'I don't know. I often think I drivel too much when I'm on my own ground.'
'Me too. I mean, I think I drivel too much, not that I think you do.'
In fact I fear we both do. Introvert stuff, nervousness, wordy and unchannelled thoughts spilling out randomly, distracted by being the hosts and attending to dinner means I chatter with only half my mind on what I'm saying, being at home and not having to drive back (and it's our wine), means we drink a bit more and so get more loquacious. We exceptionally have coffee after dinner to keep ourselves going then wake in the small hours tormented by a sense of fear and foolishness, and certain the meal must have been inedible. Our interests and topics of conversation are surely obscure and bizarre, our manners too earnest and intense, our worldly experience slight and uncertain, doubtless we leave people embarrassed or nonplussed... What should be a normal social arrangement almost seems to require a day's convalescence.
Moreover, it gets worse, not easier, as one gets older. I say 'one', I mean 'I'. Doubtless no one else on earth suffers from such hopeless, immature, ridiculous angst about having a couple of friends of ten years standing - whom we hold in much affection, and who have given us ample reason to believe think well enough of us, don't find our company disagreeable, and generally appreciate our food - round for moules frites of an evening. No one else except Tom, I suppose. Which is a comfort, I suppose.
'In fact I drivel on other people's ground too,' I add 'but I feel I've a bit more control over it.'
This makes him laugh, and we both feel better.
'There's worse sins,' he says.
A friendly, chatty e-mail later in the day from B herself reassures me that our discomfort was unfounded, but settling back into our own quiet is a relief. I remember reading (I think it was at Beth's) about a husband who said of his marriage: We protect each other's solitude. Which is good, it seems, except where does protecting end and imposing begin? In Victoria Wood's excellent TV play the other night, Loving Miss Hatto, the dying Joyce in conversation with the critic who begins to suspect the couple's deception, says that her husband as a young man was vulnerable, that she supposed they both were. He, the critic, suggests gently that vulnerable people can look after each other. Yes, she says, but they can also compound each other's weakness, but that is the chance you take with marriage.
And that was our main bit of socialising. Otherwise we've watched TV, engaged on the satisfying work of making space in the 'fridge, and read and read and read. The rain it raineth every day; we sleep later than we mean to each morning, not least because it's so dark with cloud and being further west than most of Devon but in the same time as eastern Germany, and I wake from dreams of rain pouring through the roof, through plaster and floorboards and insulation. Hitherto sound bits of road hereabouts are going into potholes, the roadside ditches are constantly in danger of overflowing, and I know in many parts it's worse. Tom grows disenchanted with working on the bathroom he's finishing upstairs because of the constant hammering of rain on the skylight, I have made it once down the garden to pick a bit of salad. Molly gets her walks when she gets them, sometimes with her coat on.
Yet yesterday the rain and wind suddenly let up for a whole half a day; we looked up from our afternoon adrift in our books and somnolence, saw the sun, and within minutes it was boot, saddle to horse and away with us, stopping only to check the tides in the Almanach de Facteur, as you do, to make sure there'd be some beach to walk on at Morieux.
And somewhat to our surprise, with it being, I suppose, the Sunday between Christmas and New Year, and the first helping of sun for a long time, and indeed an afternoon of low tide,the wide grey expanse of the bay was a relatively gregarious and convivial place.
Not only did we share it with the butterflies of upturned empty mussel shells,
colonies of living ones, casings of spider crabs,
groups of gulls,
and lonely egrets,
and troupes of turnstones, sanderlings and knots, the last whose running back and forth, chiding the waves' progression, earned them their name, etymologically the same as that of King Canute,
but also even with a few other members of the human species. Some walking dogs and children,
some foraging for cockles in the sand and mussels on the rocks,
some simply playing.
I think to be a big strong dog, with good sight who loves to run, galloping with horses on the tideline must be a wonderful thing to do.
Whether as coloured dots in the sun,
or as pin-people silhouetted against it, in their smallness within the scene, the ripples and glitter of sand, the distant dark marks of mussel posts and white lines of surf, they had a miniature ephemeral, brave loveliness.
We made our way back, thinking we'd pick up the Dutch women and give them a lift if we saw them, but we didn't, and miraculously, even the bar in the village was open this winter Sunday afternoon, so presumably they were warming themselves there, or on their way homeward.
I don't mind people really, especially with a lot of space around them.
So tonight, needless to say, conviviality and rubbing shoulders with others is not on the cards. But writing a substantial New Year's Eve post here has become a kind of act of sociability, and in my seventh year of blogging, there's an element of auld lang's syne to that. And if it would only stop raining for long enough, I might feel moved to start sloughing off this end of year cocoon.
But then there are still some leftovers in the fridge...
Happy New Year.