... which seems quite a lot of years. I am having a rather wonderful day, in fact.
My birthday treat was really to go to England last week, which was packed with activity and most enjoyable. I saw two siblings - lovely sister whom I stayed with and brother Phil too, and his Angela took the day off as well to come and meet us at the Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge (after a walk through the beautiful botanic garden), where we ate wild boar tortellini and cake in the café* and looked at the exhibition of medieval manuscripts, where I shadowed a very erudite lady who was commenting and explaining the exhibits to her companion in a most fascinating way, so I was moved to approach her before we left and thank her. I seem unable to stop myself speaking openly and probably inappropriately to complete strangers once in my native language; when I took my older French students to the south of England some years ago they kept asking if I was related to all the people we met as I seemed so familiar with them. We spent a day in London, had delicious vegetarian lunch at this restaurant, and took in more medievalia at the V&A along with a very absorbing exhibition on underwear since 1850. I also spent an evening with Tom's daughter K and her family, eating spag bol, being shown music videos and having the drop explained to me by my step-grandson, and I went food shopping in Lidl in Harlow which, bizarrely, provoked the strongest feeling of homesickness I experienced during the whole trip - I think it was brought on by the sausage rolls.
I took the camera but no photos whatsoever, even though I told lovely sister I'd photograph more of her quilts, I just forgot. But I did bring back these little fellows:
They are know as 'shelves', a portmanteau of shelf-elves, elves who sit on shelves. They are exquisitely made with felt hats and boots, knitting-Nancy (French knitting, tricotin) limbs and sheepskin beards, and filled with kiln-dried sand so their cone shaped bodies sit cosily and slightly mobile in the hand like Kelly men. No two are exactly alike. My sister has been creating so many lovely and immaculately made things and trying to sell them for a fraction of their worth for ages, and suddenly she's hit on something everyone wants. It seems there's a story book, though she didn't know about it, and a new custom that has grown from it, of parents moving the elf and hiding him in a different place round the house for the children to find every day in Advent. On account of this craze she has produced about 150 of them in about three weeks, and they are flying out of the small craft and gift outlets where she takes them. She still charges ridiculously little for them.
Anyway, despite having such a grand time, and despite Ryanair diverting the flight, because of fog which was nowhere to be seen on the ground at Dinard but was deemed by HQ in Dublin to be too severe to land there, so we had to wait around at Rennes for a couple of hours then be bussed back, it was lovely to get home. Elfie greeted me with equable but not overwhelming good humour, she'd had rather a nice time being spoiled by Tom and dragging him around the countryside, since he didn't dare let her off the lead he just followed her everywhere. She had a huge marrow bone to distract her the day I left (too much, she threw half of it up again but it didn't distress her), and was generally very good.
I haven't done anything special today, since there would be nothing open on a Monday in December and anyway, we had a firewood delivery. But Elfie and I had a lovely foggy morning walk, with a stripey partridge skittering away under her nose and getting her all excited, and two white egrets fishing in a puddle in the cow field below the house, who took flight and drifted off into the fog like spirits, and made the hair on the back of my neck rise. Our friend J rang and asked had I opened her present yet? She had said it was 'just a jokey one' which rather made my heart sink as J's jokey cards and presents are usually awful, and I'd put it away and forgotten about it. 'Unwrap it now!' she insisted on the 'phone.
In fact it was unexpectedly pleasing,
I made eight jars of white currant jelly so I'd have something to give people for Christmas, then had orzo (possibly my favourite pasta shape, what's yours?) with pesto and bacon for lunch, while Tom had an apple sandwich, which he prefers, then the wood came, which I'd ordered before I left.
For nearly twenty years we have had free fire wood from the farmer who farms our field. We negotiated a cord when we arrived, and he has faithfully delivered it every year, sometimes we've bought an extra one. As the cost of firewood rose and the value of land rental stagnated, this became a very good deal for us; the paterfamilias retired but still continued to honour the arrangement, but this year I felt he was avoiding the subject and us. I finally spoke to his wife on the phone, who prevaricated then said that in fact Pierre was no longer occupying himself with the wood, we'd need to talk to their son... We knew we'd as well talk to ourselves, cut our losses (which weren't losses anyway) and went and ordered supermarket wood. It is beautiful stuff,
clean and dry and fragrant, rounded at the corners from seasoning and turning. It came wrapped on pallets and took about an hour for both of us to unload and stack. I only wish it were cold enough to justify a fire, but it really isn't.
So now we are luxuriating in a comfortable level of fatigue, looking forward to a decadent convenience food supper of Fray Bentos steak puddings, tinned marrowfat peas and mash from the freezer, plenty of red wine, and a DVD of The Mill on the Floss. Bloody delightful.
Thanks for cards, e-mails and other treats. My cup runneth over, as always.
*where I also had a run-in with a nervy American girl who had used her backpack to reserve a table for four for herself alone while she went to queue. Seats were at a premium, the correct protocol was to queue, get food and then look for seats, as we had done. I moved her backpack and we all sat down together, and when she appeared claiming her 'reserved' seat I said, politely I thought, that I didn't think one could do that, we were four and needed seats and a bag on a seat was not a person. She went off, found a single seat then came back near to tears saying how rude I was, and I heard her bending the ears of the people she'd sat by about how ill-treated she'd been. Poor snowflake. I am such a meanie.