearly an hour and a half.  But when it comes to the teaching job, out in the country, just for an hour early afternoon, this is just so out of the way that it's barely worthwhile going.  At lunchtimes, and after five o'clock, I frequently followed the example of numerous other drivers, not all of whom were residents, including the school bus, and drove around the route barrée signs, going carefully round the ruts and bumps and potholes, to no ill effect.

Then one evening a couple of weeks ago, at about five-thirty, a small posse of gendarmes stopped me, told me off for driving on it when I didn't live there, let me off magnanimously but told me not to do it again, or else, a fine and points.  If they caught me.  But I'm not one to push my luck, as I thought, so I sussed out a back route of winding lanes which brought me satisfactorily to my destination.

I set out yesterday, nice weather, feeling fine, stopped at a tricky junction, pootled at sensible speed -  you really can't do anything else in my car - round a downward sloping bend, and was confronted by a large white van coming at speed in the middle of the muddy road down the opposite slope. I braked and tried to move over, as you do, but there was so much mud and so little time that the brake turned into a skid and I hit the side of the van, who was veering to avoid me.  Without the skid I'd just have made it through the gap, but only just.

I removed a length of his trim and gave him a bit of a scratch, he trashed most of the front of my car.  I was shaking, he was somewhat discomposed. He repeated several times what a hurry he was in for work - he was delivering medical and pharmaceutical supplies - he asked for my address and details and I had the presence of mind to get his off him before he hurried away - he'd not have given them of his own accord, though he did make sure my car was still drivable before he left, yanking at the stoved-in bumper and wing that was fouling the wheel. I called Tom, who offered to come out, but I said I'd turn round and come straight back.  I hadn't really registered how bad the damage was, but I didn't want to wait around there anyway.  I cancelled my lesson and limped homeward, every rightward turn of the wheel drawing protesting scraping noises from the car.

Dear old Monsieur Turbin, our long time garagiste, sometimes rather rough in his humour but very reliable, a trailer-truck always at the ready, conveniently situated on our way home and his number always on our mobiles, has just taken his retirement, without having found a buyer for the business.  He recommended a friend with a Citroen garage in Ploeuc, but that's in the opposite direction, and not somewhere we go very often.  On the last leg, it became quite apparent that this car really needed to be in a garage, and if I got it home I wouldn't want to take it out again, so I turned towards Tredaniel, where I knew there was a general garage who had occasionally been helpful in the past, and I drew in there, having phoned Tom and told him what I was going to do so he could come and get us (Mol being with me throughout).

The people there, at that moment a young female receptionist and young male mechanic, were incredibly nice, kind and sympathetic and competent. They said I should never have driven it home, they would have come and fetched it, and I felt they were rooting for me from the start; the young woman helped me talk through it and gave me really good advice about dealing with the situation.  Tom did what turned out to be a sensible thing, and insisted that once we'd just looked in at home to confirm that our insurers - who have also just retired, closed the local office and the agency has moved to Ploeuc also - were indeed closed on Wednesdays, we go out shopping as I had planned to do after my lesson and try to get on with our day.

Just as I was going out of the door, the phone went, and it was the other driver, who asked if he could come round that evening after work to fill out the constat amiable for the insurance. We stopped at the garage to finish emptying the car, and I told the young woman, who encouraged me to stick to my guns, he was at least partly to blame and it would go harder on me than him anyway, since I'd lost my car already and didn't need to be further penalised by the insurance any more than necessary, when for him it was just a question of relatively light damage and his employing company's insurance.

Shopping was OK, except Tom took me for a cup of tea in the supermarket bar and they were playing a fairly indifferent version of Leonard Cohen's Alleluya, which was nevertheless quite enough to undo me.

On the garage woman's advice, I filled in the constat fairly minimally, and roughed out a statement of events as I recalled them.  The guy arrived, in another van, and he had done likewise, but he refused to agree that he had been travelling fast down the middle of the road.  I'll spare you the ins and outs of the argument, we remained civil but neither of us was prepared to budge.  We both professed our good faith, but he said quite plainly that if he were to say anything that put him at all in the wrong, he would suffer for it at work.  So we concluded there was no point discussing it further, filled out all the relevant information, noted that we were not in agreement on the events, and didn't sign it, which one is at liberty to do.

I don't know whether it will do me any good; the fact that I undeniably lost control of the car, despite the fact that I was, as I saw and still see it, forced to brake to avoid a worse accident, will probably count against me.  Both the garage people and our insurance agent were wide-eyed at his statement about how he couldn't accept any responsibility because he'd be penalised at work, and they both said, of course he was in too much of a hurry, those van drivers for those businesses always are.  The agent says she'll talk to the insurance company, photocopied and sent my statement, and we must wait and see.  The refusal to agree means it may go 50/50, if I'm lucky.

So there it is.  Everyone around me so far has been wonderful, they always are, and I'm weathering it, just, but I'm tired.  Tired of having to deliver another car-related tale of woe, tired of my poor friends and family having to find more sympathetic words when the fact that I have written off two cars in less than four years clearly indicates that I am an incompetent, unfit to belong to the adult world. Despite reassuring myself that this time, it wasn't entirely my fault, I'm still going over all the ways it might not have happened, could have been avoided - braving the gendarmes and their fines would have turned out cheaper.  I'm tired of the insomnia and bad dreams and waves of tears and panic and despondency that keep washing over me, that I know aren't finished with me yet, and the dark fears and sense of imminence of future, worse loss and trauma that any loss and trauma calls up. I'm fairly bloody tired of trying to count my blessings and be grateful it wasn't worse and look on the bright side.  While I'm very well aware I have a blissfully easy life compared to most normal people, I'm tired of having to sort out problems and find ways through, though I perfectly well know that that's life, and it doesn't stop till life does.  And I ache with that kind of ache that flowers up from between the shoulder blades and grabs at the throat. I'm overall quite tired of myself. It's all so tedious.

And I'm heart-broken because I loved that car.  Much more than the old BX even though we'd had that a long time and it had lots of memories, because it never really quite fit me and I never quite trusted it, it was under-built and over-powered.  The Saxo was perfect, small and compact yet a bit rough round the edges, it ran on a cupful of petrol, the colour stood up to all the mud and dirt we can't avoid round here, and to me it was the small dark green thread that stitched together so many of the individually insignificant elements of my life and made them into a satisfying patchwork whole, and now that seems all ripped apart. I know it's not sensible to get so fond of a car, but it was special in ways that would come across as altogether sentimental, superstitious or fanciful if I were to outline them.  I shall never be that fond of a car again, and I had it for just three and a half years.

Anyway, we think we may have found its slightly bigger sister to take its place in Lamballe; another Saxo of the same vintage, and the same colour, but with four doors, which I guess is a bit more practical, especially for Mol to get in and out, and Tom's happy about it.  It's got lots of funny little naff details like a Cosworth fin and a snazzy steering wheel with Saxo in funky letters and flowery seat covers, which I'm hoping indicates a loving and caring owner, who says she's only selling it because she now needs to drive many more miles for work and needs something more substantial.  The price is pretty good without being suspiciously cheap. The main difference is that it's left hand drive, because it seems now really must be the time when I bite the bullet and learn how to drive one, I've wimped out  about it long enough.  I don't really feel very much like rising to any more challenges, but I hope by next week I might. I'll build up to it slowly, go out with Tom for practise drives at first and make sure we don't fall out.  It also means Tom can drive it, as we've always had a policy of he drives only his LHD car and I drive my RHD one, but that's rather limiting of options sometimes.  If it's good we'll buy it, and our friendly new garage people will help us with it.

But it won't be the same.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Unforeseen events...

... about which I will tell all tomorrow, but which might be enough to earn me a Nablo consolation prize for a good excuse for missing a daily post, mean that while I am not missing a daily post you will have to make do with a picture of Molly, who is well, looking sweet with her ear flopped over the edge of her beanbag, while I go and get into my pyjamas, drown my sorrows and watch Masterchef Pro.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Some souped-up scenes

Treading water just a bit this evening, here are some snapshots from our walk on Sunday afternoon, but played about with with some of Picasa's new gimmicky effects:

looking across the maize field to le Boissy, this is 'Holga-ish'. According to Wiki - The Holga is a medium format 120 film toy camera, made in Hong Kong, known for its low-fidelity aesthetic.

Looking inland towards Ploeuc, 'Lomo-ish'. Lomo is an acronym for Leningrad Optical Mechanical Amalgamation (Ленинградское Oптико-Mеханическое Oбъединение): old Russian cameras.

 Looking homeward from le Boissy, '1960s'.

Hydrangeas, le Boissy, 'Lomo-ish' again.

This one isn't edited, there really was this strange flash of sunset spotlight on the chestnut tree opposite the house.

(And I posted at Out with Mol too today.)