Thursday, January 31, 2013

Upside-down icicles

These were a weird thing that happened during the freeze.

We have a rather untidy and unlovely old plastic garden table top adorning our back terrace, waiting for us to find a way to transport it to the tip, where it's legs have gone before.  One of the reasons it's difficult to move is that it was left upside down, thereby forming a series of pockets which have filled with a not insignificant volume of rainwater, which makes it very heavy.  When this water froze a series of inverted icicles were formed, pushing up out of the pockets of water.  We'd not seen such a thing before and can't really explain it, except perhaps it was something to do with the differing rates of expansion/contraction of the ice and the plastic surrounding it which caused the latter to push the former out of shape, or something.

Rather odd, and somewhat fascinating.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Vile jelly, more snow, and funny faces.

I saw the eye doctor yesterday, it was all very brisk; his receptionist trotted round the very crowded waiting room putting drops in everyone's eyes, and he stuck my head in a thing and shone a bright light into my eye.  He then told me my condition was 'classique', and explained that some of my vitreous fluid had detached from the wall of the eye, which had caused a bit of bleeding (the black spots and squiggly lines) and a bit of pulling (the flashing lights) and now a bit of stray fluid was moving about where it shouldn't (the blurring). This could in theory precede a retinal tear, which could in turn precede a detached retina, but this was unlikely as it seemed to be subsiding, and eventually all should settle down and return to normal. If not and any of the symptoms returned in any noticeable degree, then to come straight back.  I should also not be surprised if it happened in the other eye some time; if it did come and have it checked anyway.  So I am now in the desirable position of being on an ophthalmologist's books, which is no bad thing.

And that, one hopes, is the end of that little episode.


In fact on Monday morning, despite all signs, both circumstantial and officially meteorological, that the snow was going away, we woke to yet more of it.  I sat on the bedroom windowsill and took pictures of it.  Our garden always looks good from there in the snow, you can't see all the weeds and soggy bits and unfinished and deteriorating paths.

The last one is mostly next door's garden, I include it because it shows our view out to Bel Air, at 339 metres the highest point of Côtes d'Armor (not a mountainous region), and not so very much higher than we are, which accounts for why we got snow when much of the department didn't.

And here are some experimental things using some of the tricks on the webcam on this little computer and the on line photo-editing app known as iPiccy, which is really very good and will probably do as much as Picasa when I get used to it, except of course for shrinking and exporting photos to upload, since you have to upload them to work on them.  Doesn't matter with webcam stuff as it's small anyway.

This 'kaleidoscope' filter on the webcam is quite addictive.  These are mostly parts of my fizzog; the eye one would have been even better yesterday when the eye in question was all weird and dilated.  The bottom right one, and the top left in the first collage it was the telly reflecting in my glasses (we were watching an X-men film, which Tom's daughter sent us for Christmas, only I was playing with webcam and only watching some of the time.  I can take or leave science fiction really, but I quite like Patrick Stewart and have a nostalgic fondness for Marvel Comics)

And this is with a 'photocopy' filter, which I rather like as it's kind of flattering, since it doesn't show any lines or saggy bits.  Come to that it doesn't even really show my nose either.  Not that I mind my nose, as bits of me go.

Time to stop playing about already.

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.

Friday, January 18, 2013

New toys # 2

My other toy is the internet radio I had for my birthday a month or so ago, which I've already mentioned.

I am enjoying this, in unexpected ways.  Tom seemed rather disappointed that it was completely dependent on the wi-fi box.  'So you couldn't take it off to the park with you on a picnic like we did in the old days...' he said sadly.  Which was touchingly nostalgic but a little wide of any fact or experience relating to our own lives, since I can remember doing no such thing myself, with or without him, and he doesn't listen to radio or much like picnics either.  I remember finding it funny years ago that when Sam Cooke was Having a Party, he and his buddies were 'dancing to the music ... on the radio', the idea of one's party playlist being supplied by the radio seemed somewhat quaint.

However, after a fashion we - the radio and I that is - do have a private party.  Persian Dance Party quite often (courtesy of Iranian Radio FM), though sometimes its Absolute Trance, or Blue Marlin Ibiza, or Flamenco Radio, or Arvorig FM, or others ... This takes place in seclusion in my blue room, though Molly quite often joins us and chaperones from the beanbag, I don't mind looking stupid in front of her.  Finding that of the roughly eight kilos I took off a couple of years ago, nearly half that number had found their way back on, something had to be done.  Eat less, move around more.  But the manner of moving around proves difficult to sustain; last year I tried running, what was I thinking?  Running is painful and boring, I'm sure it isn't if you can do it but I can't.  It lasted about a week and the sneaky kilos continued to sneak.  Swimming is all right, but one has to make one's way to the pool on chilly winter days, and the last couple of times I swam, once in the sea and once at the pool, I caught a cold which put me off somewhat - in the sea I was in the company of two of Tom's grandchildren who probably made me a parting gift of the choicest of their infections collected over the school year, and from the pool I suspect the transition from the Turkish bath levels of heat in the pool area to the shivering cold of the changing rooms does little to boost one's immune resistance.  Cycling was a thing which kept me fairly fit aeons ago, but since Molly arrived in my life, taking a trip out on the bike rather than giving her a walk always seemed rather mean, and anyway, I never much cared for it round here, though I don't mind walking, so last year I finally accepted reality and took my old Raleigh to Emmaus, where the cheerful blokes who live there always seem happy to take old bikes to tinker with, and it would have cost probably more for me to have reconditioned than to buy a serviceable new one anyway.

No, in fact the only successful and sustained form of exercise, successful inasmuch as it has helped me lose weight and turn flab into something resembling muscle, albeit cellulite-covered muscle, that seems to suit is a kind of improvised  dance work-out based on various actions gathered from keep-fit classes, yoga positions, things I've seen people doing on telly, and other largely intuitive movements. Yoga itself is good for suppleness and balance but is frankly more a once a week social convention these days between E, A and myself, where the drinking of coffee (and sometimes the eating of Dutch sticky waffle biscuits or gingerbread, with real ginger, not the bland cinnamony stuff the French like) often take nearly as much time as the yoga.  Since I'm possibly even more lazy about initiating social arrangements than I am about taking exercise, having a default pre-arranged one is really no bad thing, but it doesn't burn fat.

So I maintained these solitary exercise sessions of between half an hour and an hour, three or four times a week for a year or so and found them quite tolerable, even, dare I say it enjoyable, and they really did me some good.  However, they lapsed, as all such good practice is in danger of doing with me, partly because I became complacent that I'd lost the weight and didn't think I needed to do them any more, and partly because I simply grew bored with them.  And one of the reasons for the boredom was that they really do need music, and I didn't own sufficient of the right kind of music to do them to - a couple of CDs of mixed World Music, which I liked well enough but which grew a bit stale after a while, and a few pop albums retrieved from younger days, some of which I realized I had grown out of, they sounded thin and inane, and the lyrics irritated me.

Then the internet radio arrived.  I know you can get internet radio off a computer, but I wanted a proper radio, with reasonable sound, on which I could get all my favourite BBC stations, plugged in in the kitchen or in my room, without interruptions to reception from bad weather, light bulbs, Tom moving about upstairs, or whatever, which the normal FM was subject to, and perhaps that I could get podcasts/Listen Again on.  Well, this new Roberts is good for all that, except sadly the podcasts, which it will do but if there's any break in the wi-fi, as there inevitably is from time to time, they cut off and you have to go back to the start again, which is infuriating.  However, mostly I want them for speech radio, and the new Chromebook turns out to have perfectly adequate sound for that, not bad at all for a titchy thing, so that solves that problem.  But then I can get all these radio stations from around the world; sometimes I listen to a general news radio from somewhere like Vancouver for a bit, and hear about the weather and the traffic and imagine Marja-Leena getting up just when I'm having tea in the afternoon (yes I really did!), but also I've found there are an enormous number of non-stop music stations, and this solves my exercise backing track ennui. The dance stations feature the kind of music which I would never listen to for its own sake, rhythmic, repetitive, rather anodyne, the whole Ibiza scene, rather than the orgiastic hedonism of remote and alien youth I had imagined it to be, if the radio stations are anything to go by, sounds gentle to the point of bland, but the long, subtly morphing dj mixes (I think that's what they are anyway...) are ideal for my private gyrations.  Some of them are a very mixed bag, Persian Dance Party is one of the ones I like best, partly because there are fewer English lyrics to irritate, and the rhythms are lively but the flavour is exotic, makes me want to go and eat a lovely lamb and rice dish with pomegranates or something.  Then there are always things like Flamenco, Latin, African and other World music, many of which I only really enjoy in small doses, but the unfamiliarity is an incentive to get moving.

So there we are, probably more than you really needed or wanted to know, but another window into life at Maison Box Elder.  I've not bothered seeking out links for the stations I've mentioned, but they can all be found at this wi-fi radio portal. And if any of my far flung bloggy friends have radio stations, or programmes they recommend, let me know, and assist me in my new nerdy hobbydom!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Waxing anorakish about new toys # 1

I finally made a decision about replacing my defunct Dell Mini computer, the one which saved my back from sitting too long at the supposedly ergonomic computer chair, as I could cart it around with me and balance it on top of the dog, who usually got to my lap first, on the sofa, and which saved Tom and me from computer-generated marital disharmony.  Tablets simply didn't appeal, except I suppose the real i-McCoy, an opinion largely founded on the remarkable creative things Plutarch seems to be able to get up to on his, and hisquiet putting of the case for it in the face of its detractors. But the price was simply more than I was prepared to cough up, and I'm a bit refractory about buying into the whole Cult of Apple anyway.

Which is somewhat ironic really (why is it ironic, exactly, why do we say that?  I try not to as I think it's a misuse of the term, it is neither, as far as I can see dramatic or any of the various forms of situational irony, but then I say it anyway...) because I got a Chromebook, thereby putting all my eggs into the basket of another world-eating behemoth instead.

The fact is I've been well hooked into Google - Chrome as a browser, Picasa for photo editing and Gmail - for ages now and I rather liked the idea of doing without Windows altogether. I didn't want to pay a lot, and at under 200 quid this wasn't a lot.  Also I do need to have an English language OS, and even more important, a qwerty keyboard, Francophone azerty ones make me feel as if I've had a stroke, and even from specialist computer places here that seems to be impossible. So I have to order from the UK, which is also problematic, as many suppliers just won't, or if they do when you check it turns out they charge about another 50 quid (I exaggerate not) for carriage, which I think is scandalous, so I resorted to that other entity bent on world domination beginning with A and named after a South American river or a tribe of woman warriors from Ancient Thrace, who sent it to me immaculately, beautifully and securely packed in a scant three working days for just over a fiver, which I thought was brilliant.

So, what do I think of it?  I like it, but of course it has its limitations.  I kind of quite like limitations, like the woman I remember saying that one of the reasons she bought organic food as a policy was because she got so fed up with endless, time-consuming, bewildering consumer choice and liked having to work within the limits of its availability.  I'm quite happy that I'm more or less told, this is cheap, it is solid and will work but you'll only get this this and this with it, don't expect that, that and that as well.

It's also very quick, and the battery life is good.  It's sleek and light and pretty with a good screen and an interesting, spacious keyboard with these odd sort of low relief keys; which I'm getting used to.  Then there's the touch-pad.  Unlike most people who seem to prefer them, I am completely useless and cack-handed with a mouse, have only ever used a standard two-button touch-pad (never used a Mac of any kind either).  This one has no buttons, so one press with one finger equals a left-click, two fingers a right, one finger held down and the other drawn for drag-and-drop etc (but you have to remember to do it in two separate movements or it thinks you mean right-click), and a really smooth scroll by drawing two fingers up or down simultaneously, which I think most touch-pads do but not always as well as this one.

So much for the hardware, when it comes to the software, really, everything you can do with it has to be done on-line, within the Chrome browser, there's a reasonable amount of internal storage but it's all for downloads.  Documents can be created on-line as Google Documents, which I used to do quite a bit, when I wrote more. You can plug in an SD card or external drive and work directly on it, but you can't transfer the stuff onto the computer. All is up there in The Cloud, looked after by rainbows and unicorns.

What's more, there's no Picasa.  Well, Picasa web albums of course, but no Picasa editing programme, and you can't download it.  There's a very, very basic editing tool which you can use on pictures you've either downloaded or which are on an SD card, but since Picasa has always been, for me, one of Google's great achievements, it seems a bit odd that there's no way you can use it here.  There are plenty of on-line editing programmes, some of which seem pretty good, but they require you to upload first of course, and without the means to shrink and export, that's slow and, to me, carries an unacceptable level of redundancy, (even with the oodles of free on-line storage that come with the machine, so I shall never be required to start this blog over again because I've used up my picture allowance). I think I'll probably end up editing photos on the main computer, uploading them to Blogger, or Picasa web albums, or elsewhere, and working with them from there, which was mostly what I used to do with the old Mini, because of its limited storage and small screen. (The batch of photos here I edited on the card, then uploaded directly from there to Picasa, then posted here by URL, which is OK for small numbers but not ideal.)

But then there are apps.  I didn't really know what an app was until the other day.  Not sure I do now really but I've started using them anyway.  And there are extensions, and I don't really know what they are either but I've got a dinky little toolbar full of them already. As well as WOT and Adblock, which I've had for a long time, I've got a thing to turn anything into print-friendly format, a thing to send any web-page in Kindle-friendly format to my Kindle, a little icon of a radio which opens up any of the main BBC radio stations and plays them, with a link to the BBC i-player too, a little leaf which gives me a new fascinating factoid everyday, today's is:

The pieces of a ball that has been taken apart can be used to build two balls identical to the original one - at least in set theoretic geometry. This peculiar trait is known as the Banach-Tarski paradox

and another which gives me a new obscure word every day (rather disappointing, so far none have been very obscure or unknown to me).  There's a word and character count tool, a thing to conjugate French verbs, and another very neat device called 'Accents plus' which takes the place of the character map in Windows only using keyboard shortcuts.  There's a blocker for those intensely irritating Faecesbook thumbs-up 'Like' buttons and all their evil kind, which is cherishably called 'StopSocial', I love that one.  There's a little thing which will make printable teaching flashcards to your own design using any picture on the web, and another button you can press when you buy anything on-line which will plant a tree or trees at no extra cost. Best of all, though, or it will be when I have the required equipment, there's a widget to turn any photo into 3D.  Now all I need are the glasses.

Of course I could have got them all on any computer using Chrome, but I never saw much point before, now browsing the webstore has become somewhat addictive, and they're easier to get at, and free. Except for the  small matter of selling my soul, of course, but you don't get owt for nowt I suppose. 

I haven't put any links in for any of these, since I think I'm giving them enough of a plug as it is. Apologies if required for such lengthy meta-meanderings, I'm always rather taken with a novelty. At least I suppose I'm not blasé (hey, it works, e+control!).


I was going to go on about other things that have come my way, but I think that will do for now. It's really a bit much how I don't blog for nearly a fortnight then can't seem to stop; I shall put the rest in a post tomorrow, you see if I don't!

Sunday, January 06, 2013

An introvert owl, air frost, cakes, Kindlingtown, Epiphany. (In which I shamelessly make a post almost entirely out of other people's photographs.)

After the last post, I felt this fellow expressed things well.  He is a grey owl in an animal park in the UK.  He was housed in this old brick building temporarily while his aviary was being built, but now he doesn't want to move from it.  He likes watching the other birds outside, but has no wish to join them, so he has been allowed to stay in his own little house. (Photo credit and more info in the link). 

He speaks to my soul, to wit, to woo.


A bit before Christmas my lovely niece (she's a designer, that's her website, she's called Tom too, I chose the profile page to link to because there's a photo of her on it) woke up one morning to a remarkable air frost, and she got out early to catch these stunning photos, which I told her I would steal and put here, bwha-ha-ha.  So good when people send me gorgeous stuff because they know I'll love it. 


Then, she and her mum, my lovely sister, sent me these cakes!  Well, not the real thing unfortunately, but some pictures of them.  They always make a wacky Christmas cake, I don't have any photos from previous years, but last year it was covered in fondant icing penguins, the year before that they made fat robins out of Ferrero Rocher chocolates and red fondant icing (only thing worth doing with FR chocs IMO, you don't want to eat the things that's for sure).  This year, they were going to be in more than one place for Christmas, so they chopped the cake into cubes and made four different ones.  The black and white one was inspired by Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. The coloured chequered one looks to me a bit like Elmer the Elephant.


I went to get wood in the other day, and thought I ought to use up some of the smaller offcuts from the kindling bin. Then I thought perhaps they could become a townscape. I usually go out with Molly and find the fire lit on my return, as I did that day, but Tom hadn't had the heart to dismantle the resulting construction, and lit the fire with just two sticks and a pine cone.


And finally may I wish a happy Feast of the Epiphany to you all - the decorations are put away for another year and I've just been out listening to stories, drinking mint tea and eating little cakes, walking around with a daft glove puppet which Princeling had made in a puppet-making workshop on one hand and the silver paper crown from his galette des rois in the other, and more or less passing myself off as a social animal.  

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.