Monday, December 31, 2007

Sunset in a factory window

We were driving home from visiting friends a couple of days ago, feeling tired and emptied, not in a bad way, not unhappy, far from it, simply tired from company, introverts' weariness, introverts who, be assured, love their friends enormously. And tired from a peaceful, timeless, time-honoured post-Christmas walk through muddy lanes with a baby in a pram and two dogs on leads.

Nothing much needed saying; the visit had been a good one, conversations with individuals were yet to be reviewed, observations made ( " did you notice his wonderful slippers? Like a mediaeval jester's!" " She still loves and fusses the dog, doesn't she? ) but there was no urge and no urgency, we lapsed into silence.

I looked out of the passenger window at a sunburst in the western sky, a beauty, a blessing. One of those sunset sunbursts that looks like an opening in the sky, an archway to heaven, a glimpse of enlightenment, a view onto an altered state, or else perhaps a 1930s radio front, or something from a Cecil B. de Mille movie. An archetypal sunburst. Yet in my weariness I turned from the effort of any creative impulse towards it; the camera remained in my pocket, the words largely unformed in my head. I could do it no justice; the idea seemed utterly pointless, what's another sunset, in words or images? Yet with this abandonment and apathy came not only a sense of disappointment in myself, an oppression of the spirits, but then a restfulness and peace, a going beyond what seemed a paltry human need to reach and grasp and take possession, always to form beauty into an artefact, to shape and contain it, to take nibbles out of it with our silly narcissistic chatter . The sunburst did not need me to make anything of it, but I could come to rest in it. If this was emptiness or fullness I could not quite tell.

Then next morning I found this essay about Rilke ( about whom I am shamefully ignorant...) on Alistair's blog, which I was led to by rr. Quoting Robert Hass on Rilke,

' " The angels embody the sense of absence ... They are absolute fulfillment. Or rather, absolute fulfillment if it existed, without any diminishment of intensity, completely outside us. You feel a sunset open up an emptiness inside you which keeps growing and growing and you want to hold on that feeling forever: only you want it to be a feeling of power, of completeness and repose: that is longing for the angel." '

Alastair writes that Rilke first perceived this as a longing for death,

'(Rilke)... doesn’t get fooled by the idea that romantic love or religion or fame are going to paper over that chasm. But in the first half of his career he does think that death might. Over and again, Rilke sees death as a place where this ragged longing becomes beautifully quiescent.'

But, paradoxically, in contemplating the actual death of a young woman he knew, he transmutes it into a stronger force for creativity, writing in a letter,

' "Everywhere transience is plunging into the depths of Being… It is our task to imprint this temporary, perishable earth into ourselves so deeply, so painfully and passionately, that its essence can rise again, “invisibly”, inside us. We are the bees of the invisible. We wildly collect the honey of the visible, to store it in the great golden hive of the invisible." '.


In the late afternoon of that day, there were more sunbursts. I walked the road along the ridge which forms the watershed between Channel and Biscay, watched the cumulus bubbling up over the Channel to the north and east, arching over us and flattening out in layered horizontals south and west, mirroring the opaque layers of the receding hills away to the interior of the peninsular and eventually to the Atlantic. I looked at the familiar winter silhouettes of the lopped trees, their branches inky rivulets streaming out from their uneven trunks, and I thought about the water courses springing invisibly from somewhere under my feet and falling away downhill, merging and joining and increasing in substance.

Three gulls wheeled between the planes of ploughed earth and backlit cloud, a buzzard like a bark-coloured ghost swept low over the mudded meltwater and rapeseed stalks and perched in the top of a spruce tree, and a flock of lapwings whorled upward and out from behind a dark row of pines. I snapped haphazardly at the sky, clichés, the cross-linguistic pun aposite. The pictures at once over-dramatise the light and fail to represent the grandeur, and the small moving detail of the birds is lost altogether, or never caught. Like these words they are inadequate, fragmentary shards of record, of just an ordinary winter sunset over an unremarkable agrarian landscape, which cannot show much at all of the endless, ever-moving, ever-changing skin of light and dark and life and death which surrounds us. But I am moved to take the pictures, to write the words, all the same.

At the top of the hill, beyond the village and between the fields is a small factory. A family business and workaday piece of light industry, it manufactures suspended ceilings mostly for public buidings. The mirrored glass of its office windows faces the fields and trees and the setting sun. As I approached it I felt that curiosity, now what if ? This was surely a more interesting way to photograph the sunset, framed in those windows, then I could crop it, straighten it, tweak it a bit...

From the angle I could see it from the sunset wasn't even fully visible. The image is reflected, darkened, cropped and lopped, distorted, rendered artificial, an artefact, a manufactured thing; it is contained within square panes, drawn around, serried, divided, limited. But I made it, it's mine.

And, one way or another, this is what we do, all we can do. It is the nature of our minds, our creativity, our humanity and our spirituality . It is pointless and inexplicable, and it may be the source of our destruction or of our salvation, but do it we must. Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Days of Misrule. ( The Mithril Coat # 2 )

One of the pleasures of growing up is finding yourself preferring Boxing Day and the days after it to Christmas Day. Yes, it's partly to do with Christmass Day being more work and worry when you're an adult, but it's also about relishing the pleasure of savouring, of indolence and gentle misrule, over the excitement of anticipation and getting.

As a child I remember the disappointment as Christmas Day drew to a close, and the year before the next one seemed an eternity,( and to a point it still does, next Christmas still seems unimaginable from here...) The high point of the Day seemed to be everything, all else was anti-climax.

Then, however, I recall a Boxing Day when I was perhaps eleven or twelve, when I managed to stay in my pyjamas and read the whole of a book I had had in my stocking the day before ( Monica Edwards, one of the Romney Marsh ones. Anyone remember Monica Edwards? Probably shows you what kind of little girl I was and why I am what I am. My sharper and more au courant contemporaries were probably reading 'Lord of the Flies' by then, or Alan Garner at the very least, but I was still very happy with Arthur Ransome and Monica Edwards, thank you very much ...) . This required a degree of cunning on my part; I had to sidle off whenever my busy mother noticed I still hadn't dressed or set foot outside the door, and I remember closing the book after the last page and announcing triumphantly that I'd finished it and what's more had stayed in my 'jamas all day! Bliss. I think it must have been at about this time I started to appreciate the Days of Misrule.

Anyway, our Christmas lunch guests were charming and appreciative and just greedy enough. After they'd gone we went to sleep in front of Euronews 'No comment'. Ah, the wonders of digital, ever more channels to fall asleep in front of. We just about woke up for long enough to open the last of the presents, then wound our weary way.

The following day, yesterday, I took a very short walk by the foggy fishpond, where I generally unsuccessfully tried to take some photos of gelid winter hydrangeas until the batteries ran out - the spares I was carrying were also flat, I'm not yet used to having only two in the camera which run out every five minutes. When I came home, I filled a roll with stuffing, pate, cranberry sauce, sausage wrapped in bacon and forget the turkey ( for me, turkey sandwiches are a customary misnomer like mincemeat; there is no turkey involved in the former or meat in the latter) and ate it on the sofa.

I decided perhaps I'd best put the cheese and leftover Brussels sprouts away somewhere after Tom falsely accused Molly of needing a bath after standing downwind of them ( her wounded dignity was made up to by allowing her to lick the turkey serving plate, another act of misrule not normally countenanced; we washed it well and rinsed it in very hot water, honestly...), and spent the rest of the day, between lunch and turkey broth, finishing off the coat I'd been making for Ilan. Initially I was slightly annoyed with myself for not doing this before, and placing a burden of obligation on the idleness of Boxing Day, but sitting at the table in the drabs of the wintry afternoon sun, carefully ladder stitching the lining into final place, the initial struggle of cutting and folding won, listening to the Tallis Scholars and Loreena's 'To Keep the Cold Winter Away', I began to feel absorbed and happy. Sewing is a rare activity these days, but one which is redolent of sensory memory. But perhaps that's another posting.

The final result does not perhaps bear too close examination in its symmetry and details; it is an interesting pattern but I think I would have benefitted from a practice attempt to understand the principle of how it grows and goes together, as it is there are some wonky bits, and I hope it's not too small round the neck. I also couldn't have got another row out of the yarn I had, despite ordering more. So I doubt if dear Emma at Loch Sunart would be using it as a show sample of her beautiful product. The lining was a good idea, though time consuming; it really does help it to sit better. The Princeling will have it today; his Anglo-French family have gathered and been having a confused and confusing time eating Christmas pudding at midnight on Christmas Eve and no doubt indulging in other cross-cultural compromises to which the little mite must needs become accustomed. I daresay he'll cope.

That visit should be our last commitment for a bit, then it'll be all French hens and calling birds, leftovers, books jigsaw puzzles ( Tom's vice, not mine), and DVDs. I've the new Salley Vickers courtesy of my sister, and I've been hoarding Baraka, Chronos, Powaqqatsi and Koyaanisqatsi for this very eventuality.

Enjoy the rest of the Twelve Days.

Monday, December 24, 2007

No room

Tom's mince pies. The red and green garnish was my idea; the Queen of Hearts can eat her heart out.

It's always the same old story this time of year: no room, no room.

"Why mince pies? No one'll have any room for them along with everything else."
" Don't get negative. They'll make room."
" It's always so fraught..."
" I'm not a pastry cook."

" Oh, the cracklin...!" ( The butcher always needs persuading that we really ought to have it.)
" We'll have to find room in the oven."

" I need to find room for D.'s gin in the freezer." It always astonishes me it doesn't freeze solid.
" He doesn't drink martinis at lunchtime..."
" Not normally, it makes him bad tempered. But as it's Christmas he's allowed." At 84, we will permit him a little seasonal martini-induced curmudgeonliness. He won't be driving.

" She's a big woman, E. says, and likes her food." This hapless dinner guest whom we have yet to meet becomes a veritable Gargantua in our imaginations; she will swallow all our food, and there will be no room around the table, perhaps she will need two chairs... Later we hear she is of quite average size, larger than E. herself who is bringing her, but then who isn't? We are slightly disappointed.

I am busy busy busy. I buy few presents at Christmas but make a lot, I purport to keep the greed frenzy at bay by keeping out of shops, but indulge it in a reckless doubling of quantities, and how many cantucci biscuits do my friends really want to eat? I doubt I save much money. I suppose myself to be rich in time if not in money, but it doesn't feel like that today. I find room in my day to watch Carols from Kings. Tom tries to talk turkey, I shut him up.

" We haven't room for her. It's not our problem her useless spacewasting alkie son couldn't get himself here. We haven't enough starter, we haven't enough cutlery..."
Excuses. We know if we liked her more we'd find room. She will be on her own.
" If she hadn't been so obnoxious last time. If she wasn't such a bigot..."
" It doesn't mean we won't have her in the house again though. I can live with her."
" Hrrumph. I wouldn't go that far!"
In the end, and quickly too, we make room. We buy extra starter. I extend the invitation. Just prior, other friends have already asked her. Our relief is honestly earned; we had committed ourselves, done it with a good grace, yes really. We can eat extra scallops.

"This tray of flapjacks is falling out of the fridge!"
I had cleaned and emptied the fridge of non-essentials.
" How do I get the flour back in the cupboard?"
I rationalise the jars, wipe the floor of the cupboard down. I suppose Christmas at least makes me do a bit of huswifery anyway. The flour just about goes back in.

We sit head to head peeling and juicing mandarins. We go over more slowly the events of the day. I rid my language of extraneous and gabbled detail, order and enunciate the words. It is satisfying; there is more room in the sentences. As he picks over the citrus segments, Tom cracks the old one about taking the pith. I laugh more than it might seem to warrant, but for me, there's always room for an old and familiar joke.

I wanted to write something deep and crisp and even. I wanted to show you angels, coming through cloven skies with peaceful wings unfurled, if I were a wise man, I would do my part...

But my mind is cluttered with abundance and things of this world, there is no room in it for any such rarefied grace; epiphanies do not come to order. Tomorrow may be my dancing day, tonight I am thinking about sage and onion and brussels sprouts.

Happy Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Solstice dusk, bad light and camera shake.

(For Robin Starfish).

Walking in darkness, my hands trembling
Looking up
I beheld a star.

Friday, December 21, 2007

" Ice...

... is also great
And would suffice."

( First efforts with cheapcam. High failure rate and certainly has its limitations, but the light was poor, and it was a first attempt ...)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Much to be thankful for

I have a peculiar impression at the moment reminiscent of certain dreams that I am trying to make progress towards something but it is slipping away, becoming absurdly difficult. My memory for the immediate pragmatic details is letting me down too often, I forget where I have put things more than usual. Arrangements keep sliding through no fault of anyone's, while matters apparently successfully arranged or accomplished seem to spin off into further more complex necessities. The failure of the camera has provoked a fear that all the wizard technology with which, despite our protestations of simplicity of lifestyle (awful word), we are increasingly surrounding ourselves with could equally fail and need to be worried about. I grow cranky at my ineptitude with the basics of life, and ask myself as ever, how do normal people manage? People with children, full-time work, elderly parents, debts, divorces, neighbourhood disputes, all the endless litany of trials and tribulations that flesh is heir to? How do they manage normally, never mind do Christmas?

The digital TV man came yesterday. Tom has finally been allowed to have th slimline telly he has been hankering and saving for for ages, on the basis that now he has constructed the terrace outside there isn't a spaniel's weight of dust, mud and builders rubble being walked into the room every hour or so to make its way into the workings of any highly-strung and overbred electronic appliances in the vicinity, and now he's done up the living room there is a reasonable space to have one in. Neverthe less I am convinced they make these things of the most dust attactrant materials yet known to man. Having acquired this altarpiece of the digital age, we couldn't possibly continue to content ourselves with the four terrestrial channels we have filched out of the ether from the stray signals emanating from the Channel Islands. Anyway, they will disappear eventually, we're told. Only now this means we need a Free to View card, which means beseeching kindly relatives in the UK to obtain one for us etc etc.

So, in comes the excellent A, who despite clambering about on our roof in sub-zero temperatures remains cheerful and his handshake warm. Our friend Fi said after he'd been to them, 'Couldn't recommend him too highly. Do you know, he even had a pair of indoor and outdoor shoes which he changed every time he came in or out of the house!' As a somewhat more houseproud person than myself this was clearly a big plus for her, but we were quite impressed too. In the course of his visit we learned that his wife had up sticks and gone back to England in the last six months to live with an old boyfriend, leaving him and too well-grown but still at school children, which, whatever the two sides of the story, seemed a damn shame. The three of them seem very solid together though, by his account, and he's clearly proud to bits of his kids.

He arrived while I was out attempting to run a few local messages, as they used to say, as did, unannounced as usual, the equally excellent Jean-Michel, who always reminds me of Stevie Smith's 'cat who gallops about doing good'. He it was who, on hearing that we were interested in buying a digital camera some 18 months ago, appeared at our door with three holdalls and gave us a presentation on the various features of compact, bridge and DSLR, then looked up reviews on the Internet, then bought our camera for us from Pixmania, then appeared once more for an after-sales follow-up visit... I had a call while standing in the pharmacy buying tartaric acid (for gluten-free baking powder), and pledged to be home in ten minutes,because J-M was, as always very busy going to and fro in the world and walking up and down in it.

To cut a long story very slightly shorter (I'm sure you're all busy with Christmas too and I have prevailed on your patience long enough), we tracked down the page on the Pixmania site in French which asserted the camera was guaranteed for two years not the basic one year from Canon, and off he went bearing away our camera, having drunk milkless tea and chatted cameras for a good half hour, busy-ness notwithstanding, a man with a mission. A man with many missions. The cheapy compact should arrive today.

So that's good news. Now, just to round things off and bring a smile or two - well it did to me anyway, a couple of pictures of the Princeling, who, I think you'll agree, at two months shows a preternatural elfin sagesse, and as much deliciousness as ever. (I think his dad took these). I am definitely going to consider myself his Godmother in all but font water. His grandmother has just winged her way across the Channel bearing a large Christmas pudding with which to traumatise his French father, and we'll see them after Christmas.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Oranges and lemons

The orange was a walk with my new blogging friend Rosie, and the astonishing bouncing Porridge, both vying to be the eponymous Bitch about Brittany, although despite her protestations to the contrary, Rosie is REALLY VERY NICE. We went on a bit of beach in St Brieuc I'd never been to before. It was wide and enormous, sheltered from the icy temperatures of today, the light was verging on the epiphanic at times, the sand ripples hypnotic, the cream and black of the dogs most fetching against all kinds of backgrounds...

The lemon was the camera, which was working fine yesterday indoors and out, was dead as a doornail for no apparent reason from the moment I tried to turn it on once we'd descended to the beach. So much for the cool photo-blogger, I had to tuck it into my jacket where it formed an unsightly and impotent protruberance, and walk along feeling a bit of a lemon myself.

Molly was not really quite rock-and-roll enough for Porridge, a dog of exalted breeding and irrepressible high spirits, winner of a shiny cup (for obedience!). Tiring eventually of attempts to incite her to play by running round her in circles, Porridge thought it would probably be more of a laugh just to bowl her across the beach with a flying tackle. Moll had the last laugh when Porridge got told off good and proper and had to walk on the lead for a bit while she skipped around and thumbed her nose. She was very eager to come pounding in when we arrived home and tell her dad what a good time she'd had, so I don't think she was much put off.

I feel most disconsolate about the camera; and slightly concerned that something as slight as the failure of a switch can deprive me of something that has become so important and leave me feeling so bereft, a feeling akin to there being something wrong with the dog or my husband... though of course I know the camera is not capable of suffering and could at a pinch be replaced.
I have 'phoned the camera shop, a place where I feel reassured and understood, and will hurry down there asap tomorrow. Naturally, it is but a few months out of guarantee.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Third Sunday in Advent...

... and still hardly any Christmas cards done. It seems to be only really the British who impose this particular form of expensive self-torture on themselves, but we have to do it or we assume our friends and relations don't like us anymore or have died.

However, despite waking late having pulled the Velux blinds down last night to conserve heat ( there was even frost on the inside of the window behind the blinds this morning ), 6 a.m. starts having rather gone by the board of late, I decided I preferred to set off for a walk in the beautiful frosty sunlight than embark on them. The previous night Tom had embarked on a beef-stock-making project, involving marrow bones, celery, leeks, carrots etc and all of our largest pans, and generating so much steam that, coldest night of the year notwithstanding, we were obliged to have the kitchen window open. I left him to continue with this endeavour, which he is only now concluding, the latest episode in the drama being dropping the largest cast iron pan in a sink of soapy water and the consequent tsunami soaking him and probably half the kitchen, but at least he is doing the washing-up himself.

So off I went, passing Victor's frosted leeks on the way,

the sun was beginning to melt some of the frost, but in the corners where it hadn't reached, the precious crystals remained, on grasses

and leaf litter and ivy leaves.

In the harrowed field by the stone cross, the pools of standing water I had long been contriving to make into something interesting have at last, by way of the freeze, yielded some results .

One must admire the humble but pernicious dock,

despite ploughing and herbicide, the harrow and the frost, it stands up proud and pretty at last in etiolated translucency amidst the ice.

The road goes on, and the sun is warming,

the leafless and mistletoe-balled trees show through to blue gradations of winter landscape and frost-crisped fields, but the open field are frequented by hunters on Sundays and anyway Molly has balls of muddied ice collecting between her toes, and I find my mind keeps returning to the beef gravy I know is intensifying and reducing on in the kitchen, and fantasies of it with mince and buttered carrots and mashed potato and parsnips.

There are many things I'd really rather do than assemble and write Christmas cards this afternoon, not least catching up with everybody's blogs. Then I've a strong fancy to curl up with a warm lapdog and watch 'The Seventh Seal', or peruse some of the deliciously inviting photography books I had for my birthday. But I'll feel better when they're done, and with a joint effort, we'll get through them fairly easily really. And today is Radio 3's 'Christmas around Europe', which will provide a festive backdrop. We've just had Finland, can't say I'm too impressed with Estonia so far...

The cards await.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Nocturne upon St Lucy's Day

'TIS the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
The world's whole sap is sunk ;
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr'd ; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

In John Donne's time, this, the 13th December, St Lucy's Day, was understood to be the shortest day, the darkest time of the year. Annihilated by grief and despair at the death of his wife, the spark of his intellect confounded and nearly extinguished in conceits that go nowhere, tortuous attempts to express the inexpressible, the fire of his lust for her alien and distant to him, he saw the Day as encapsulating the utter darkness in his spirit.

I think my mother knew I was born on the eve of St Lucy's and it was in her mind when I was named. When I first encountered Donne's Nocturne, it was at a period in my young life when the darkness and the fear of it threatened to overwhelm me, at the midwinter point of my birth and the times leading up to it most of all. I liked the poem because it had my name on it, and because it looked the darkness in the face.

Now I live in a way and a place where the darkness is held at bay. The cold may be yet to come, but the days will soon lengthen, the light increase. The solstice days are short, but a few leaves still speckle the trees with colour, and where they have left, the twigs can be seen already to hold the buds for the spring's new leaves.

The winter wheat throws a haze and a striping of luminous gold-green over the shape of the land.

Donne's despair is not mine. Darkness, horror, despair, lurk beyond the threshold, but the door is closed to them. I'll cringe in the shadows no longer, but carry my light for as long as it will burn.

'The night goes great and mute.
Now one hears its wings in every silent room murmuring as if from wings.
Look at our threshold.
There she stands white-clad with lights in her hair Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia'

(Translated from a Swedish song to St Lucy, her feast day being much celebrated there)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

On the threshold ...

... of my forty-seventh year.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Never work with children and animals

Molly would like to thank everyone for their kindness and concern. She really is better now, though we did notice yesterday she was holding a front paw up a bit from time to time. Here she is on the new parquet flooring, which may in fact have been the cause of all her woes, as I think she may have slipped on it while jumping about. She did have to have a lot of anaesthetic for all the surgical stuff, even taking out the last lot of stitches, because she just won't submit to such procedures otherwise. the vet kept thinking she was out and he could start, and up would come her head again.

She seems to be fine now, however, and fortunately our friend who we had to let down about the concert has dogs too, so she understands. Her dogs are Mol's friends Moose...

... and Daisy.

These are old pictures I took of them in the summer. I haven't been taking many photos lately because the weather and the light have been fairly dreadful, so a bit of dog-blogging will have to pass the time. Once again, thank you all for our concern and support.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Busy day

Today was something of a milestone in my blogging career. I met up with another blogger in real life and the flesh. This was Rosy, who lives not far away, and has been blogging and visiting for a month or two. It was very brave of her to agree to meet me, for as she said, she has spent her offsprings' childhood warning them about meeting up with strangers contacted on the Internet, and I could have been a fat moustachioed stalker, and come to that so could she. But anyway, we thought that the Sucré-Salé salon de thé seemed a fairly safe place, so I headed there after work at lunchtime.

It turns out that Rosie (under another name) is in fact something of a star in the firmament of the Cotes d'Armor music scene, whose renown had already reached me, so I felt rather trepidacious and awestruck, and feared I would have no conversation at all and would leave her with an impression of a rather pitiful person who has to blog to compensate for inadequate social skills. However, we quickly earned ourselves some impatient and supercilious looks from the serving staff by completely ignoring the menu because we were talking too much, and it was one of those times when I had to metaphorically sit on my hands to stop myself from interrupting because I was too interested, and we never found out half of what we set out to tell each other about ourselves because the digressions were too interesting. So I think perhaps we'll do it again. I took the camera but no photographs because we were talking too much. Rosie said she half expected me to get it out and start photographing the food. As this was a rather peculiar blue cheese and bacon quiche and not very photogenic I gave it a miss.

The prospect of busy days doing unfamiliar and unprecedented things, especially involving meeting new people or being out in the world often has me feeling rather not quite up to the task, then when they actually happen I'm often quite surprised at my energy and stamina. I parted from Rosie feeling very chirpy, went about my errands in town, and even did a bit of low level Christmas-ish shopping, including the material shop for a piece of écru coloured silk taffeta to line the Princeling's mithril coat, which is knitted but not made up and I thought would benefit from being lined. It has just occurred to me that his mother reads this blog sometimes so I have probably spoiled any element of surprise.

Then home to admire Tom's excellent parquet floor laying, walk the dog, stick a fillet of frozen salmon and a potato gratin in the oven, and out to hear Baroque cellos and Sephardic chant in the church in Moncontour. We often swear we will never go to these local events, which start late and where everyone claps between movements, then we usually do.


Postscript: At that point we were about to set off, when Molly, reaching her usual pitch of excitement at the prospect of going out in the car, stopped, staggered, and limped round in a confused circle. We picked her up and put her on the sofa, where she continued to look confused. So we decided we couldn't go out. Not much hope of a vet at that hour on a Friday, and within quite a short time she returned to normal, though rather quiet. I'll ring the vet tomorrow and see if she's any ideas. I feel bad about letting the friend down we were going to meet for the concert, though I was able to catch her before she left, but I wouldn't have enjoyed it worrying about M. anyway.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A kitchen sink drama

Some time ago, Zhoen posted a photograph of her washing up, featuring a neat drainer well-adorned with her blue and white crockery. I was able to own that I have a particular penchant for photographing my washing up. Following the modest success of cutlery and glassware in the last post, I am moved to post a photograph I took tonight. It is not perhaps the best study of washing up I have done, but it is of the moment, a typical Wednesday night selection: the black casserole dish which is filled with chicken and vegetables before I depart for my gym class (a penance and a mortification of the flesh I undertake every so often, only made bearable by the prospect of the extra wine I will drink afterwards, which probably nullifies any benefits the activity may confer) the red bowls the chicken and vegetables are eaten from, and the ladle with which they are served, the lurid melamine cartoon covered dog dish, and the teapot rinsed and ready for the morrow.

I have in the past experimented with black and white and colour accents, notably this one below in yellow. On looking at this again I experienced a very minor spasm of sorrow and regret when I remembered I have since broken that yellow plate, of which I was most fond. (Any of my real world acquaintance who shake their heads uncomprehendingly when I try to explain how and why I blog with the well-worn 'haven't you got anything better to do?'-type response would, on reading this, have all their assumptions confirmed.)

I invite other blogging folk with nothing better to do to share their washing up on-line. Dishwasher users need not fell excluded, simply snap a picture of your crocks in all their steaming glory as they emerge from the interior of the Miele, and post it.


Changing the subject completely, a pleasing idea occurred to me recently: if high powered, long nosed, thrusting sports cars are, as is popularly attested, penis extensions for the men driving them, then those over-capacious, globular, blunt-nosed people-carriers driven with such serene obliviousness and containing usually no more than one or two cosseted and protected infants must surely, but surely, likewise be womb extensions for their female drivers?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

No more Nablopomo

November and Nablopomo being over, I no longer need to post every day; my days of being a sad blog junkie are at an end. I didn't need to do it in the first place but I set myself a goal. In fact I started a few days late so I haven't succeeded in posting every day at all, but not to worry.

It's been fun, and thanks all for faithful commenting which must have sometimes been a bit of a chore. Sorry if I haven't got around to all of yours as conscientiously, that is one of the disadvantages of it. On the whole I think I prefer to balance posting and reading a bit more evenly, and to be able to take a little more time to think about what I post. I have tended to be a bit too much oriented toward the computer, at times I've just put anything on for the sake of it, and sometimes I've felt rather like the sorry individual who hangs around work or a social club when everyone else has gone home to their proper lives. On the other hand, it's enabled me to use up things I've had in reserve or on the back burner, dare to post a few more poems, and been a bit more spontaneous. Also with disabled dog I've been out and about less, so it was a good time to use up stocks.

But Molly should, fingers crossed, be fully back in circulation next week, and we've a month or so of relative inactivity to walk off, so it's time to get out more.

Thanks again for reading.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Thank heaven for nice young men, and how dog hair is not really the enemy.

I am beholden today to the kindness of strangers, more particularly I am grateful for the generosity of nice young men.

We've been putting off the hivernage of the geriatric Citroen BX, cancelling appointments at the garage, because we've had other things to do and pay for and it seems to be starting in the morning and going on its way uncomplaining. Similarly, the washing machine which seemed to have been having intermittent problems draining was manageable if turned to the drain only and then spin programmes separately afterwards, so I procrastinated about that too.

However, then one sad day it happened, the washing drained no more. The machine died mid programme and would not be cajoled. I baled it out by hand and called the repair people, the second time this year I was thankful to have been inveigled into buying an extended warranty.

A week to wait, I discovered the joys of the prefab shack outside Leclerc in Lamballe which seems to be the only launderette in Department 22; I had to trail the concourse of the supermarket like a mendicant trying to extort enough coins from the unwilling shop workers for the machines, and loitered about the intallation while large lorries with suction equipment seemed to be clearing blocked drains outside, but inside had the interest of providing me with an impromptu sauna experience. Took me back to studenthood, only I didn't have a copy of Sophocles or Gawain and the Green Knight to read somewhat pretentiously while supervising the rotating drums as I did then.

Anyway, the repair person was due this afternoon, so I hurriedly left work and stopped off at the garden centre on the retail park which is one of the few places to stock the special croquettes which piggy pooch is recommended to eat by sundry veterinarians, and the newsagent that kindly imports a Radio Times for us so that we can shake our heads despondently over it and say 'Crap on the telly as usual'. I returned to the car and turned the key in the ignition. Nothing. Not a cough or splutter, rien du tout. I had just enough credit on the mobile (I haven't got round to sorting that out either) to bewail my sad fate to my husband and try to supply him with the phrases necessary to explain a non-draining washing machine to a repair person. He said go to the car place by the supermarket, which I suppose I would have come round to the idea of eventually on my own but only after a requisite time spent in existential paralysis.

The first place a fellow with a lacklustre manner and bad skin gave me a shrug and accompanying expulsion of air from between pursed lips, said he could do little for me, but referred me to another place. There, a very young and bright-eyed chap was courtesy and compassion personified, picked up battery and leads toot sweet and instructed me to jump in his car and off we went back to the car park. I had to ride in the back because he had a baby seat in the front, though he really didn't look old enough...

The battery solution was unsuccessful, so he asked if I had anything large and heavy on board with which to bash. I found a jack handle and he duly bashed. Yes, he said, as the car started, it is the charbons du demarreur which are worn out. I memorised this in total ignorance of its meaning. The arcane illogic of the naming of car parts in my mother tongue is doubly confounding in a second language. Even when a translation is supplied I am none the wiser, there seldom seems any relationship between the words in one language and another, or in either language with my rudimentary grasp of their functions. Tom said when I got home 'Oh yes, the carbon brushes .' Fine.

'What do I owe you?' I asked.

'Nothing at all,' he said with a grin. I asked his name, so I'll drop by with something later. If he's got a baby someone will probably be happy to share some chocolates.

So, I arrived home just in time for the washing machine man. He was very jolly, particularly tickled by a dog with a bucket on its head. He fiddled with the drainage pipe, then turned the offending item of household white goods on its back and located the culprit. Feel this, he invited, guiding my hand to a lump in a piece of rubber tubing. (Why do I always ingenuously do as I'm told in those kind of situations...?)

We seem to live our lives under a steadily advancing tide of fine black dog hair. It forms dust bunnies the size of tumbleweeds in every corner every day, three times the volume in hair of the dog in question is collected in the bag of the vacuum cleaner every couple of weeks, and it coats all the textiles in the house in a clinging film of grubbiness. Fortunately I am not a houseproud person. Fearing however that the tubes and filters of the washing machine must be also under siege from the creeping menace, and being a bit of a sucker for the kind of catalogues that market inexpensive tricks and trucs, I purchased a number of these (above) fuzz-catching baubles from Vitrine Magique, a kind of downmarket French cross between Lakeland and Innovations, and have been throwing them abundantly into the drum of the washing machine, as is their destiny. I don't keep track of them as I just seem to have A Lot and they are frequently escaping, rolling underneath things, turning up in pockets or the corners of duvet covers and so forth. So I didn't notice there was one missing, which had surreptitiously squeezed between the drum and the outer casing and was making its way towards a new life wherever the washing machine water goes ( a place yet to be discovered and a point of contention with the septic tank monitoring team who featured in an earlier post ). It never made it, but stayed in a limbo in the aforesaid rubber pipe, in a very sorry state indeed.

Tom raised his eyebrows. 'How much will that cost then?'

'Is it covered by the guarantee?' I asked hopefully of the jolly young man.

'Not really,' he replied ' it's your fault. But just this once.'
So we have got away without paying twice today. And it wasn't the thing I feared, the dog hair, which caused the problem, but the measures I took to prevent it and fight against it.
There's a moral in there, I'm sure.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


One cup of oats, one each and a half of water and soya milk. The vitamins and minerals make a long-nosed, wall-eyed face at me. A spoonful of syrup is a doubtful concept, more like a pigtail, not discrete.

Wishing for cream, I add salt instead, to satisfy the need not to be virtuous. Deferring the gratification of the syrup, I fold it to the bottom of the bowl.

Tom undresses the coffee pot.

( How, you may ask, does he do that? Here's how.

A cafetiere cosy. Made by my ever inventive and creative sister, she of the magic quilt, who had the idea when she saw us wrapping tea towels around said coffee pot to keep it hot. Silk lined and most effective, I'm sure she still has stocks and would take orders...)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


What do you want for your birthday? Tom asked. I can't really think. On the whole, I want what I have. Now I have photography, I said, I don't really want much else. Jos the painter offered me a powerful, up-to-date Nikon reflex for a good price, but still more than we could
really afford. But it's not the price anyway. If I took on such a camera, I would really need to learn about photography, its techniques and technology. I would be encumbered by lenses and tripods, I would look the business and need to be the business. I feel I could no longer travel light. When I see sumptuous macro shots elsewhere, or glorious landscapes ( I was going to supply links, but there are so many it would be invidious ), I am envious, but I am resolved to make the best I can of what I have, which is riches enough. A 'proper', ambitious photographer would jump at the offer, raid the piggy bank and relish the challenge, but I am happy, happier, to work within limitations, within boundaries.


I read and am stirred by Tall Girl's post on wildness, on letting go, on living authentically. Am I settling for second best about myself? Am I confined and constrained by my own fears?

Does letting go mean losing? I dread and fear losing the bonds and ties I hold so dear, that I have spent so long weaving and knotting in patience and love. Perhaps there is a wildness that seeks to protect, too.


In the back of my bird book are the maps. Simple outlines of Europe coloured with red, and often a broken line around the western shores, out into the Atalntic, the birds' migratory range.

I think I might close the door behind me for a while when the time comes, and follow the birds to the western fringes. From Ushant to Scillies, and then to Bardsey, and from there to the Skelligs, to climb that long stone stairway into the upper air, to the stone beehive cells where the hermits lived on the flesh of the seabirds. Then back to Iona, to come full circle. To sit and look out at the Bay at the Back of the Ocean, where Columba knew by second sight that the crane which was to become his companion, his talisman and psychopomp, had landed from its flight from Ireland and lay exhausted on the sands, to follow corncrakes again through bogs and bracken and never see one, to marvel at the detail of eider ducks, and the black backs of ravens below me, to pick up tiny pink-ridged cowry shells on the beach where the monks were murdered by the wild, iconoclastic, pagan vikings, so that the wheel could turn again.

But then what?


I fear I have offended a friend by speaking too much.

I have potential new friendships I should be tending, but I have a sliding courage.

I have caused pain and anxiety out of carelessness, a weary, remorseful headache results.

But I have posted again today!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Mish mesh

Try as I might, I can't make them as cleverly as Jean does!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Cabbage white # 2

This is the other poem and photos I sent to qarrtsiluni. I think they made the right choice; the anthropomorphism in this one is a bit strained, and it's not without sentimentalism and cliché. Also it lacks the distinguishing element of the chrysalids being on the wind turbines. But I'm sort of fond of it.


- Why did you go?

- It was necessary.

- Where are you?

- Here. Or there. Or nowhere.

- What are you?

- What I am. What I was. What I will be. I am growth and hunger, I am binding and parting. I am a mush and yellow deliquescence in a silk shroud. I am becoming.

- Come back. To the satisfying of the soft and hungry mouth, the suckered, hugging, undulating feet, the rolling intimacy between the veins of the leaves, the fat and juiciness of green, the ease and sweetness that we had all summer.
Come back to me.

- I can't. There is, it seems, more.

- What more could there be?

- Perhaps a morning burst of dandelions and daisies, a heady afternoon of marjoram in flower. A deep epiphany of buddleia and savage sunset of mad marigold. The clinging golden dust of pollen and evanescent pearl of black edged silvery wings. A flying crooked dance of love against blue skies, then the dim-remembered pungency of brassica leaves, calling us down to lay and lay in ovipository, eviscerating ecstasy...
Then perhaps an ending, by the bird's beak, or treachery of cobwebs in the corner of a window, or finally the first fall of brittle frost and nothingness.

- I am afraid.

- As well you might be.

- I miss you.

- And I you. Come join me?

- I daresay soon I shall.