Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Temptations of (shared) solitude, and a walk on the beach for New Year.

'Do you think we talked too much when B and the Quiet American were here?' I wondered aloud.
'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. 

Coming closer, their charm did not evaporate but evolved.  The family group of perhaps ten, one of whose number climbed to the top of the conical rock, progressed with cheerful shouts and calls, tossing a rugby ball between them, a bright, intense teenage girl, rosy-faced, strawberry-blond in peppermint-green jeans like a little parrakeet, chasing it more eagerly than anyone, her father perhaps, in a silly woolly hat, older women following in pairs, absorbed in talk. Their clamour and stir was heartening, playful, not intrusive. Along with the large lady with the Finnish spitz dog, the sprightly one with the terrier which bounded up to Mol and bounded back again to her again without drawing breath, the two Dutch women who looked cold and pink and like they'd been walking for miles who asked us the way to the village to find coffee to warm them, the old boys with the buckets and spades for foraging, could all be met with a smile, a wave, a greeting.  There was room for everyone.

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.   


The Crow said...

Wonderful photographs to ease me into the last hours of the dying year. I love your work, Lucy.

Bruce Taylor, a.k.a. Catalyst said...

What a beautiful post, Lucy. And how lucky you are to have the sea so close, even a cold wintry sea. Happy New Year to you and Tom!

Zhoen said...

The four of us really would get along.

Rouchswalwe said...

Happy New Jahr, sweet Lucy and dear Tom!! Sending fur ruffles to Molly! Thank you for this tender post. I am off to bed now and will dream of beaches and brisk walks and lasting friendships!

Roderick Robinson said...

There is of course the obligation to entertain: to avoid the comfortable cliché, to reach out for something original, now and then - God help us - to try (Doomed to failure; signalled by a flatness at the end of the sentences) to be profound. When blogging as well as after dinner. A risky tightrope with many a fall. With many a reckless resolution afterwards: I'll never blog again, I'll never have guests. I'll simply write and read and listen to music.

But then there's the countervailing gratitude. Others have walked the tightrope, have managed to entertain, have not toppled down into late-night embarrassment, even though we know they will have - must have - had their failures. And when in rare moments we hear about such failures we pooh-pooh them: that's not so bad, we say. Not seeing those failures internally.

We are like people sitting in darkened rooms, trying to fold up aeroplanes from irregular sheets of paper, sending them flying off into the dark, hoping they'll end up in other hands, hoping the intention will be recognised in the imperfect folding. While, all the while, knowing where good intentions will almost certainly take us.

And here I am, matching your confessional with my own.

Now. Reassured, as I've pecked away, that the previously hidden Malverns are lit up and sweetly blurred by winter haze. That there'll be Berg's Lulu tonight and the drama will effortlessly absorb the atonal difficulties. What the hell was I worrying about? It's daytime. Time to be bold, to fill in the silences. To remind us all that redemption arrives on a more or less 12-hourly cycle.

Happy New Year to you, Tom and orange-scarved Mol

Lucy said...

Thanks all, nice to see you and happy New Year anew.

Robbie, that made me smile and smile. I hanker for your view of the Malverns, one of the best lines of hills to be seen anywhere, I believe.

the polish chick said...

happy new year, lucy. your beautiful pictures have me almost pining for the ocean.

as for your post, i must say it struck such a chord - i find each time i entertain (and i love to entertain) i feel a fool after, and also wonder about the food, the conversation, the wine (too much, always too much). thank you for making me feel a little less the freak.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful photographs!

You saying "What should be a normal social arrangement almost seems to require a day's convalescence." struck a chord with me! I often find social occasions, although lovely, a little exhausting, worrying I've said too much/ not enough/ the wrong thing >.< I am quite a fan of shared (mostly with my parents in my case) solitude.

Happy New Lucy!

Laureline said...

In this world of ordinary people, I'm glad there is you.

I know so well what you mean, Lucy. We had a houseFUL for eight days over Christmas and that involved my preparing a brunch here for 12 on the 25th and a dinner for 13 on the same day. I was pulverized on the 26th. And it wasn't just physical, it was emotional fatigue, too.

But it was meaningful and so gratifying to have all our family together.

I only spent one afternoon with you, Tom and Mols, but I am sure, on the occasion you write about, that you were both extraordinarily charming hosts in your brilliant, quiet way. That is the way you seem to me.

Happy 2013 to you three.

marja-leena said...

Oh, oh, how lovely your photos are, Lucy! They remind me of our favourite retreat on the west coast of Vancouver Island. I think it's time to go there again!

I'm not one for parties either, even find all the family togetherness exhausting after many days. Fred and I just enjoy the quiet life together.

Happy New Year to you and Tom and Molly! And thanks for this wonderful online friendship. I wonder if we will ever meet - any chance you'd come our way one day?

Anonymous said...

This is so lovely, Lucy. And I so agree with you that posting a blog is an act of sociability. . . thank you for that. And happy, happy New Year to you and Tom and Molly.
- alison

Crafty Green Poet said...

What beautiful photos!

Happy new year!

Lesley said...

Oh how familiar that anguished middle-of-the-night feeling is. Why did I say that? Why did I talk so much? Why do I feel compelled to fill silences? And here you are, reassuring me that it's a shared feeling. Here's to the conviviality and confessionality of blogging, to the saying of things in pixels that we would probably never say in person.

Jean said...

What a stunning place! So many of your photos touch me very much, Lucy, as does your honest and eloquent sharing of many experiences and emmotions with which I can identify. Happy New Year, Lucy and Tom! May it be full of quiet beauty and creativity.

Jonathan Wonham said...

Happy New Year Lucy, and... nice ripples!

Nimble said...

Beautiful light on that ridged sandy expanse. I'm glad you had a clearing to liberate you all from the house. A gentle and giving 2013 to all!

Ellena said...

I hope to be reading many more of your New Year's Eve posts. I could say much more about your post but then I might be up all night asking myself if I said it correctly.

Joe Hyam said...

On drivel and driveling I often wonder whether it is the things we consider most drivelish and forgetable are not in fact the truest, most durable and most original. What we are most pleased can can prove in time to be disappointing. Thank you for for a thought-provoking New Year post with heart stopping photographs. What a beautiful part of the world you live in even if you do share our weather!

Beth said...

What a lovely post, Lucy, and such beautiful photographs of the sea. I do worry less, as I get older, about impressions and what people think, but it never goes away entirely. And yes to your comments on marriage: you may have seen that bit about protecting each other's solitude here, but if so I was quoting Teju Cole. He said it first!

Lucy said...

Thanks all for showing up, both old friends and newer ones. And how so many of you, from your early twenties to your later seventies, from galloping extroverts to the shyer and more retiring, from the articulate and wordy to the quieter makers of images, suffer the same anxieties, of course.

The Bay of St Brieuc is indeed, or should be, a ravishingly and austerely beautiful place, which makes its fouling for much of the year by nitrate-induced green seaweed from intensive farming, so that by summer its not only highly unpleasant but downright dangerous, such a criminal, crying shame.

Beth, was that Teju? There's a thing. I remembered it as being someone from your church perhaps, but never mind. It stuck.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Great post to start the year with, Lucy, so much of it rings bells with me and your images are stunning.
Best part of entertaining is after the guests leave and the leftovers are still there to be wolfed down in various re-creations for the next few days with much unbridled burping and, erm, farting, if I may say so without incurring anyone's displeasure.
A very happy New Year to you and Tom and all your loved ones.

Lucy said...

Hey Natalie, bring on the unbridled burping and farting! What you say reminds me somewhat of something Polish Chick, above, once said when grumbling about having to read too many romantic novels for her book club, something along the lines of why is it no romance ever deals with that blissful stage of advanced intimacy when you can freely fart in one another's presence?

Happy New Year to you too!

zephyr said...

What a perfectly wonderful post!
i love it that it includes burps and farts!!

Lucas said...

It is great to awake from absence of mental fight to discover this beautiful New Year post. Happy New Year, Lucy.

HKatz said...

This post transported me. The photos are stunning; I wish I could step into them and walk along that beach.

Happy New Year... Chinese New Year, now :)