I think the time's come to bow out here, at least for a while.
I didn't think I'd do this, that I'd presumably do what so many old friends and better bloggers have done before, simply fade away without a fuss, occasionally dropping back to leave a word or a picture, but I think I need to make some kind of a clear decision, say it out loud and stick to it. It's not easy and feels a bit dramatic and portentous; Box Elder has been my companion and an important dimension of my life, for over ten years now, even as my relationship with it and the people who come here has changed and evolved.
The reasons are several. This blog used to serve as a means for friends and family to keep up with our news, which I don't get the impression it is any more. From a creative point of view, I rather sense I've run out of steam; the drive to write to make poems and take photos finally faded away a couple of years ago, but perhaps that doesn't matter too much, and needn't stop me posting in a chatty way. The sometimes almost oppressive need to 'feed the blog monster' which was part of the activity in early days hasn't had any real hold for a long time, though there is always the slight nagging 'I haven't blogged lately, I suppose I should...'. But it's not much trouble to post something now and then, I hope in a reasonably well-written and amusing way, about Elfie or knitting or what we've had to eat, but my doubts as to whether there's any point in doing so have reached a critical point, and that's the chief rub.
Repetition always stalked this medium; whatever you blog about, after a time there's a limit to what you can post on that you haven't before, especially when it's mostly the domestic detail. But also I'm afraid I'm giving in, at least for the moment, to the weight and darkness of the world outside. I feel somewhat uncomfortable writing like this, which is another indication that I think I'd prefer to shut up for a while; it seems to me that the world events of the last year, and even more those which I fear are to come, need a response I find myself unable to give them, at least not here. Fluffy stuff won't do any more, and I can't get away from a sense that in more and more places I go on-line there is spreading toxicity, anger, mistrust, self-importance and bitterness that are leaving me feeling depressed and powerless either to heal or to ignore. There may well be good and brave and healthy things afoot too, and I wish well to those who are at work on them. I suppose it is a kind of spasm the world is going through, something inevitable, needful even, but I feel I have to detach from it. It may be copping out, the sin of despair, being a precious snowflake, whatever, but to avoid the damage I feel it's doing, and just to be useful to myself and the people I care about, I need to back away.
That said, I trust I'll keep such friendships as want to be kept; I intend to go on frequenting other blogs and showing up in comments boxes sometimes; in truth I've felt for a while now that what I've written in the comments threads of one or two other people's blogs has been of more worth and interest than most of what I put here, which might say something of the unsatisfactory relationship between me and my blog these days. (In fact, I'll probably spend a bit of time hanging out here in the archives, some of the stuff I've done wasn't half-bad...). I'll go on using and visiting other on-line places like Ravelry, Pinterest, the épagneul breton discussion forum... But perhaps I need to redirect my time and energies somewhat.
Since the fire I've felt a great need to make changes; this has been put on hold rather over this period of winter suspension, but simply on a personal level I know the coming time is going to place a lot of demands, mental, physical and spiritual, if you will. We have been made vulnerable and aware of the contingent and fragile nature of our being here. This isn't necessarily any bad thing, but combined with the sense of foreboding that world events are imposing, it takes its toll and has to be managed. There are things I can't afford.
The changes can be positive too, though. I'm quite interested to know what it will be like no longer to be a person who has a sense of obligation to blog. I hope that in a year or two, the plans I feel I need to concentrate on will be coming to fruition, perhaps even the world will look like a somewhat brighter and less threatening place, who knows, and I may feel like writing and photographing and making something of life again through this medium. I won't make the mistake of saying I'm stopping for good. I may also feel moved to share things from elsewhere here, since I don't do facebook or google plus or anything, but we'll see.
I can't express enough how much I've appreciated everything that blogging has brought, the joy and catharsis of posting and even more the friendship and support I've had from you who come and read and comment, in good times and bad; how comforting you've been in the loss of loved ones, times of illness and anxiety, how helpful it has been to write about the things like the fire and to receive your kindness and sympathy and useful responses; I can't imagine having been through those experiences without them. And indeed, the encouragement and praise and joy when I've produced something good here. Thanks and thanks again.
Tom's Christmas leftover socks, made not from cold cuts, dry sage and onion stuffing and petrified Christmas pudding, but from the ends of sundry sweaters, bits of tapestry wool, hats and other socks. Leftovers, store cupboards and stash, the best of things.
This seems to me the kind of picture used to illustrate the concept of hygge, narrowly beaten by Brexit as the neologism of the year. While googling around, I found this Slate article, well worth reading if rather disturbing to quietist stay-at-homes like myself - 'Responding to [the events of 2016] in any meaningful way will mean dousing the log fire, leaving the house, and feeling a chill'. Also a lengthier, rather less abrasive, analysis in the Grauniad, and an amusing last word ('hygge is byllshytte') from the Daily Mash, of course. Personally I find the conviviality aspect of hygge rather offputting* but reserve the right, at this stage of the proceedings, to maintain necessary levels of warmth and comfort, and indeed, to turn inward and give up on the world sometimes as we make our sad way through this ever darkening vale of tears.
We do brace ourselves and get outside. Elfie is a perpetual delight, though she continues to behave in a decidedly non-hyggeligt manner towards many forms of wildlife, and cats. Letting her off the lead on the old rail track, she trotted along amicably with me for a bit then suddenly picked up something, probably the trace of a roe deer, and in a trice was over the drop of the wooded escarpment, a couple of metres at least though soft with undergrowth and leaf mould, and rapidly bouncing off out of sight and hearing like an orange and white springbok. I stood on the edge whistling and swearing, out loud.
'Bonjour, Lucieee' from behind me.
It was our former insurance agent, neat and poised with her dear little pedigree westie on a neat red lead at her side, a woman I truly like but who seems to have a knack of making demands on me at the wrong times.
'Oh, bonjour Simone, c'est ma vilaine qui est partie...'
'Oh yes,' with clear what-can-you-expect sympathy, 'that hunting dog you got from the SPA. Will she come back?'
'Uhm, in general she comes back. It might take a few minutes...'
She went on to regale me with the details of her daughter's career, punctuated by rather unhelpful remarks and questions ('Aren't you afraid for her? How long have you had her now?) which I tried to listen and respond to while still whistling and swearing, inwardly.
I finally shook her off, climbed a nearby bank into the wood, whistled a couple more times and a few moments later Her Predatoriness came crashing back, pushing through brambles and over branches in her eagerness to return and share her joy in her adventures with me, as always. I'm happy to say I've never poisoned such recall as she does have by showing her anything other than delight, praise, treats and much whooping on our reunion, most of which is genuine, coming from pure relief.
Yet it is a bit more than that. The love we bear one another, and a pocketful of tasty treats, won't quite stop her running away after something irresistible, but I'm beginning to think it will make her want to come back, and there's nothing like her eager wild face coming towards me, or the extra-affectionate cuddles we have the evening after one of her rasher exploits. And her acute, intense awareness and perceptions of the natural world (even if she does mostly want to chase, kill and eat it) are infectious: I never knew before in which spots in the bank the field mice lived, or in which flooded ditches the water voles had their holes, that there was a family of partridges that lived around the hamlet of le Boissy, or indeed that the roe deer sometimes graze in winter in that low lying wet paddock by the farm below Quengo or in the long fields beside the mirabelle hedge; I knew these places, of course, but not their finer, more living details, albeit prompted by my need to be one step ahead of her whenever possible. I am curious as to why blackbirds get her going and are fun to harry and stalk when they rustle around in the hedges, yet their fieldfare cousins in the open are put up in only the most lackadaisical manner, and why crows are given a wide and respectful berth, even an injured one in the middle of a field was left alone with very little calling off from me.
I am torn; I want her to express her nature and the behaviours which make her what she is, but I also need to restrain, intercept and control them, for her own safety and for the sake of the poor struggling wild creatures who are persecuted enough - when spring comes and they have their young I know I must constrain her even more. I hate the whole business, in the modern world, of humans hunting with dogs and killing for fun, I'm squeamish about dead and injured things, but I also find myself wanting to know more about why she does what she does, how much is nature and how much training, as well, of course, as wondering why someone with a dog fine-tuned to respond to pheasants, hare and partridge, and fairly indifferent to pigeons and rabbits, simply let her get lost and never reclaimed her, which we'll never know. Her buggering off isn't always rebelliousness or ignorance, I'm sure, but that she thinks that's what we want her to do, what a dog like Elfie is supposed to do when out in the countryside with her humans. Her predatory impulse towards injured and lame things (toads on the terrace get no more than a perfunctory sniff unless they are trapped and floundering in puddles in black plastic, wagtails always catch her attention because their long-tailed bobbing movement looks like the trailing flight of something damaged) is repugnant to us, but natural and in fact quite kind in hunting terms, both in man-made hunting and in nature; wounded, damaged prey needs to be pursued and finished; trainers and hunters on épagneul and American Brittany websites I've researched pride their dogs on their ability to track, tackle and bring back crippled quarry.
It seems to me I could sometimes work with her impulses, rather than confuse her with aversion. The live (though presumably not well) blackbird she dived into the leaf litter and pulled out was not killed but only shocked and winded, it fluttered off apparently undamaged when Tom took it away, probably if I hadn't panicked and shouted when she did it so that she tensed and held on to it and had to be forced to give it up it might have fared better. One day, after her nerves were jangled and her mind distracted by coming across a number of hunters and their dogs (whom she hates and reacts to with volleys of uncharacteristic barking and growling) out and about, I took her out on the terrace to brush her. When I'd finished and we turned to go in, she broke away from me, rushed over to the edge of the terrace where the birds feed, and picked up a dead sparrow, which I'd not seen but she evidently had, and brought it back to me in a perfect retrieve. Another time, running around in a pasture some way from me, she picked up something large and grisly looking; instead of running at her shouting 'leave-it', I called and cajoled and encouraged her to bring it over, which she did, with some effort, as it proved to be an enormous, ancient thigh bone of an ox, very grubby and much chewed (lord knows what it was doing there). She was a little reluctant to give it up but with much praise and laughter and lots of treats we sealed the bargain very cheerfully so I took it from her and led her away from it.
It often seems to me a rather wonderful and mysterious thing that we have this strange, wild, golden-eyed creature in our home, lying by our fire or on our couch, eating from a tin and a packet, snuggling our feet and soaking up endless love and affection while very visibly dreaming, and enacting, her dreams of flight, pursuit,bloodshed and mayhem. A dog the like of which I haven't had before, and the source of much joy.
*As I've said before, I can do conviviality, but seldom find it reassuring or conducive to complacency.
The last red candle is burned, the cards come down, we eat the last piece of Christmas cake with the last glass of very delicious aged port. We skip breaking our teeth on the fève in the stodgy galette des rois, but I'm a stickler for the decorations, such as they are, coming down in time; not for us moulting Christmas trees, sad bits of tinsel and other tawdriness hanging about into February thank you very much.
To end the season, here are some lovely things made by others. I had these cozy and beautiful booties and bonnet for Christmas:
In fact I bought them myself early in December from Soize's stall at the marché de Noël at Ploeuc-sur-Lié near here. It was a lovely stall, loaded down with beautiful things she and BN had made, and in fact the whole market was really very good - I've seen some truly dismal marchés de Noël round here it must be said, but this one made me think perhaps they really might be getting the hang of it: it was cosy and bright with Christmassy music, hot food and drink and a good variety of nice merchandise. However, as she related, the trade was pitiful, not really worth the hours of time and work the stallholders put it, and poor Father Christmas sat sadly up on the stage with no one to talk to. Obviously they don't quite have the hang of it after all, at least not on the customers' side. But Soize was typically cheerful and not disheartened. I bought the hat and slippers (for a fairly derisory price but at least I appreciate the skill and effort that went into them) thinking I'd give them away as presents, but liked them so much I put them back in their pretty bag, and passed them to Tom telling him to give them to me on Christmas morning. Soize told me to pretend to be surprised when this happened.
We didn't do much gift giving this year, but as always there were parcels in the post from Tom's kids; M always sends us DVDs, which is a kind of interesting lucky dip; sometimes they're turkeys we've no taste for at all, often, as with Sherlock and Broadchurch, they're revelations which we'd never have thought to choose for ourselves, this year there were three films (they're more often tv series), which we've yet to sample. A always sends her dad marzipan in various shapes and forms which is a safe bet and very kind as it weighs a ton. K is more unpredictable; her parcel this year was very heavy, and turned out to include this little turned olive wood pot:
I've always loved olive wood, I hanker for a big lumpy unique pestle and mortar made from it, but desist from getting one because it would really only be for its visual beauty, we have a good working ceramic one, plus a mezzalune and board and an electric spice grinder, so it would simply be clutter. Olive wood also seems to have an emotional resonance, a memory I can't quite pin down, perhaps of objects shown by our kindly, churchy primary school teachers as being from 'the Holy Land', perhaps from the Mount of Olives itself, handled and spoken of with reverence, but fascinating to me then as now for their exotic, rich grain and figuring. This is perhaps Palestinian olive wood too. The base of the pot looks like a strange bird's head.
The loveliest thing about her parcel though, and the reason for its weightiness, was that it contained two substantial bags of whole cumin seeds. She knew, for Tom spoke about it when the family visited while we were in lodgings in the summer, that the stores of cumin and other spices, many of which she had sought out and brought over previously, were among the principal casualties of the house fire (their interesting savoury aroma mixing with the vile fumes of burning plastics, I remember noticing on waking) and that he had felt their loss keenly. K teaches English in England to people from all over the world, and likes nothing more than trying new flavours and learning about how they are created, and the finer and more obscure points of Asian cooking are an area where she and her dad have often bonded. The cumin seeds were an encouragement to him to start afresh.
And finally, Colin and Li Yi's Christmas video for 2016. I've still not ever met these two but feel as though I have, as they've been around in an exceptionally vivid way in the lives and conversations of my family for a while now. They've been sending me the videos ever since my niece forwarded me the first one, and I've posted them ever since I've been getting them (with the exception of last year's which I missed because we were in Iceland, I think, and one year they didn't make one because they were getting married or something). This one came a bit early because Colin went off to Malaysia, where he and Li Yi came from originally, and she came to my sister's for Christmas, much to everyone's delight there, I gather. Now in London, they live, work, volunteer at a soup kitchen, and endlessly make endlessly beautiful things, for a living, to share and give away, to do good in the world and simply for the love of doing so. Colin's website is here; though clearly very digitally savvy, he uses all kinds of very hands-on, low-tech media: architectural paintings done in coffee, an earlier Christmas video was made mostly using bits of pastry dough an other kitchen bits and pieces, and a lot of these layered paper-cut-out montage things, all done freehand with scalpels and a lot of loving patience.
I challenge you to watch this without getting a lump in the throat and without applauding its conclusion, delivered without preaching but with typical humour, gentleness and sincerity. Here's to 2017.
This is perhaps my tenth New Year post (I've not checked if I did one the first year), it's something of a custom to commit to doing one. I've always been something of a party-pooper about New Year at the best of times, often tending to a Jeremiah-ish mood, and indeed, these are not the best of times, in many ways, and it's difficult not to feel lugubrious and apprehensive about the year(s) to come, on all kinds of levels from the personal to the global, including the intersection of the two which I feel has a more ominous reality than it has really had for me before. Likewise, on the personal and wider world spheres, this has been a year of shocks and difficulties. We have hopes and dreams of our own, beyond the shock reactions and urges to flight after the fire, which have calmed down somewhat, yet the path to get to them looks sometimes steep, fraught and uncertain.
As often I woke early after sleeping fitfully; my body and its broken thermostat and other inner chemical workings playing tricks on me I could really do without, lay with a lot of rather dreary thoughts and a few more cheerful ones, counted my blessings backwards alphabetically, (one of a number of devices not quite sovereign but sometimes useful against insomnia and anxiety), dozed a little and waited for the late, late daylight.
When it came, action, affection, tea and toast restored my spirits as they usually do, and it brought what seems to have become rare and lovely thing, as well as a heavy mist, a glorious air frost and light of pink and blue and gold, which prompted me to another rather unusual thing these days, to get the camera out,
though these were taken from the comfort and warmth of the kitchen:
But Elfie and I were eager to get out and get sniffing and looking:
The mist came and went and shrunk the world as it does, so the road out of our village disappeared into oblivion:
But this is the weather that Elfie likes, and so do I:
In the frequent fog we've had I've been nervous about letting her off the lead, as her usual running distance would take her out of sight, but on this occasion I did, and she always kept in sight, and seemed to love the crispness underfoot and good smells.
The frost continued to form as we were out, making fine filaments in the fur round her ears,
and at one point I put my hand to my own hair and found it stiff with ice too, yet it turned to wet as soon as we got indoors again, rushing in, in vain, to show Tom the phenomenon.
Many wonderful things have happened to us this year too, as I'm sure they have everywhere. Tonight it will be guinea fowl pie, the last of Christmas dinner, and a dvd, and I imagine we'll be in bed and asleep before midnight.
The rather jaded stage. But it's been a perfectly good one, as it usually is.
Quiet, of course. We've got the card sending, and commensurate receiving, down to about half what it once was (I don't quite know how, only a few people on the list have actually departed this life), but, lazy and phone averse as I am, I actually picked up the device and made a couple of calls, and received a couple more and felt happy to connect with the people on the other end in all cases.
In my somewhat frenzied bonfire of the vanities back on the summer, I threw out all of our Christmas decorations (except maybe I kept a small painted bell K sent us one year, if so but I can't remember where I put it). This is something I find I don't regret at all, we didn't have many but they had become a rather scruffy and slightly disheartening obligation. I strung up the cards we did receive, and bought a bundle of pretty red hand made candles when in England, we roasted a pintade and various stuffing-type things, including the the last packet of chipolatas from the freezer, and there was still a Christmas pud in the cupboard from last year, and we were festive enough.
I got a pair of socks for Tom finished in time, and best of all, it being Elfie's first Christmas with us, she was made much of, with very classy new piece of kit, a Julius K9 Powerharness in silver, no less. Nothing but the best for our girl:
We've always had a harness for her for walking and travelling; we brought an SPA one, with their logo on it, back with her from the refuge. It was quite well-designed but I always felt it gave her rather too much of the look of a charity child.
The legend 'best friend' was an optional extra, you can order velcro-on labels to go over the brand ones, they glow in the dark. We had to choose from a list, so we went for that on one side, and 'treat monster' on the other:
She also had a juicy bone, which I imagine was her preferred present, though she seemed happy to go out in the harness.
... 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,
a pair of large, plain white mugs designed to look like Aran knitting. We had hot chocolate in them.
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.
So, I've downloaded and printed the paperwork to apply for French citizenship (dual, with British, which you can have), and put them all in their own little folder - you gotta have a dossier. The Livret du Citoyenhas been on the Kindle for some time, and I've read it through once. Would this were all that were involved. Now I'm stalling.
It' s not only the language requirements, which are quite daunting: having to conscientiously study and practise, then getting to Rennes to take the test, but they're the least of it, and it could be quite a satisfying project. There are also the certificates, huge numbers of them, birth, marriage, divorce, death. Not only mine but Tom's and my parents' too, and they want originals, and copies, and accredited translations (which cost), as well as details of all my siblings, though not their paperwork.
By chance I do have quite a few of these papers, along with the photo albums they somehow ended up in my possession; I've looked after them carefully, not least because the envelope is one of the few things I've ever had bearing my father's handwriting. It's worrying though, to submit these ancient, fragile, precious and personal documents into unknown, and yes, foreign, hands; what if they are lost or damaged? It feels weird, as if my parents spirits are uneasily above my head at the very idea! Which is all rather foolish.
The other thing about the paperwork is that it requires going back over my own past more than I care to, having to apply I know not where for certain others, a first marriage certificate (I've got the divorce one, surely that ought to be enough?), evidence of a brief, stupid episode, never talked about because it long since stopped being important or even anything to do with me any more. ('You owe nothing to your past selves,' I read on a youngster's twitter stream the other day 'they are stupider than you and they don't exist.') 'Naturalisation' implies, in its etymology, a re-appropriation of one's life since birth, which I'm not altogether happy about.
The Livret du Citoyen is probably much like all such publications around the world: ridiculously condensed, over-simplified, anodyne, of necessity I suppose. I fear I will want to argue with it if I am placed before a departmental panel quizzing me, but won't have the words or arguments to hand, and anyway, you can't ask for a favour then rubbish what your asking for, so I must needs play along ('Cross your fingers behind your back?' suggested Tom).
Frankly, and don't tell them in Rennes, I'm not sure I much want to be French. I've lived here nearly twenty years, I've just about acquired half a clue about what's going on round me, I find much to admire and some things I don't, probably much like I would most places. I have read all (yes all, even the stuff about nuns) of Les Miserables, the book, not the screenplay, albeit in English, and several of the lesser novels of Flaubert in French, and can confidently say that, IMHO, Hugo was a fairly awful writer and Flaubert a loathsome one. Hugo gets a mention as a luminary in the Livret du Citoyen, as do several noteworthy personages who were born outside of France but became French citizens: Apollinaire, Marie Curie, Dalita... to encourage us others, you know. I would need to show that I was involved in French cultural life and society, I'm not sure whether my francophone knitting group (many of whom show a tendency to stroppy Gallo-Breton regionalism) and adopting a Breton spaniel (because some bastard heartless French hunter chucked her out) will be enough...
In the end though, I'm not sure I want it because it's not mine; I will never really be French. I ain't no child of the Republic, I'm afraid, and resist the idea of having to pledge myself to its values, though I find myself quite protective and bloody-minded about defending them when feeling they're under attack from ignorant or self-satisfied outsiders (while reserving the right to be an ignorant and self-satisfied outsider myself most of the time). Even Heather, who was here sixty years, married in and made seven more French people, more or less stopped speaking English, wrote in French, received the legion d'honneur, and chewed the fat with Jouve and Derrida, used sometimes to smile mischievously and say 'French. Don't mistake me, some of my best friends are French, but...'
Then of course, if France, whose politics I already frequently find at best impenetrable and at worst repellent, next year goes the way of Britain and the US and elects Marine le Pen, where will that leave us and will I want to be French at all?
The thing is, I liked being British in Europe. In fact, I like being European, it might be a dirty word for some, but not for me. For much of my life, whatever the shortcomings and failures of the political and economic reality known as the European Union, Europe has meant something bigger and better, cultures and cities and landscapes, languages, paintings, poets, music, ideas, discoveries, history (much of it, like much of all human history, vile and brutal and tragic and thank god it's over and done with) of which my Anglo heritage comprised a vital part but which could also offset its island parochialism. I have enjoyed, and indeed built the best third of my life upon, freedom of movement within Europe.
Harping on about national, cultural, ethnic identities is very largely erroneous and boring, I think, but then I wonder if I'm only able to see it that way because I've always felt relaxed and comfortable in mine because I'm one of the lucky ones. Of course I'm glad my heritage is English/British/European/Christendom, it feels comfortable, normal, happy to me, but like so much pride in one's identity, that's like the person who says 'I'm glad I hate garlic* because if I liked it, I'd have to eat it, and I hate it!', and being what I was born certainly wasn't any virtuous act (or indeed any evil one) on my part.
The (admittedly brighter and more educated) French kids I know, while happy to be French, don't seem to care much about being European, they are more drawn to other continents and hemispheres, a wider world, and good for them.
So why am I doing it? For practical reasons, of course, I need to know I will be able to get healthcare in my old age, if not sooner. Until now, when one reached UK state pension age, as Tom has, you would have some of the medical care I write about here in glowing terms paid for, about 70% on average, depending on what it is. The rest has to be topped up either by private complementary insurance or out of one's own pocket. (Whatever the outside perceptions about French statist socialism, there is no such thing as free healthcare on point of delivery, and no one assumes there ought to be; poorer people get their healthcare topped up by the state, but separately and means tested. French people's sense of entitlement is much more around their pensions. That's another thing that's been brought home to me here, that what one society sees as their inalienable right isn't necessarily what the one next door does.) Tom gets this now, I come into it as his dependent, and assumed I too would when I reached the requisite age. Before this we got healthcare through the work I did, or just crossed our fingers. It is one of the reciprocal benefits of EU membership, and we, and other genteel, nice retired British folk, could be seen just as much as benefits scroungers as Polish or Lithuanian or whatever people in the UK claiming child benefit, but we have never been criticised or resented for it, so far, to my knowledge (likewise, we could also be seen equally negatively as economic migrants; we didn't have to come here, we weren't driven out, we chose to because we could, we thought, have a better, or more interesting, quality of life on the money we had). We never really thought, with Brexit, that we would be cast out of our homes and packed off back to Blighty; UK citizens lived in France long before the EU, but on the whole they either married in, or worked here all their lives and paid in, or, if retired, they were simply the rich ones who could afford private healthcare - or they went back to the UK and used the free NHS; the 'healthcare tourists' whose access to NHS treatment is under review now comprise in large part, I understand, such returning or visiting expats. If I were to become a French citizen, I would have the right to apply for healthcare here.
In fact, I find too that I am fed up with being disenfranchised; I couldn't vote in the UK, in a referendum which directly affected me more than any other political event in my lifetime, and I can't vote here to keep Mme le Pen out either. I need to belong somewhere; going back to the UK isn't on the cards. It's also a kind of statement of commitment, and yes, to some extent shaking the dust of the UK, whose decision to leave Europe has alienated me in both practical and cultural terms. Being British in Europe may no longer be an option.
There is some talk, from sympathetic French politicians, of a fast track for long term British citizens resident in France, and also of some kind of 'associative citizenship' to Brits, not only expats, but any who voted to remain who would like still to belong to the European project. So what, asked Tom, would there be to stop people who voted for Brexit applying for that, how would they know? Why would they, I replied, if they voted Brexit and wanted out of Europe, then come over all Ode to Joy? But then again why wouldn't they? If only for shorter queues and access to duty free at the airport; have cake, will eat it, as the memo said. There was a forum anecdote, I think on Ravelry in fact so quite reputable, of someone's colleague who had been all up for Brexit on anti-immigration grounds, then when it happened was bragging about how she wouldn't be disadvantaged since she was entitled to an Irish passport. Such associative citizenship sounds like a hopeful thing, but in the meantime I'll go on with the dossier.
I know what you might say, with justification, welcome to a very small taste of the real world for many of the people in it, you know, that world which as a privileged, complacent middle-class white European you always just assumed you owned. I don't claim any particular victimhood for the fact that I've taken advantage of freedoms history has put my way, had a pretty interesting, fun time of it but now it looks like the party's over.** It was ever thus, when cities and thrones and powers change and end, and whatever happens, however disadvantaged I become, I'm not, I should imagine, going to be bombed, starved, have to live in a refugee camp or whatever.
I wouldn't want to lose my British citizenship, however long I stay here and under whatever terms, I'll still be English, British, Anglophone and all kinds of other things which there's no point in being either proud or ashamed of because they just are what I am, and I'll still be most happy to read English literature, watch English films and telly, and go back and visit as and when, to spend time with friends and family and the things and people I grew up with.
Which is what I'm going to do next week, for a short few days, leaving Elfie to look after Tom. This is the last of my daily posts, I've enjoyed it. Thanks for stopping by, and especially if you got to the end of this long whinge of a post. You've been troopers.
* substitute any foodstuff you wish, that's only an example.
** though, aside from personal considerations, I still believe Brexit to be a grave mistake, and am exasperated by the way, in order to keep the electorate sweet, those who voted for it must at all costs be protected from confronting either the consequences of their decision or their possible motives for it.
The first real frost we've had and quite a hard one, which doesn't leave the grass all day in places. The pastures look blue with it. Wrapped in Icelandic wool with leggings under jeans and fleece gloves under wool mittens, I'm happy now winter's properly here, and the late afternoon sun is glorious. It's the tipping time of autumn, I realise, that prompts seasonal malaise, that and lightless, cloudy and foggy days.
At the bio shop, along with spelt milk for Elfie (don't ask) we buy small, very purple, fresh figs, a few big Spanish chestnuts - in honour of first fires, I can't bring myself to buy many as to me they should simply be a seasonal free resource - and a big bunch of watercress, which will shortly mostly be soup.
There are fieldfares in larger and larger numbers in the countryside, and groups of noisy migrant blackbirds in the garden. I see a number of wrens flying low and urgently between hedges, and on the road outside Marcel's house a dead one, crushed but perfectly wren-shaped, its speckled markings and cocked tail clear and bright. No doubt it was fuddled with cold and hunger; we must start feeding the birds again now the cold weather's here, but there is little you can do for the ones that eat only insects.
Tom goes outside to break up some stuff, and snags the base of his thumb badly on a wayward screw, leaving a trail of blood spots into the house, where I find him at the sink and patch him up with my usual cartoon style, belt-and-braces first aid dressings. Nevertheless, when we come back from our evening walk, the fire is lit, Elfie's dinner is prepared and the windscreen of the car covered against ice so he can drive me into St Brieuc for a mammogram (just a regular screening check) tomorrow. He gets a glass of sloe gin for his pains.
Little to report. I owe too many e-mails, stocks are running low, there are still piles of leaves to rake in the garden, and in general I have left undone those things I ought to have done etc and there is no health in me. But we have lit the second fire of the winter, a warm dog and warm sofa is beckoning, the world is filled with woe but home is good, though it seems less important where it is.
I was asked what I thought about when knitting. It's rather hard to say; sometimes about the other things I ought to be up and doing instead of knitting, sometimes what I'm watching or listening to at the time. Just lately it's been this serialisation of this book, about girls and women acquiring the power to electrocute people at will. It's a bit good but I get the impression reading the review that the serialisation misses out quite a bit.
In fact I rather like this passage from Rose Tremain's Music and Silence (probably more my scene that speculative post-feminist dystopias really) set in 17th century Denmark, about the act of knitting, which I have posted here before but I don't suppose anyone remembers:
Queen Sophie, when she was young ... loved to be rowed in a little boat to this island and there sit in the sunshine and indulge in her secret passion for knitting. This activity had been proscribed throughout the land as tending to induce in women an idle trance of mind, in which their proper thoughts would fly away and be replaced by fancy. Men called this state 'wool gathering'. That the wool itself could be fashioned into useful articles of haberdashery such as stockings or night bonnets made them no less superstitiously afraid of the knitting craze. They believed that any knitted night bonnet might contain among its millions of stitches the longings of their wives that they could never satisfy and which in consequence would give them nightmares of the darkest kind. The knitted stockings they feared yet more completely as the probable instruments of their own enfeeblement. They imagined their feet becoming swollen and all the muscles of their legs beginning to grow weak.
'Wool gathering' seems like a good description of not only what is going on in my head when knitting but in my life much of the time. Could be worse.
Well, it's the 27th already, and I'm only just ready to say that posting every day is becoming any kind of strain. I did think I might show you some knitting (if in doubt...) but then much of it is either for people's Christmas presents so I don't want to risk their seeing, or else I've forgotten to photograph it before giving it away, and most of it this year has been socks, for example, these pink and green ones:
I gave these to my yoga buddy A, for whom I had never knitted anything before and whom I understood to have a fondness for a good sock, they are fine sock wool and were carefully sized, you know about people's feet are when you do yoga with them regularly, and they are her sort of colours, I'm quite good on that too. She was only very moderately enthusiastic, but she's not an excitable person. They have my fraternally matching/contrasting toes heels and tops, a device I often employ, mostly to make the knitting more varied and interesting. Other yoga buddy, Dutch E, remarked on the fraternal thing as one of my trademarks, and openly said she was jealous of these socks.
This led me to ponder on the matter of knitworthiness. I have made quite a few things for Dutch E, and thought perhaps it would be only fair to give A something. I do not, do not, do NOT make or give things to people in the expectation of gratitude, and yet... A's tepidity on receiving the socks didn't exactly irk me, but made me disinclined to think of making her anything else, though it might simply be that she is, as I've observed, rather phlegmatic and undemonstrative. But she has knitted herself, I gather, and knows what goes into a pair of socks (about 35000 stitches, I think I once heard). Dutch E, who isn't a knitter, is rather greedy, it seems to me, saying she was jealous when she has already had lots, but I do appreciate her appreciation, and that she is observant about the way I make things, and I know whatever I give her I will see her wearing and she will make positive but honest (she's Dutch) and useful comments on it, and I am much more inclined to knit for her again.
But it's silly to take it on yourself to know what people might like, as well as to expect certain forms of appreciation. We had the Quiet American and German Doctor round for a meal a couple of nights ago. Last Christmas I had made the former a pair of fine plain black socks with a touch of colour on the tops - dark red or something masculine and discreet anyway, I forget - they were boring to make but I thought surely unexceptionable; I've heard people complain that the problem with hand-knit socks is they are usually too thick and awkward to get shoes on over. I didn't hear anything back about them, and finally decided to ask the other night if he ever wore them. Yes, he said, but they're a bit thin, he liked to wear them in the house in the evening, when reading or watching telly... So I'd patiently knitted boring fine black socks when he would have preferred some chunky wool sofa socks. Serves me right for assuming anything.
Talking of thick warm house socks, here are the ones I made for myself inspired by the lighthouses off Roscoff (in this post a couple of years ago).
It must be said that almost all my family and friends, including all of the blogging ones on whom I have bestowed my knitted favours, are extremely appreciative and highly knitworthy.
G and A are also very knitworthy, particularly of socks. I forgot to photograph the red patterned ones I sent to A, but he expressed his appreciation by sending me a personalised Face in Hole creation. We got rather into exchanging these; the first, and still one of the best, he sent was one of Peggy the Boxer as Henry VIII:
I returned one of Elfie as Rita Hayworth in Gilda, but in fact it turned out a little too disturbing to post here. He has since progressed to videos, and in his thank you e-mail for the socks was this one of my being eaten by Gorgon the Destroyer (I wouldn't really have recognised myself and am not quite sure where he got the photo from):
I assume this means he liked the socks, so 35000 stitches was time and wool well spent.