Thursday, February 27, 2014


I post pictures of them here every year, I think, but they're always so welcome when they appear, and they do so undemandingly well here. The new camera gave them added novelty this time too; an advantage of the compact and screen vs viewfinder is that it's easier to look up into their faces.  Someone (was it Zephyr?) said they found them sad flowers because they insist on looking downward all the time.  It's worth trying to get down under them though, to catch the sun through the petals.

The first bees of the year enjoy them too, though only really the white ones, which I noticed for the first time have a very delicate perfume. Once you start trying to catch the bees in them, you don't settle for just taking pictures of the flowers, I find.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

More on Mol and a bit of spring sunshine.

Thanks all so much for your kind, encouraging and affectionate comments about Mol.  We got through the weekend and surrounding days of the vet's absence not so badly, she has been tending to have a couple of good days, apparently pain free, with reasonably easy movement and pretty cheerful, then seems to put it out again and needs to recover, which can be difficult and frustrating.  Hesitantly I would say the good periods seem to be getting longer and the twinges less crippling; we're still on edge about it but a little less so than we were.

We thought more about the matter of surgery, which our instant response had been to reject, considering her too elderly and to have had enough of that kind of thing in her life, and Emy the vet hadn't seemed eager to contradict us.  Nevertheless, we did come round to the idea that if it were a risk but one which would bring her comfort and help if it worked and a peaceful passing under anaesthetic if it didn't, then we would go for it.  The three choices which seemed to be confronting us were: 1) euthanasia, which none of us, least of all Molly, are ready for 2) continuing chronic pain or 3) make-or-break surgery, and we thought perhaps the last might be the least worst option. However, on raising the subject with Emy further, she strongly counselled against it.  It is extensive and invasive surgery, would require pre-operative injections in the spine under anaesthetic which would need another, specialist vet, and not only is there a risk of her not surviving the anaesthetic but also that she could emerge in a worse state from the trauma of the operation and need to be put down anyway. So it was fairly easy to reject that course of action; as Emy put it, if she has two good days and one bad, then that's more than a 60% quality of life, when or if the balance starts to change we would need to rethink. The steroid medicines seem to be helping, and while it's not a good idea to use them for too long over a longer lifetime, in the scheme of things here there's no reason why she can't go on with them for as long as they help. We will simply have to work around and adapt to things as they go; our travel and social life will be more and more limited, but frankly so what?  We kid ourselves into thinking we have to decide what's important, but I think perhaps it's thrust upon us, all we need to do is recognise it. There's plenty else to enjoy anyway.

Thus resolved, and with a sunny morning outside, and my Wednesday afternoon teaching cancelled, we felt the need to stop moping and get out. We accepted an invitation to tea on Friday, then headed out to the bio shop, (unfortunate that bio, short for biologique, French for organic and equally nonsensical, should sound like BO) where we bought fresh veg, nuts, seeds and spices, a bottle of apple and rhubarb juice and a jar of aubergine curry Tom thought I would like. Going to the bio shop gives one so much more of a virtuous glow than going to Lidl, even if one's wallet and shopping bags are both lighter afterwards.  I must say their fruit and especially their veg really is very good these days, a far cry from the manky, over-priced, withered offerings that used to pass for organic produce. 

Molly waited in the car without a problem, the last couple of times she's come out she's finished up uncomfortable afterwards, but we made sure we lifted her out of the back and installed her carefully in the front with a blanket, which is the sort of thing we're going to have to take more care to think of.  She always will clamber between the seats to get into the front when we get out if she possibly can, and it's not the sort of thing she should be doing. The alternative is to put something up to stop her, and we'd rather she kept up as many of her little rituals and pleasures as possible.

There was still some morning left, so we drove up to Morieux and looked at the bay and munched on a couple of small red bio apples - Molly had a radish - and watched other people walking on the beach,

and the trotting horses exercising,

and Molly reckoned, well, insisted in fact, she could just manage a very short walk with some sniffs and smells, though we didn't go down the steps.

We came home and had home-made (except for the pastry, which was bought, so I suppose it wasn't really home made, the filling was though) chicken, leek and mushroom pie and peas, then Tom and Molly snuggled down for some quality sofa time and I went out in the garden and photographed flowers.

Having got out into the garden at last I should really have been wading through mud to plant broad beans and try to banish weeds and moss and debris, but it was just so good just to feel the sun on my back and look at things.  These roses whose name I don't know had hips and buds and flowers on them all at once.  The real stars were the hellebores and the first bees of the year, but I'll post them tomorrow. It's been a good day, without any pain.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

An update on Mol [and an update on the update]

It's just coming up to two years since Molly, who is just short of fourteen, was given a baleful, lucky-if-she'll-have another year, prognosis * from the vet.She tires more easily, is greyer and slower and has various age-related symptoms and health problems, but very largely they've been quite good years for her, and we've appreciated the time that we've had with her.  Emy, her vet, when I remarked at some point that she had exceeded the forecast by some way, said that she tended to be reluctant to make such predictions because people often berated her if their animals did live longer. I suppose I can understand this, but I can't really imagine being angry because of having more life with Mol than we expected to have.

Lately, though, she's been giving us something of a roller coaster ride of worry.  She's been slightly wonky on her back legs for a few weeks now, but without giving us great cause for concern, we put it down to age and a pain-killer and a rest usually fixed it, then just over a week ago she jumped up on the sofa next to Tom, turned round then started suddenly to whimper and cry and was unable to move her back end at all or raise herself.  It was quite late in the evening and there was little chance of a vet, so we gave her a painkiller, bedded her down downstairs and I slept (not much) down there with her.  One of the worst things was she really needed a pee but couldn't stand to do it.  At about five in the morning, on about the fourth attempt, she finally got up on her feet again and the immediate cause of distress being resolved, she slept peacefully.  I phoned Emy who said best let her rest if she's recovering, and by the end of the day she was more or less back to normal and carried on that way for a few days.  However, when it happened again at the end of the week, later at night with no apparent trigger when she was going to bed, we took her in on the Saturday morning, still in a pitiful state, and Emy gave her cortico-steroids, injection and follow-up pills.  Emy's initial diagnosis was spondylitis, a kind of arthritis of the spine, which causing a pinched nerve.

The medication worked a treat.  By the following day, Sunday, the first really fine and sunny one we've had for a while, we were able to take her out in the car to the coast at Erquy, she was comfortable an enjoyed a walk along the harbour wall. There was a hint of a twinge in the evening when she jumped down, but she had a good night and was bright enough the next day.  But that evening, Monday, she missed her footing a couple of times and was cramped up and crying again on going to bed, so it was the two of us downstairs again, where she seemed to be able to sleep better, and early this morning she happily jumped down, took her constitutional in the garden and scampered upstairs to join Tom in bed.

We were due to start reducing the dose of the steroids today, but I rang Emy and gave her an update, and she recommended maintaining the higher dose, especially in the light of the fact that she - Emy - is going away for a long weekend on Thursday, so I went to get some more of them.  We chatted a bit (I left Mol in the car) and she said that there was a possibility that it could in fact be a tumour on the spine, either spread from the earlier mammary tumour or developed independently, rather than simply the spondylitis. An x-ray would determine this, if it were so then the steroid treatment would remain the same, but we would then know, and, she said, 'it might make certain decisions easier'.

On returning home, Mol was in such a weak and miserable state again that we were beside ourselves, and resolved that we would have to do anything, even the final, heartbreaking thing, to stop her from suffering, and I rang Emy straight after her lunch to book the x-ray for tomorrow.  Mol wolfed down her breakfast she'd left uneaten from the morning despite barely being able to stand to do so, we took it in turns to cuddle her on the sofa, and after a few hours she jumped down spryly, followed me about mischievously from room to room, asked for a walk (only a short one but taken briskly and cheerfully) ate a good dinner, sat on my feet in the kitchen scrounging carrot peelings, rolled around on the mat and generally behaved as though there was nothing whatever the matter. The very thought of having her put down seemed like an abomination.

And so it goes on, one minute she has us convinced this is it, the next she's bright as a button again with barely a limp. We don't know what's going to happen next, and it's all very exhausting. But tomorrow's x-ray should give us more information, and a it more idea what we might expect and how best to deal with it.

Update on the update: The x-rays showed no tumour on the spine, and not a lot of spondylitis, in fact, but what Emy did identify was a hernia in her groin which may be a large part of the problem.  The treatment remains the same. She was on very lively form during the visit; doors inadvertently left open meant I had to dive to stop her racing out of the door onto the street when she was placed on the ground after the procedure and ignored for an instant while I was waiting in the waiting room. But later I had to go out and left her at home with Tom and she's been uncomfortable and miserable for much of the afternoon, and is still moving with a lot of difficulty.  Rest and medication is prescribed, but she can't go on with the steroids indefinitely as they have undesirable side effects. We just have to do what we can and see how it goes.

Molly on the harbour wall at Erquy, Sunday 16th February


[*An odd footnote to this: when looking back over that post from two years ago, I saw again an anonymous comment which I noted at the time, because I couldn't identify who it might be from, yet it had a ring of kindliness and sincerity and I had the feeling I ought to know its author. However, unable to solve the mystery, it slipped from my mind.  Then, a few months ago, I was indulging in a bit of casual googling and lurking of the 'I wonder what happened to...' kind, as you do (don't you?) and found Rommy's owner.  Re-reading my old post and that particular comment with the knowledge thus gained, the piece of the puzzle fell into place.  Most probably that reader has long since drifted back off into the ether, such impulses of curiosity being usually short-lived, but in case not, for the record, I was surprised, intrigued (I could surely only be found by an outside chance and/or a very circuitous route) and really very pleased. However removed one might feel from remote past selves, I've learned one can be quite surprised by joy to learn that other people associated with them are still in the world and making it a brighter place.  And I was very touched that P chose to partially de-lurk to extend such a kind and sympathetic comment about our Mol.  I hope you and your beautiful family are well and thriving, and still blessed with the love of a good spaniel!]

Thursday, February 13, 2014

I love Sundays, be they ever so banal.

Yes, I know it's Thursday already, but that's how long it tends to take to get around to posting.  

This is most banal, but blogging endures best, I've concluded, when it offers slices of everyday life, and mine is not, on the whole. filled with what most people would consider excitement or exception.  A young friend, the daughter of friends, whom we saw for the the first time in a while before Christmas, asked how was life, and I said genuinely it wasn't bad at all, in fact it had been quite a good year.  What was good about it? she asked.  On reflection, all I was able to say was that nothing too bad had happened. I could have gone on to say that we had all remained in reasonable health despite aches and pains and ear infections (none of which afflicted me personally), the only person who had left us did so peacefully at a good age leaving the gift of having known her untainted by any complications of remorse or bitterness, that together we had managed to make a couple of trips over the department line and individually a couple more over the Channel without crises of doggy health or any other kind intervening to spoil or prevent them, that I had grown some quite good vegetables and done a lot of knitting (I may in fact have mentioned the last fact, with a requisite hint of irony and self-mockery), that my very few remaining students of English were sweet and (mostly) willing and fresh as flowers, that we remain financially solvent while aware of added fiscal burdens, that I had not, thus far, crashed my car, that I had read some good books and even after some months of hard work got to the end of The Golden Bowl... But I already realised that to a thirty-something trilingual Paris career girl, her life filled with angst and elation and anticipation with the highs and lows of work, ons and offs of relationships, agonisings about biological clocks undsoweiter, I really had very little of interest to offer.

But never mind, I maintain that for me now, boring is good, that nothing bad is good, that sunshine in my blue room full of stuff, 

a new fleecy blanket snagged in the sales which I didn't need but which is of such a sublime, belle verrière, shade that I couldn't pass it up, and the fingerless mittens I made from some wool my sister gave me from her stash and which it wasn't cold enough to wear with the blue blanket over a lap full of wool so I just kept them by to admire them (first I made the wool into a hat but it wasn't quite right, and I needed mitts to wear to use the camera so I pulled it apart and repurposed it),

that listening to Monserrat Figueras on cd,

followed by the radio adaptation of the Barchester Chronicles, with a contented dog snoozing beside me 

are all very good indeed.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Selfies in a window

Selfy, neologism of the year last year as I understand it.  Lately on the BBC programme Room 101, Roisin Conaty cited them as one of her pet hates, asking, in essence, if all these gorgeous narcissistic young things on Facebook have got so many friends how come they haven't got anyone to take a photo of them but themselves?

However since I don't fit that description I don't see why I shouldn't indulge in the odd one or two to pass the time here, as I was rather taken by the effect to be found in the reflections of next door's windows.  The house is empty, its owners, our previous neighbours, moved out some years ago, but being farmer of a farming family who always prefer to accumulate property than part with it, and because their son, who was just a little lad at the time but must now be about fourteen, said he wanted to come back and live there one day when he was grown up because he liked it so much, they've never sold it.  A couple of years ago they let it for a short time to an old lady, whose son lived in the village, and it was given new windows which had some kind of reflective coating, and rather old ladyish lace curtains, which remain.

My reflection was quite sharp because of the light bouncing off and the shadow of the bank behind, while the curtains make it look a bit like a kind of old-fashioned double exposure. In order to further enhance this rather retro effect, I rendered the other one I took into sepia, and the white frame of the window makes it look even more like an old print.

In fact I think these aren't really selfies in the strict sense of the word, as that implies a photo taken at arm's length, possibly with a camera-phone, so there's a bit of a pun on 'cell phone', but never mind.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

More experimenting with the camera

So, yes, the viewing screen will take a bit of getting used to.  The kestrel hovering over the field by the road gave me a few seconds before it was over the hills and far away, and with a viewfinder I could probably have captured it, but I got nowhere near.  Though with the Panasonic, unless I'd remembered to switch it to action mode it wouldn't have focused quickly enough; the first Canon would have done, even with its smaller zoom and mere half a dozen megapixels.  But perhaps I'll get better at it.  I managed to zoom in on this ascending jet:

And for close ups, with or without the zoom, as I say, it is better:

 It doesn't have quite the same lovely shallow depth of field of its Canon predecessor, so that the object in focus pops out nicely from a blurry background, which not everybody wants for everything, but being fond of detail I tend to appreciate it,

but again, it's not bad.  Perhaps if I read over yet again how to use the manual aperture setting, and tried to get it to stay in my head which seems to have no retentive capacity for inverse ratios and the most basic theory of optics, I could enhance this. I tried to bend my mind to this matter with the Panasonic, just about held onto the knowledge for a brief spell, only to find that the aperture setting wouldn't allow for any more reduction of the depth of field than I could get with the automatic macro anyway (not much), so I promptly forgot it again. Trouble is with this new camera, that setting is on the same dial as the 'discreet mode' which, at a single stroke, switches off the flash and gets rid of the little yellow light that lands on things you're trying to photograph (good for luring and tantalising cats but I've never known what else) and the horrible artificial shutter noises ( which are, it seems, partly there to alert people to the fact you're photographing them; they can't do much about protecting their privacy but do at least know they've lost it).  If I start fiddling with the aperture will take priority over discretion. 

However, the possible handicap of the camera's tendency to over expose can produce a different but perhaps equally interesting intensifying of attention on the subject, in that in bright light things not immediately in focus tend to blur off into whiteness.  You might not want this, or if you did could quite likely achieve it through some kins of clever photo-shopping, but as I don't do that either, I rather like the idea of using it to serendipitous effect.

At this time of year, when there is sun in the afternoons, as occasionally, even this year, there is, it pours into the room.  This bowl came from an open air event at the Briquetterie in Langueux, where a potter had a wheel and a mud-built kiln set up. 

Quite an unusual hexagonal pattern in the flare too.  Is that something to do with bokeh?

In the next shot you may observe how dusty my kitchen window sill is. 

The last of the dry stalks of coriander are in a jug there, picked for its seeds, and then because I just quite like it there.  The coriander in the garden always goes to seed, despite freezing it and using as much of the leaf as I can.  But then, especially since Tom has been on his Indian food kick, we do use a great deal of coriander seed, so it's worth harvesting that too.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Small hours stock taking

Even at this hour, not too bad, all things considered
(as if all things can ever be considered).
Memories keep badly on the whole it’s true,
but anger mostly used up now, so much the better
there’s little use for it these days.
Contentment is in good supply, and peace;
love in abundance, I grow quite fat on that;
enough of busy-ness, plans, a good pinch of resolve.
The mouse shit, dirt and cobwebs, fear and accidie
are regularly swept away and kept at bay.

I know, however, that the debt is mounting.
I’ve made an application to my creditors, several times,
at least to let me pay off some of the accumulated interest,
tried to persuade them I can embrace frugality,
cope with hardship, am even willing to take on the costs of others
more hard-pressed than myself. But now I’ve given up,
they just won’t hear of it, preferring, I’m afraid
to close in later with the bill in full.