Sunday, January 20, 2013

Some minor wintry alarums and excursions

Despite the weather maps indicating that we were barely on the edge of the snowy weather currently causing havoc in the UK and elsewhere, we woke on Friday morning to a fair amount of it which proved to be all over the department right up to the coast - we often get a dusting up here while all remains clear down there. With relief we cancelled a lunch arrangement with J for Friday -Tom had been feeling the worse since a nasty stomach bug laid him low earlier in the week and wasn't much looking forward to it - and when it showed no signs of disappearing, I rang to put off my students for the next day (Saturday).  Their mum said they'd all been at home all day anyway since even in St Brieuc school buses had been cancelled and they certainly didn't expect me to try to get there in the morning.  So we were quite prepared to settle down for a weekend of housebound cosiness and indolence.

However.  There was the small matter of the weird flocks of starling flocks of black floaters which had been coming at me from the corner of my right eye a day or two before, resolving themselves into darting insects and wiggly worms, then largely subsiding but being replaced by flashes of light in the same corner, and the vision in that eye going somewhat blurry.  Too much time shopping the Chrome webstore, I thought guiltily.  Then on Friday night a voice from somewhere in my head said 'retina'.  I looked it up and these symptoms did indeed bode the possibility of a tear in that same membrane, or maybe not, but needing to be checked.  

I rang our doctor who was still working, as he is a very saint and will, it is to be hoped, have a street in the village named after him on his retirement at the very least.  One cannot but notice how many French streets are named after doctors, and in one small town locally the former doctor is also the mayor of many years standing, and boasts to have delivered many of the town's children; I have heard it murmured that he may also have something to do with the conception of some of them too (and we're not talking IVF).  No such imputation has been or will be, I'm sure, made of our lovely Dr Le G, however.  He told me to come in in the morning.  

The night brought no more snow, but the roads around our hamlet were covered with ice, black, white and every shade in between, and there was a thick white fog over all.  I had no intention of driving anywhere, or of dragging Tom out to do so, so I put on my sturdy walking boots, a bright red jacket so as to be visible, clasped my trusty hazel thumb-stick (which seemed a little over the top but in the event I was glad of it) and set out to walk the couple of kilometres to the village.  I felt quite excited and very rugged and adventurous. I took a backpack in which I put, as well as obvious necessities like money and mobile, the camera and something to read.  Tom raised his eyebrows at the hardback of Bring up the Bodies (link to a fantastic and worthy review, Margaret Atwood in the Grauniad, read it) as rather hefty to be lugged along in a packpack for a waiting room read, did I want to take the Spanish cookbook which I also had for Christmas too?  I remarked that this was rich coming from someone who's likelier to be seen reading the complete works  of St John of the Cross or the Nag Hammadi Scriptures in such a place than James Patterson.  'I've never taken the Nag Hammadi with me...' he protested as I left. 'But you might,'I said.

Anyway, I didn't have much reading time, since, for the first time I can remember, the doctor's waiting room was empty, though one patient was in the surgery.  He was amused at my stick and boots, having driven in from somewhat further off without drama.  He said as far as he was concerned, eye problems were always urgent, as without testing there was no way to say what they might be, so I needed to get to an ophthalmologist asap.  I muttered couldn't I wait, I didn't want to go out in the snow, it had only just come up and wasn't that bad anyway... No, he replied firmly, in fact on second thoughts he said he'd ring round the ophthalmos on Monday morning and sort it out, as they are notoriously scarce and  difficult to pin down in these parts, really one of the only areas of healthcare where we feel we are less well served here than in the UK, which is why we tend to make our eye appointments at high street opticians there when we go over.

I came out and thought I'd check out the tiny general store-cum-bar, for any useful supplies and a cup of hot chocolate. It's old-fashioned and scruffy but quite well stocked, with a beautiful wooden counter top; though they didn't have any of the pots of ready-made rice pudding Tom's been eating his way through to the exclusion of much else since he was ill.  The woman owner said she had rice and milk, perhaps I could make some?  In the bar part there was the kind of cheerful small hubbub that people enjoy in exceptional snowy weather, with stories of flat car batteries and the like.  

'Many people at the doctor's?'asked the bar owner.  When I said not, he predicted that come Monday morning, if the snow cleared, the waiting room would be crowded, everyone would be there.  Country folk hereabouts don't like to be kept from their doctor for long.  One wonders what they'll do when Dr Le G finally takes his well-earned retirement, he'll be hard to replace for his patience and dependability, if they can replace him at all.

On the way back, the ice had already thawed quite a bit, but the fog didn't lift much and the camera stayed in the backpack, and anyway I was inclined to keep moving and get home now.  It was still rather lovely, the banks of the roadside ditches sculpted with folds of snow, a tiny jacksnipe or similar whirring up from one as I approached, robins and blackbirds and dunnocks eyeing me from the hedges, every twig and leaf seeming to be drawn double by the snow and air frost, and invisible flocks of winter birds, who knows quite what, bramblings and fieldfares and redwings, perhaps, calling from behind the curtain of white fog.

When I got home, Mol had been decidedly fed up with me for going for a walk in the snow without her and rather naughty.  It was just the kind of snow she likes too, not too deep and with a nice crisp crust that doesn't make uncomfortable snowballs stick to your legs and between your toes. So we went out in it in the garden, where the fog rather scuppered the light for photos, but I took quite a few anyway.

The snow is on its way out.  Not before some of it had found its way into our loft space, we know not how, blowing exceptionally under the slates we hope, not through an invisible hole that needs repairing, and giving  us further headaches.  Fortunately we have an old vacuum cleaner which can suck up wet things, so Tom clambered and stretched and stood on one leg at the top of the step-ladder to clear it out, while I held the vacuum cleaner as high as possible from further down them.  We stayed quite cheerful throughout this operation all things considered.  The eye symptoms have very largely subsided, apart from a bit of blurriness and the odd flicker, so hopefully it won't be serious or require any bothersome treatment, and we still have today to enjoy the last of the snowy peace and quiet, fingers crossed.

And I did make a rice pudding.  Funnily enough, though I like to cook, I've never made one before.  I added sultanas and cinnamon and golden syrup to it (I added a link to explain golden syrup, since I have observed that there are many benighted parts of the world which know it not, a sorry state of affairs), and boiled then baked it.  Despite being very sloppy when it went into to oven, it came out a bit dry, but not bad for a first attempt, and really rather better than the plastic pots.


Zhoen said...

A walk in the snow beats driving in it any day.

Have you ever had a migraine aura before?

I shall have to look up a rice pudding recipe.

Roderick Robinson said...

With eye problems there's always the lingering "What if...?" thought, first triggered in my case by that horrid little episode in history involving Prince Arthur and made even worse by the maudlin accompaniment of one of the lesser Pre-Raphaelite paintings. At age eight, or thereabouts, I became privately convinced (not daring to mention it to any adult) that it would be better to be dead than go blind. A remarkable conclusion for a child that hardly dared utter the word "dead" or "dying" for the sheer terror of it.

You were right to stride out with your thumb-stick, an image that seems to have you passing out of, or into, one of the lesser-known Christmas carols and therefore marginally hors saison. Hazel, too. That evokes some mythical or folklorique association but as you know I'm very bad at those kind of subjects, loosely filed in my head under Voodoo.

I really must apologise. This started out as a message of sympathy (albeit an indirect one, as is my wont) since only a fortnight ago I was having air puffed against my eyeballs in an attempt to find out whether my cataracts had "ripened" - a mischosen concept if ever there was one. The Prince Arthur story was disclosed, with unseemly relish, by one of the old bats who passed for a teacher at my wartime primary school and now I can't find hair nor hide of the story ("Ah, save my eyes.") on the Internet. I have therefore lapsed into inconclusiveness and a more honourable, less frugal, commenter would have made a private decision and moved towards the Delete button.

But I am sympathetic and am impressed by the way this serious medical matter was woven into the warp and woof of daily life in Brittany and a tone was chosen and maintained so as not to alarm your admirers. I'm sure you are right that this was a fleeting attack of chrome-itis. I came upon some Rilke in my current French book (Bienvenue parmi nous, Eric Holder) and was reminded of you. I'm sure you know it by heart:

Voller Apfel, Birne und Banane,
Stachelbeere... Alles dieses spricht
Tod und Leben in den Mund... Ich ahne
Lest es einem Kind vom Angesicht,

Pam said...

Ah, I sympathise, having been rather eye-conscious in our family this week. I'm sure your doctor is right to get it checked out - much the safest thing to do. One needs eyes.

the polish chick said...

lovely glazed vegetation photographs. glad you braved the fog.
and i agree with zhoen - my first thought when you described your symptoms was a migraine aura. the first time i had mine, i thought for certain i was going insane. alas, most likely, that was not the case, though i know some who would argue.

Lucy said...

Thanks chaps.

Z and PC - I don't think it's anything to do with migraine, I've never had one and there was no pain or discomfort at all, in fact it was rather interesting! I am however lifelong myopic and pegging on a bit, so a prime candidate for a retinal tear. Doctor said there was nothing I might have done to cause it, like too much screen goggling, and nothing I could do or needed to avoid to help it, though I did read somewhere on-line that it was best to avoid upside-down yoga positions or funfair rides which cause you to turn upside-down!

There seem to be millions of ways to cook rice pudding, and lots of things you can add to it - I rather fancied one involving rosewater which could then be served with rose-petal jam in summer, but Tom's a bit of a purist about keeping simple foods simple, he liked the sultanas but the cinnamon was edging a bit close to 'messing it about'.

Robbie - I love my thumbstick, should really walk with it more often, feels a bit pretentious but is really so much less so than those 'Nordic canes'. Prince Arthu, now was it not he who occasioned the lines in 'King John' so beloved of John Mortimer's father

'when I strike my foot/Upon the bosom of the ground,/ rush forth,
And bind the boy'?

JM's father thought that Rushforth and Bindtheboy' sounded like a firm of dodgy solicitors and used to enjoy asking hapless youngsters at legal gatherings if that was where they came from.

I have come across the Rilke, as I remember it seemed funny him talking about bananas, and that it sounded a little bit like that children's book 'Each peach, pear, plum'!

Isabelle - thanks, I'm not really too worried. I suppose eyes are a bit close to your brain really, though as Tom remarked, so are ears and we don't worry half as much about those!

marja-leena said...

You wove a marvelous tale of snow and walking stick and rice pudding, but sorry that the eye worry had to be the cause. Good that it is getting checked out. Hope all is OK, Lucy. As always I love your photos.

We saw our son-in-law off to the airport yesterday afternoon, with concerns about his making it to London after all the cancellations the day before. He made it fine but is staying put in London rather than going north.

zephyr said...

If it weren't for the eye business...what a jolly little post. i love imagining you in your red jacket and boots with a knapsack and stick. i use one, a branch from one of the sycamores at Greenwood and am so pleased how helpful it is for the short little walks i can still manage.

Isn't it always the way: when you take a book, you usually don't need it and when you don't, of course you do!

Nimble said...

My mother had a visual migraine a couple of years ago. The sight in one eye was completely obscured for part of a day. No pain. She had it checked but it went away on its own. Brain weather we could call it.
Freezing fog makes the best (for photos/worst for driving) ice coating.
I like the idea of your hike to town.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins said...

Oh Lucy, there HAS to be vanilla in rice-pudding, whether the seeds scraped out of a pod, or a good extract-of-vanilla. (Not that terrible supermarket vanilla 'flavouring'!)

I made some last weekend for my house full of guests. Simple. Pudding-rice and brown sugar in an oven-proof dish, full cream milk (most important. that) and a generous slug of vanilla essence. As we have an Aga, I put the pudding in the 'warming oven' for the day. That left the milk reduced and the rice not cooked but thoroughly steeped in vanilla flavour. Then into the hot oven for about twenty-five minutes, slackening it with some full cream mid-way. Timings are down to heat, oven type etc, but generally rice pudding benefits from a long slow cooking on a lowish to medium heat. Too fierce and it can turn to something that needs to be sliced, and no amount of slackening with milk will bring it back happily from that state. When the pudding is pretty well cooked, and bit more sugar and a couple of knobs of butter on the top will help enrich it and make a nicely-tanned skin, and a grating of nutmeg finishes it off beautifully. No cinnamon or raisins necessary. It should never be coagulated to the point of solidity, which is why you need to be alert to it during cooking. And the rice-grains should retain their shape. The ideal texture is that of thick cream.

The Greek version of rice-pudding has rosewater added, and it's made in a pan over a hot-plate, not in the oven. It's enriched with egg yolk, though that has to be careful amalgamated or it 'scrambles'. Done well Greek rice-pudding can be a light and delicious thing, though it's a rice dish that's best served cooled in small individual ramekins on a hot day. It's also quick to make... not including the cooling. But like all cooked-in-a-saucepan pudding-rice dishes, it lacks the wonderful, deep and creamy richness that comes from oven cooking combined with creamy milk, brown sugar and well suffused vanilla. Heaven!!!

Lucy said...

Thanks again.

Clive, wow, thanks for the tutorial, I see I still have much to learn, and look forward to practising more! I did indeed forget the vanilla, which I always have in its real, pod form, and did mean to include. Tom's rather sold on the sultanas in it, so though they may not be purist, I think they may have to stay, but I think the cinnamon isn't really necessary, and we're not great nutmeg fans, though in fact I often include a little in savoury things, such as mushroom duxelles. The butter on top sounds good too. Some of the recipes called for egg yolk, but I felt this was superfluous and might make it too cakey. The Greek version sounds good though.

We have no Aga; I'm sure it would work well in the slow cooker, but I use that a lot for savoury things with a lot of onions and garlic, and I'm rather afraid that the flavours might linger enough to spoil it, however well washed up, I'm quite pernickety about that sort of thing, so wouldn't risk it...

Rouchswalwe said...

Ach, I've just looked out the window and there's a layer of snow over everything out there in the early morning dark. Wish I could wait until the sun comes up and then walk to work. Alas! I shall think of creamy puddings and fantastic walking sticks and Molly in the snow as I scrape the windshield of the Buick and then slide down the city streets. Crossing my fingers your eye doctor is as knowlegeable and helpful as my knee doctor has been. The therapy has really been quite enjoyable.

Marly Youmans said...

Love 3 and 5.

And hope your eye is now a perfect instrument for looking!