Saturday, September 29, 2007

A walk on the Aber

From the house, we could look up river...

... or follow the edge of the peninsular towards the sea.

We chose the latter, past the boats and buoys,

the dilapidated sheds and the ramshackle, improvised, sea- and riverweed, driftwood and flotsam strewn river wall. ("Ugly." pronounced Tom.)

Up through the pinewoods.

Not that way,

but further on and bearing left, the path well cut and kept, past the cottages at the weir, where a phormium held its outlandish own in the verge, with un unseasonal campion enjoying its second, mistaken spring.

In the hedgebanks, puffballs played at pebbles,

and despite the falling, coloured leaves,

plenty of late butterflies sunned themselves.

Taking the path inland a little, toward the granite chapel, a stalky, earthen field retained a remnant of its crop of artichokes, raising dry and papery heads skywards, a mucus of cobwebs spun across their purple throats,

The other path that hugs the water, yields a granite sculpture.

We could have gone on, a long long way, out to the headland if we wanted, to the rocks and lighthouses, but chose instead to make our way back down, through the crackling chestnut woods, it was lunchtime after all (we'd caught the morning light while it was good), and holidays;

there really wasn't any hurry.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Dives and Lazarus

One of those Dives and Lazarus moments.

Just heard that a dear friend who came to Tom's party, and was lovely, cheerful, caring, had had a piece of shocking, cruel, confusing news the night before. Loss compounded for someone who has had far too much of it in recent years.

Catching up with blogs, as well as all the joy and fun and brightness in them, I feel sometimes I am standing by, holidaying in too much unhappiness, I am worried and powerless and doubtful.

Dives is suffering a bit of indigestion.

I need to be working on the coming year's teaching anyway. Just pictures for a while, I think.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Time for a meme

Catalyst has slapped me with two.

The first is the middle name one. The object is to form a kind of acrostic with the letters of your middle name, each one being the initial letter of an adjective (or perhaps adjectival phrase) you think describes you. If you don't have a middle name, use the middle name you would like to have. Mine is a short one: Anne.

A - Ambivalent. I am, about most things, most of the time.

N - Nit-picking. Ask Tom.

N - Nice. Sometimes, or in the old sense, nit-picking.

E - Earnest. I can be a little over-. But sometimes it's important to be.

The next stage is to tag as many people as there are letters in said middle name. I don't mind doing memes but I don't much like tagging people in them, feeling like I'm being a nuisance, though of course no-one has to pick up the tag. Anyway, four isn't too many, so I'll do so when I've done the next one, which is a set of questions.

1. If you could have superpowers, what would they be? There is no obligation to be unselfish, save the world etc.

I would have the power to levitate and position large and heavy objects such as sheets of plasterboard, barrowloads of gravel, furniture up stairs etc, and to levtate and manipulate smal ones such as screws to screw them in. In fact this would have been more use still ten years ago when we started the house renovation, but could still be handy. I would also like to be able to eradicate weeds, sorting them from the benign plants, and destroy slugs and snails with a thought. I realise this is a little ecologically unfriendly, so perhaps I would just teleport them to another place.

2. Stranded on a desert island with a CD player and 10 CDs, what would they be?

I seem to recall that the original idea devised by dear old Roy Plomley was that these would be 'gramaphone records', and that each individual piece would only be as long as would fit on an old 78 rpm recording. This necessarily limited you to perhaps one pop, rock or jazz number, and perhaps one movement from a classical piece. However, CDs allow for more freedom. I always find these music choices difficult; my current favourites are not necessarily the only ones I would want or need if separated from my world. Some music belongs so strongly to a certain period of my life that I choose not to listen to it any more, think perhaps I would find it quite difficult to do so, and often don't even own it any longer, yet if I found myself in the hypothetical desert island limbo, I might well have to have it along. So here goes -

1. Bob Dylan, second period, perhaps, early to mid 70s, 'Blonde on Blonde', 'Blood on the Tracks', I might even dare to face up to 'Planet Waves' or 'Desire'. This most certainly belongs to the category I described above; I currently own none of them, haven't done since CDs came in; one of these days I'll replace them, but not just now.

2. Some Van Morrison, no sentimental problems there, as perennial as the grass. The 'Greatest Hits' album would be fine, though it has got one or two awful ones from when he was with 'Them', and the Christmas one with Cliff Richard.

3. Paul Simon's 'Graceland', age shall not weary her, and lively enough to jump around to.

4. Some Beatles, for old times' sake. Probably the Blue compilation would do, or why not the red, if they still exist, or perhaps the white album. despite all the Yoko inspired weirdness and nasty associations, it still has 'While my Guitar Gently Weeps' on it and more besides.

5. Lots to remind me of Tom, Sibelius 5th, though it wouldn't be the same without the coda of weepy nose-blowing, or Shostakovich 5th, or some Handel, 'Did you not see my lady', a Beethoven symphony or two, and many many more.

6. A good Vaughan Williams pastoral compilation which must have the Tallis theme and 5 variants on Dives and Lazarus, and probably Greensleeves Variations, and some more I don't know as well.

7. The Tallis Scholars 'Renaissance Giants' album which has got so much on it, Spem in Alium, Western Wind Mass... Josquin, Palestrina, and also some really tasty photographs of Michelangelo's David in the artwork.

8. Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble's 'Officium'. Though 'Mnenosyme' is probably better value this is the original and best for me, with very precious associations.

9. A Loreena Mckennitt, probably 'The Mask and the Mirror' for the setting of St John of the Cross, but I like 'The Visit' too; 'The Lady of Shalott' reminds me of my lovely sister.

10. Hmm, too many possibilities for a last choice. Perhaps some more challenging classical stuff I always mean to apply myself to but don't get round to, like Beethoven String Quartets, or maybe just something else from back when, some Joan Armatrading perhaps... or the music from 'Amelie'...

(Sorry, no time to do links for all those)

3. If you were a smell, what would you be?

Box hedges and philadelphus.

4. If you were a bird, what kind would you like to be?

The bird I think I most resemble is probably a dunnock or hedge sparrow. They are commonplace, small and unremarkable, lack any distinguishing features of noticeable beauty or virtuoso musical talent, but on the other hand they have a very pretty and quite bold song when they put their minds to it, which always surprises and pleases, and though they are retiring, they are cheerful, adaptable and confiding creatures, who don't pick fights with anyone. At least I hope I'm a bit like that, most of the time. However, the question is, what bird would you like to be, so I think I would choose to be a heron. They are so larger than life and primeval looking, also slightly menacing, their flight is majestic. I like the way they stand there by water, quiet pools, riversides, even on the seashore, looking ancient and contemplative and monumental, occasionally spearing something with those amazing great beaks. Wonderful birds.

In view also of the next question, also, size is important.

5. If you were a bird, whose head would you poo on?

Well, by this time I should imagine George W. is so oversubscribed as a candidate for this honour that he must have more bird poo on his head than Nelson in Trafalgar Square, so I'll leave him and his cohorts to one side, and anyway, when it comes to politicians, where do you start, or rather where do you stop? The next person that came to mind was Peter Mayle, author of 'A Year in Provence'.

I have sometimes considered having a category label here entitled 'I hate Peter Mayle', but thought perhaps that might come across as somewhat gratuitously offensive, though surely we're all allowed to have our moments? I would label my posts with this as a kind of disclaimer when I thought I might be construed as becoming too glib and hackneyed in writing rosily about French rural life and my living here. By the psychological principle of projection, as I understand it, one dislikes in others the negative qualities one knows on some level one is guilty of oneself. By this token I suppose I must see Peter Mayle as a caution. Smug, facile and self-satisfied writing, patronising, unfunny accounts of quaint locals, with scant real knowledge or penetration, a dismal lack of evocation of atmosphere writing about a place that should be redolent of it, from someone who seems to think he has done something clever by securing enough private income through no particular application of talent or hard work to be able to decamp to a pleasant part of France... remind me of anyone? There but for the grace... or don't I? Nuff said. ( Sorry if it's anyone's favourite book.)

6. Are there any foods your body craves?

Garlic, anyhow: roasted with potatoes, in butter, on clams, in chicken, in garlic bread, on steak... good thing I depend so much on my virtual acquaintance for friendship and support.

Chocolate, of course, milk rather than dark, unfashionable and immature though that may be. There is a particular Ritter Sport bar which has a yogurt filling which seems very hard to find.

All forms of complex carbohydrate.

7. Favourite time of year?

Most of them when I'm there, though not so keen on late summer and late winter.

8. Favourite time of day?

About 6 pm, when the wine is poured. Sometimes first light on a beautiful morning when I'm not dreading or even apprehensive of anything in the day ahead.

9. If a change is as good as a rest, which would you choose?

A change, obviously, if it's as good.

10. If you could invite five people living or dead, past or present to a dinner party, who would they be?

I'm not so good on this kind of thing, probably because I am nul at any kind of fantasy life really. I'm not very starstruck, fearing that anyone I really admire as artist, writer, musician etc would be either intimidating or a disappointment in the flesh, and the thought of bringing back long gone near and dear ones is quite literally the stuff of nightmare. Anyway, I'd be worrying too much about the food to benefit from the occasion. I thought about dear old Geoff Hamilton the TV gardener who died too soon for Tom, then I started thinking about Dinner Parties from Hell scenarios, beginning with St Bernard of Clairvaulx and Richard Dawkins. But St B. would be a real drag, tiresome God-botherer that he was, and wouldn't enjoy the food one bit, but would only throw it up afterwards if he ate it at all, and conflict is only funny in the abstract, in reality I don't care for it.

So, reasoning that he'd have to be there too, to lay the table, which is his forte on these occasions, I threw it open to Tom. He came up with Jesus and Judas, Albert Einstein, Roger Penrose and Meister Eckhart. I said wouldn't the two Js be a bit fraught, but he said he wanted to know what really happened there. I said what about Geoff Hamilton, so he said OK he'd forego Judas since he could get the story from Jesus anyway. I wondered if Geoff might be a bit out of his depth in such rarefied company, but Tom assured me otherwise, saying that they were all mystics in their own way.

Then we realised there were no ladies present, so we thought we'd double up to get a balance, which would make twelve altogether with us, which is quite a good number. To keep the mystical end up Tom wanted Evelyn Underhill, and we decided we'd both really like Beatrix Potter, who wasn't Rene Zellwegger but was no slouch as artist, conservationist and scientist, and also the wonderful watercolourist Hazel Soan. I've been a bit torn between George Eliot and Jan Struther but concluded I'd steer clear of the predictable Great Women of History and Letters and go for the latter. She wrote 'Mrs Miniver', and she wasn't Greer Garson, but really clever and sharp and observant and human. I suggested we invite any one of the poor bloody women who stood behind the Great Men so she could have a good moan and get it off her chest, but then decided on Heloise, so she could tell me whether she wrote all, any or none of the letters, how old she really was, and whether it was the most satisfying relationship intellectually, emotionally,physically and spiritually ever or whether Abelard was really just a total git. Meeting Meister Eckhart she might decide she could have done better... meeting Geoff Hamilton she might have decided she could have done better...meeting Tom...

We then developed the Anti-Dinner Party theme a bit, which I feel could perhaps be the subject of another set of meme questions. To Dawkins and St Bernard we added our Dismal Dutch Bulb-growing Neighbour, a man of singularly little charm and grace, a recent acquaintance who for reasons of harmony and tact shall remain nameless, and Anne Widdecombe.

Or alternatively I would be really happy to have to dinner any of innumerable combinations of blogging friends who I may never actually meet, together at any rate, but who I'm sure would be marvellous company, without the problem of whether they spoke mediaeval German or Latin or Aramaic or whatever.

So now it's time to tag four more. Rest assured you do not have to blather on at the lengths I have, I just don't know when to stop, that's my trouble. I think I'll tag:

My old friend Tall Girl - I'm not sure if she still has a middle name, she certainly used to, which could be revealed without compromising her understandably necessary anonymity.. The issue of naming is a somewhat complex one altogether with her, wasn't there a story about a stroppy grandfather, or someone, or was it the vicar?

Jzr - because the 'z' sounds potentially interesting, and I've only lately discovered her lovely blog which takes me off to dreamy, fascinating, remote landscapes of the Far North, and makes a cri de coeur for their preservation.

Isabelle - who's wise and witty and fun, and I seem to recall that is her middle name, and she's so faithful and conscientious about getting round lots of other people's blogs that she shouldn't have any trouble finding eight other to tag.

Bee - who I don't think has ever been meme'd before, so needs to be blooded, and I have the impression the blogging world still seems a bit like a mass of spaghetti to her, so hopefully this might help her to twizzle a few strands. Her middle name is very familiar to me, though I doubt it was after me, charmless nine-year old that I was at the time of her birth, it was in the family before.

You don't have to do all or any of it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Jantien's sculptures

For three very special days, this (above) was the view from my kitchen window.

This was thanks to Jantien (above - the link is to her website), a remarkable, talented and generally lovely-to-know young woman sculptor( 'she's splendid,' said my sister, 'like a sun-face.') who drove all the way from Amsterdam in Yip the Yellow Van with six pieces of her work (and a seventh which we were buying from her, more on that anon) simply to enhance our lives immeasurably by putting them in our garden. This was one of the reasons Tom was getting a move on with the terrace this summer. We had worked and worried quite hard about this, but I really did not expect the lurch of excitement I felt when she began to unpack them.

Above was the view going up the steps to the house (which nobody fell down).

There were five sculptures on the terrace itself: above is 'The Queen of the Sea', in serpentine with a chalkstone base,

next to which was 'Blackbird Flight'(above), also chalkstone (I think),

on the other side was 'Iris' in serpentine(above), I had seen this one in the making the first time I met Jantien, she told me how it was inspired partly by her baby niece of the same name, with elements of the flower and the eye;

in the centre was 'Leaves'

and in front of that the chalkstone swan. Jantien is big on swans. Then there was one more in the apse at the end of the lawn ( both 'apse' and 'lawn' are somewhat grandiose words in the context, but the only ones available),

which was the marble swan (above).

Though they are glorious forms seen as a whole, they also need to be experienced more intimately and, naturally, touched.

Yet 'The Queen of the Sea' I found very photogenic,

And 'Iris', who is, of course, also the rainbow, contains a wealth of colour and pattern.

One of my great pleasures was to walk among them early in the morning,

and see them in the rosy first sunlight, when they were beaded with dew.

It all started with the alabaster swan. This was Tom's birthday present ( partly from me, partly from 'ourselves'). It was suggested that he wait until the day of the party to unwrap it, but neither he nor Jantien could be doing with such deferred gratification, and he fell to unwrapping it with much excitement.

It was the time of the afternoon when the sunlight slants through the dining room window, and it lit up the sepia veining in the alabaster in an almost unearthly way.

For the first time, I think, I had an inkling how people can become obsessed almost to madness with a beautiful object.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Compasses 36 to 40...

...are there.

They've a feeling of melancholy return which seems to go with the season;

"...and if you managed to convey half
Of what you believe happened, you may
Have helped history."

Saturday, September 22, 2007

"On est bien chez-soi..."

I am intending to write about the trip to Finistere (which I have been mis-spelling all the while), and indeed about the sculptures, and I have the pictures for 'Compasses' nos. 36 to 40 all sorted and ready to go, and very importantly I'm eager to start 'doing the rounds' and catching up with everyone else's blogs, but I have become aware that at this very moment the most important, immediate, pertinent thing is being home.

I was enjoying the thought of wine in a proper glass, not a Duralex tumbler or mustard glass, the feel and sight of the chipped olive-painted plates, the knowledge of the cleanliness or otherwise of my own floor ( my own dirt) cool under my bare feet. I'd made a phone call, checked the mail, set the washing machine going. I went upstairs with the suitcase to empty the rest of it. A fly phuttered at the Velux, so I opened it, and heard the sound of a whetstone on a scythe. It is a sound so familiar I almost let it pass me by, almost forgot to notice how the very familiarity of it breathes peace into my soul. Sounds corny, trite, the pastoral idyll, the antique charm, the towny foreigner lapping up the bucolic banality. But it's real, and it's the last chance to know it.

Victor is scything, what? Clover, perhaps, or lucerne, probably for the rabbits. The scythe is larger in length and breadth than he is. The whetstone is held in an old hollow cow's horn filled with sour cider, hooked, probably by an old slate hook, to the hip pocket of his overalls. Every dozen or so strokes he sharpens the scythe on the stone. He has done this since he was a small boy, cutting hay or oats or buckwheat, sometimes wheat, for fodder, or bracken for bedding. His vegetable plot, framed by the chestnuts he won't cut down, under a nimbus of russet maize heads, looks good: leeks, carrots, cabbages the tomatoes are picked, some chard or leaf beet, better than it was in the year or two before his wife died.

His Light Sussex hen and noisy big red cockerel watch and chunter at him, he speaks a word to them. When he, and perhaps old Marcel, both in their mid-eighties, are gone, I doubt we'll hear the sound of whetstone on scythe again. We inherited one indirectly from the old man who lived here previously; another neighbour gave us the whetstone and an old cow horn for the vinegar, and for a while we used it, but the blade was as thin as a new moon with working and whetting, the handle worm-eaten; the blade went first. We bought a new scythe, but we can't get it to that fine, balanced, slicing fineness, and we've little call for it, and anyway, we feel like frauds.

I watch, fold my legs under me on the wide window sill. When he looks up and across, I'll speak to him, but he doesn't, people seldom look at an upstairs window. Should I just observe, like this, or should I involve myself? Which is truer? (the photos were taken afterwards). I take in the sounds, the scything, the chickens, the clockwork churring of starlings, the woodpigeons' monotone, a bark of a dog, a sparrow scritches and peers at me along th gutter.

Down the road a way, Marie is saying goodbye to her daughter and son-in-law, suddenly blossomed into aging hippies in their retirement. There is a tug of pathos, of guilt and sadness in the situation which distracts me, adds a complex other note to the scene. They drive away, Marie's big old dog follows her companionably back up the garden path, settles outside the porch door.

Another sound, Josette and Claude start calling cats. Claude looks anything but elegant in long black shorts, ankle socks and mules, a purple cardigan that might well have belonged to his wife. He mooches down the road, directly under my eyes, rattling a tin of cat biscuits. He is so close, I can see the design of a neo-classical temple on a red background on the biscuit tin. He must see me, but he doesn't. At the corner he turns, Marie sees him, calls after him 'Is it the black one you're looking for?'. Which else, I think, probably murdering wildlife and terrorising gentler cats in our back garden. In the maize, they conclude, not far off, but not inclined to come, embêtant. As he passes underneath, I can remain invisible no longer. 'He's not hungry enough, Claude.' I call. He starts, then laughs. 'Good holiday?' he asks.

Good indeed, but good to be home.

Friday, September 14, 2007

" ' Love is enough'...

"... well there's a lie, though 'twas I that told it. Love and work, that is enough."

( William Morris. I read a section from 'Love is enough' at our wedding, nearly fourteen years ago.)

'How did life get to be so good?' I asked.

'Through love.' replied my sister.

'Through work,' replied Tom ' through not sitting on your arse and complaining about what's wrong with it.'

It has to be said that both of them are believers in and exemplars of both schools.

('Leaves', chalkstone, by Jantien Kahn)

There was a time, and a long one, when I didn't believe that the rich or multifarious satisfaction of human love was something I had much right to or gift for. Community was a fine word but only a reality for other people. The people who mattered to me I kept in boxes, I tried not to let them count too much with me, and certainly believed I generally counted little with them, or occasionally knew I counted oppressively too much.

Now, amazingly, I see they move in circles, mobile, intersecting forms, and I belong to all of them, from my immediate and nearest, Tom and Molly, through my oldest and sometimes furthest, blood family, a few way-back friends, still there in my life, thank God; my village neighbours, who took us in so kindly, now worn and fragile with age in places, rare and fine and cherished, like old silk; kindred spirits and likeable others who speak my mother tongue, and those they have brought with them; my students and their families, all added on and joining up. And now this marvellous translucency of friendships made here, which have, I sometimes feel, added the catalyst of trust and shared creativity which has breathed life into the rest, made me see the life I have as a 'wild and precious' gift, added a dimension of mindfulness and awareness that wasn't quite there before.

Over the last days and weeks, these circles have interleaved quite magically. I am still overwhelmed with gratitude and wonder, not only for the open-handed, hard-working generosity people have shown and shared with us, but also at the sheer, generous open-heartedness, not only directly towards us, but towards each other.

( Flowers from Marcelle Caro's garden; the bees kept on coming to them.)
Some snapshots:

The food put out, far from the disdainful contempt I expected from my French guests (about 50% ), they homed in alarmingly fast; the beef I'd thought must be too red drawing them like bees to the michaelmas daisies. No forks! While we rushed to find them, the quiet and elegant Claude...
showed an organisational talent for the first of several times, and cracked and peeled quails' eggs for the crowd.

(never could resist a gratuitous foody picture)
'We're off to look at baby clothes!' Isobel takes time off from having The-Bump-That-Will-Be-Ilan patted and admired by all the old ladies of the village, and is escorted upstairs by the ever-competent Fi to be guided through several boxes and binbags of infant paraphernalia, collated and donated by friends and friends of friends.

Girly chatter emanates from the bedroom. Later, ' I'd never dream of going into a label shop myself... there's even a Moses basket; I don't really need it but it's so pretty!' It nestles in the back of her car, the pearly cotton crochet blankets folded into neat squares.
Iso's mum Pippa, (far left in the picture above) comes up the garden arm in arm with Blind Old Helene. They have been down at the pond, where Pippa has learned three new French words, including 'nenuphar'.
Our old friend Jacquie is giggling at Jean le F., the very best neighbour that ever was, until he move to Ploeuc to form an informal retirement community based around the local Champion supermarket, and to collect waterbutts. 'Translate for me exactly what she has said!' he demands. Jack-the-Lad, hmm... my French fails me.

( showing his appreciation of English style sausages on sticks)

'I went down to the bottom of the garden,' my brother says, ' there were two small boys under a hedge, giggling a lot. I don't know what they were up to.' French Sebastien and English Oscar, playing cache-cache. Later they have to be chased off the compost heap, from which they were leaping nearly into a patch of nettles.
Jean's and Old Helene's sister Marcelle ( left in the picture below) spills a glass of red wine down her straight neat olive green skirt. She picks up a bottle of mineral water and pours it all over the skirt.
(Marie smiles on.)
Our rather quiet and understated clever brother is absorbed in conversation with our rather quiet and understated clever German doctor friend Brigitta.

My brother is not really a dog person.

Claude's rotund dynamo of a wife, Josette,

stops my hippy niece

in her tracks. She has to talk to her she says, because she had the chair de poule as they brushed against each other. This was a druid village, she informs her, le Houx, (our village's name ),the holly, in the Ogham script, was the letter for teaching and instruction, she is drawn to tell her. My niece says she dreamed of druids the previous night. The rest of us raise our eyebrows sceptically. Later, Josette is to be found knowledgeably discussing the properties of stone with Jantien the sculptor. New Age mysticism and connaissance of stones is not something I would have imagined in her.
My sister-in-law and our old friend Doug, both half-killed by chemotherapy in the last year, compare and commiserate (unnecessarily, in my view) their new curly hair.

In all, and I was too busy chasing my tail to take it all in, more amusing and touching and surprising vignettes than I can cope with.
Later, and later still, we are tired, all tired,

and my sister takes the weight off her feet.

Any flies in the ointment, spectres at the feast, inevitable flaws in the intricate human tapestry?
How not? But not worthy of mention.

And, of course, you were right, all right, with your support and your prophesies. It was fine on the day, all right on the night, a great adventure, the sun shone, I had fun, and when the week began Robin's words brought the smile to my face and, by and large it stayed there. Bee, your mother was priceless beyond rubies in the delegation stakes; we couldn't have done it without her. The exhibition was more exciting than I ever imagined, a truly fabulous gift, but more on that, including Tom and his alabaster swan, anon. There are scores of photos of the sculptures which I need to sort out, and to take a bit of time to do them justice.
We're off to the abers tomorrow ( rias on the sout coast, abers on the north, the Spanish and Celtic influence respectively), and off-line again. Not blogging for a week or two is neither here nor there, but not reading other people's seems very remiss... I'll get on to it when I get back. I'll take camera and computer ( to sort through photos), and I'll prepare a new set of 'Compasses', but there'll be no internet.

Thanks again for the wonderful support, birthday greetings, and more besides.
'Live on for love liveth, and the world will be shaken,
By the wind of his wings on the triumphing morning
When the dead and their deeds which die not will awaken
And the world's tale will sound in his trumpets of warning
And the sun smite the banner called scorn of the scorning
Dead pain you shall trample, dead fruitless desire
As you wend to pluck out the new world from the fire.'