Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mes souliers sont rouges...

(and now the angels want to wear them)

These are my red boots, which I have just had magnificently re-soled at a cost greater than what I paid for them (in Leclerc's sale about five years ago) by our local cordonnier. Some time ago I bought a tube of red shoe cream for them at the same establishment, which cost getting on for half what I paid for them. Following its application, I buffed them up with the black shining brush, which Tom subsequently used for buffing up his black shoes, which then took on a slightly unearthly but, to me, rather lovely pink glow, with which he was not overly impressed.

Now the zips will probably give way, and I shall have to go to great length and expense to replace them.

But when you love a pair of shoes this much, what can you do?


...and ironing is paradise enow

when listening to four episodes, back to back, of the Radio 7 dramatisation of 'Middlemarch', courtesy of the Listen Again facility. An hour of pressing and folding, not my favourite task, quite flew by in such blissful company. I never cease to be grateful that Middlemarch has for so many years, been part of my inner landscape, and am firmly of the belief that no one should go to their grave without having read it at least once. Three times is better, and better still so many times that you don't really know how many, but could easily go into it at any point and know just where you were and with whom, and feel more at ease than with so-called real life.

Of course knitting while listening would have been even better, but more on that anon.

Spoon pak choi

has reappeared in the supermarket. Possibly the most delicious brassica in the world, oh but hang on... well, very good anyway. The only disappointment is an unexpected absence of oyster sauce in stores. I'm off to 'wok it off '(as they say on cookery programmes) now.


Dear Marly has asked me what I have learned from my fortnight of thirty words. I have not yet formulated a truly considered and cogent answer to that, which may mean I don't have one. However, it has been rather nice to knock this out quickly without constraint, counting on my fingers, or having to labour it too much. After all, it is only blogging...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


I have written thirty words a day for two weeks. I think it's helped.

There follows a short intermission; normal posting will resume shortly. Thirty words will probably move elsewhere.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Every summer, we talk about hydrangeas; if and how we like them, whether violet beats blue, how garden snobbery is futile.
But now, perhaps, they are at their most beautiful.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


On a Sunday in late January, I have mostly sat outside, in short sleeves, knitting.

I have too much, and too little, to say in thirty words.

See you anon.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Orange givré

Little is lovely that is orange -
Road cones, billboards, indicator lights -
Except, of course, oranges. And flames,
And today's sunrise, frosted, ravishing,
Raising to smoke the face of the waters.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Out on the town...

... with Princeling (and his mum) in his mithril coat.

What with taking in some café culture,

and promenading round the lake,

it's really enough to make a chap quite tired.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Simple cock-a-leekie for Burns Night (start it today for tomorrow).

Simmer the chicken, two hours perhaps, with bayleaves, peppercorns, stock cubes.
Remove from broth, cool, cut up.
Soften chopped alliums, add chicken, strained broth and prunes (purists may scoff...)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Going to work, three instances of blue.

The sky before dawn.

The long dark robe of a woman at her postbox in the roadside shadows.

Two glinting diode pinpricks inside a car's black windscreen, seen there before.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Driving on the hilltop road, between Quessoy and Moncontour

I see an elderly man, with aluminium canes and backpack, walking seriously. Less comfortable, he is closer than I am to the mild, grey, windy sky and patterned land below.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The watermill at Guette-es-Lievres

I went to the mill the day after the wild weather,

the mill-race raced but the wheel was still.

The air was filled with the noise of high water.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

To the woods to the woods with Rosie and Porridge

Cheapcam, like life, is too slow for Porridge.

The first shot's too distant, by the time the next is ready, I'm throwing myself out of the path of the storm.

Friday, January 18, 2008


The ceiling grows on the table

hand over hand,

piece by piece,

a foot at a time.

" When will you make an end?"

( I never knew about the rams' skulls...)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

We should have known what the weather would be...

Cumulonimbus north-east above the poplars,

cirrus south-west behind the pines,

an anvil rising over the church spire,

and the blade of a jet trail is drawn against the sky.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Beautiful things should be used, not saved.

This is my thirty-a-day notebook, from Emily who, unusually hereabouts, knows I write.

Its texture and colours are sumptuous, but best is the sharp little 'clunk' of its magnetic clasp.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Blue Hyacinths in January

We have blue hyacinths in January.

The wind moans in the sleeping fireplace; in a pool of their perfume, cold feet tucked under me, I am knitting a brown shawl.

Monday, January 14, 2008

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe...

... she had so many words she didn't know what to do.

But the words are unruly, undisciplined, neglected and over-indulged by turns. Overpopulation leads to mediocrity, they squabble for attention they don't deserve, their constant silly chatter and bickering is driving me mad. Or else they disappear for whole days so I don't know where they are and worry about what's happened to them.

Behave! I shout, come to order! other people's words do, they're made to work, they pull their weight around the place, they look nice, have nice manners, express themselves well, get good reports at school ...

Yes, the words answer back insolently, but they're not poor like we are!

Something must be done, some order in the house. Draconian measures are called for, a barrier method, a strict statute of limitations. ( There you go again, the words jeer, more little brothers and sisters! You could have just said said 'limit'...)

It's like with tomato plants, limit to three trusses per plant, ( The words snigger and nudge and poke fun at the hapless word 'truss' ), or all you have are a whole lot of undersized, underripe tomatoes.

I was round at Clare's the other day, now her words are so lovely! (The words pout and sulk, small-minded envy and jealousy being prevalent in this household, always worrying about what someone else has got that you haven't...). She manages her words so well she's even set up a new blog, where she writes just thirty a day about a regular walk that she does. Over-reaching broodiness nibbled at me, could I run to that as well? But I know really I shouldn't, it would be irresponsible and would overburden yet further the kind people who take an interest.

But that could be the solution, just thirty words a day, only thirty of you allowed, or less. The words try to push their luck, thirty, they whine, only thirty? We'll never manage! Fifty, go on, make it fifty!

I waver momentarily, but stand firm. No, I say, thirty, and no arguing. Consider yourselves lucky I don't make it a haiku!

So the new regime starts tomorrow. No limit on photographs, the title doesn't count, neither do comments I make, here or elsewhere, and perhaps I'll exempt hyperlinks, as they are at least working for a living and doing someone else a service. If it's less than thirty, better still, and some days I may not post at all. I don't know how long it will last, but may be a way out of the dissatisfied doldrums and time-wasting I find myself in.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Saturday night and Sunday morning

Tom asked when I was going to put anything new on here. I grumbled about when have I had a chance etc, but in fact I've started a couple of things, rambled on at length, realised they were going nowhere, lacked point and structure, felt a bit pissed off, left them to go stale in drafts where they are still hanging around. I've felt a bit lame and unmotivated; I've recently lectured someone very pompously about writing with conviction and self-editing, which has made me a little self-conscious and remorseful ... I've also been looking at Charlie Waite's landscape photos which has also left me feeling somewhat hopeless. Daft, 'for always there will be greater and lesser persons...' In general, I've been grumpy, negative, rather out of sorts,

But now I feel an ineluctable cheerfulness and tranquillity coming over me, for it is Saturday night and I have spent a good day.

I spent a couple of hours in paid English conversation, I hesitate to call it teaching when it is so easy and pleasant. Anais is taking the world, or at least Lannion Students' Radio, by storm, and the wonderful thing is she comes home most weekends, and still wants to give up her grasse matinee to tell me all about it in English. I don't have too much trouble dispensing with my envy and sorrow that a) I am no longer that young, gorgeous, confident and full of hopes,plans and dreams, and b) I never was. I simply enjoy watching her being so.

I braved a couple of shops, les soldes having only just got under way here but as it was still pre-lunchtime they were quite manageable, picked up a jigsaw, a 1000 piecer of the Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel from which we made rather scurrilous and doubtless post-Freudian deductions as to what precisely Adam and Eve were about to engage in when first interrupted by the Serpent, for Tom, so he can absorb himself in that and forget to flagellate himself about not freezing off sundry parts of his anatomy indoors or out in weeding the garlic bed or painting another still-life in the unheated and uninsulated part of the loft he is pleased to call his studio. I also bought a cut priced pack of tweedy chunky yarn with a big circular needle with which to knit... I don't know what but something really easy.

I later ventured into larger town and picked up the 'Radio Times' and a print of the factory window photograph ( on the header) that was asked for by a much-valued on-line friend lately gone underground, who momentarily surfaced long enough to stroke my ego with this very flattering request. I managed to escape eventually from the ravening hordes of sale-going shoppers who, typically, had woken up and crawled from the woodwork some time late in the afternoon. I curse the day, relatively recent, that the French discovered consumerism. Molly and I soothed our frazzled nerves in the arboretum, where I reacquainted myself with the Powershot in taking some macros of tree-fungi, which I haven't yet picked over. Not a bad Saturday really.

It is Saturday night, and tomorrow is Sunday.

I wonder if you can judge how genuinely happy you are by how much you like Sundays? People unhappy in full-time work, notably teachers, suffer from Sunday night depression and anxiety, which in my recollection, often started as early as waking on Sunday morning. Years ago at university, I remember a lad who had been fruitlessly trying to chat up a girl at a party, who had said she was not sure she was ready, she had been hurt before ... He said he hadn't been asking for anything like that anyway, he didn't want 'one of those Roath Park on Sunday relationships'. While I wouldn't like to pass judgement on his attitude to the opposite sex, that did exactly sum up a certain state of being. Roath Park was a wonder of Victorian/Edwardian town planning, a string of landscaped and planted jewels of gardens, bowling greens, tennis courts, culminating in a charming boating lake. But the mood of despairing, restless accidy and apathy that haunts my memories of it when in 'one of those kind of Roath Park on Sunday relationships' haunts me still. The wrongness of it, life rubbing like a shoe that didn't fit and could never be made to.

Sundays now, however, are a different matter: a satisfying blend of loose togetherness and being entirely free to please myself, and alwaysseeming rich in possibility. I often find I work harder at something around the house than I would on other days, but always with the feeling that it's by choice, quite free from constraint. I'll probably get up early, but may well go back to bed. I may listen to the radio, may read, may walk and take photos, may watch some telly, may even do some ironing, may well read some blogs, whatever I choose. I'll probably strip some meat off tonight's roast chicken and make some soup, or perhaps fricassee with rice. And Sunday also has the distinction of being Sherry at Lunchtime Day. In fact it isn't sherry, because you can't get it here, but Muscat de Rivesaltes or white port, which is nearly as nice though it doesn't quite evoke the precise nostalgia of the smell of the sideboard cupboard and the felty action of its opening and closing. We have it other days sometimes too, and but always on a Sunday.

Really, my cup - if not my sherry glass - runneth over.

( I had set myself a time limit on this, to make sure I finished and didn't fritter and blather. Photos will have to wait!)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Just popping out to buy dogfood...

A couple of days after New Year, and the stocks of human comestibles were still fairly plentiful - the last morsel of Christmas pudding was put out for the birds just the other day, the blue tits seem to like it though they do a lot of beak wiping afterwards. However, dog croquettes were very low, and the particular brand My Lady is recommended to eat by veterinarians is, for some reason, only sold in garden centres.

Cheapcam has the advantage of being easily slipped into a pocket, and the act of doing so, even if perceived by mine spouse, seems to occasion less in the way of eye-rolling and comments along the lines of 'so you won't be back for lunch then', then does the act of slinging the larger camera round my neck.

The garden centre of a morning turns out to be a rather good place to take photographs. The wide perspex type roof makes for a good diffuse light. Cyclamen are amongst the most popular post-Christmas flowers,
along with some rather blousey tulips disporting themselves to be pollinated by insects that never come.

I couldn't quite decide which what the object of focus ought to be, petals,

or stamens?

Hardly anyone was there, except the staff doing general housework duties.

The agaves were prickly customers, always rather frightening in their solidity, and hostile with thorns to any who get too close.

while the phormium presented a friendlier, more candy-striped aspect.

I pursued the theme of stripes, patterns and rhythm through the department of plant pots ( I've been reading my photography books you see...),

which also caution against over use of diagonals and dynamic tension:

' Just as the use of bright vibrant colours is instantly effective in an individual photograph but can become mannered if used constantly, so this kind of activation can also become wearing after a while...It's effect is usually spent very quickly, and the eye moves on...' (The Photographer's Eye, Michael Freeman, bloody good book in fact).

But I couldn't resist the bright colours of this range of kids' garden tools either,

and I was rather taken with the way sneaky little Mickey Mouse peers through the prongs of the miniature rake; the pure-hearted little sons and daughters of French soil may seem to be innocently being encouraged to participate in working the lands of their forefathers, but in fact they are really being inveigled into the evil empire of Uncles Walt and Sam! Nothing is as it seems...

I also couldn't resist the corniness of photographing myself taking the picture in the reflective surface of a vitreous green planter. I can see the shape of my finger coming up off the shutter. I'm quite glad I'm not a sophisticated clever photographer really, little things...

Anyway, the Powershot returned yesterday. I am smiling a lot. Even Tom says it feels as if the family is complete again. But I'll perhaps try to remember to keep the cheapcam in my pocket.

Sunday, January 06, 2008


The pleasure of relief is often underestimated, not really counted as such. Iris Murdoch described quenching thirst in 'Under the Net' as such a delicious pleasure it seems a shame it can't be prolonged in some way (I can't remember the exact phrase, and my copy of the book went AWOL long ago), and much relief, to my mind, is rather like that; we experience it and then very quickly and ungratefully disregard and forget it. I suppose the Buddhist 'No toothache' thing is making a similar point. Relief is also associated with various bodily functions which evoke sniggers and are not considered amongst life's higher experiences, though none the worse for that. At some point I rather whimsically created a post label for 'relief', and am quite surprised how often it is appropriate, for it seems I can often only settle to writing when in a state of appreciated relief from previous worries and tensions.

So it is now. Relief from a big knot of dread about something miserable, and a smaller but apparently more intractable knot of niggling worry. The former did not make the latter seem less important, I find things seldom work that way. If I am unhappy about something personal and trivial, I rarely feel any better knowing there are people worse off than myself, if anything that just seems to compound it; crap here plus crap there equals even more crap, not less, their crap doesn't cancel out mine, though it might cause me for reasons of tact to shut up about it.

The big miserable dread was the death of Daisy the lovely greyhound, and the resulting necessity to bury her. She belonged to our friend E., who while a rugged and independent woman living on her own, is not quite up to the task of burying her loved dog alone and neither should she have to be. The awful thing is we helped bury her last greyhound in very similar weather and circumstances only just over a year ago.

'I don't want to be known as The Man Who Buries Dogs!', wailed Tom. Daisy only came to E. in the last year or so, to retire to the country from a hectic and less and less viable life with her daughter in Amsterdam, she was a good age for a greyhound, and went down very quickly, avoiding the necessity for painful decisions about treatment and other worries. We contacted the cheerful but sensitive young gardening friend who helped us last time, who unhesitatingly rearranged his family Sunday morning to accommodate it, and I made a point of mentally counting the blessing of him. Nevertheless, however you look at it, turning up at your friend's to bury her dog is not something to await with pleasure.

The niggling worry arose from the arrival of the TV viewing card. This necessitates using a false UK address and pretending to be someone you aren't. Everybody does it. Mild-mannered pensioners, retired Justices of the Peace, teachers, policemen, upright British citizens all, are sitting back in their homes in France watching test cricket and Midsomer Murders having nonchalantly fibbed through their teeth to Rupert Murdoch and his cohorts, who know perfectly well that they're doing it. This is no comfort to me. I hate lying. I am rubbish at ever in any way pretending to be anyone else. I have no moral objection whatsoever in the circumstances, I am just no good at it, I stammer and become utterly paranoid.

It was a surprise and a relief to me that the very helpful and generally incurious lady on the end of the phone did not point out that I didn't sound anything like the younger female relative I was claiming to be, but when she said if there were any problems receiving the now activated channels within the next few hours I should get back to them, I hoped and prayed I wouldn't have to, as I was certain more awkward questions would follow and my falsehoods would ultimately be discovered. I would be cast out into the wilderness and never accepted back into digital society again, and my family would share in my shame and punishment.

The day wore on, and Channels 4 and 5 failed to materialise. The appearance of Fox News did not compensate for the disappointment. So anxious was I at the thought of further contact that I was beginning to accept the possibility of foregoing the sight of Jon Snow's ties forever. I decided I'd contact the bloke who installed it today and tomorrow and see if there were any other options. Problems with new technology also always weigh heavily on my spirits, stupid though that may be.

I tried to write two different things on here, but they were mediocre and self-piteous rubbish, so I ditched them. Taking down the Christmas decorations for Twelfth Night was a welcome distraction; the crackle and pungency, reminiscent of badly dried home grown cannabis from another era, as I threw the tired holly and ivy into the fire seemed somehow quite salutory.

We trekked over with spades this morning and the deed was accomplished. As ever, it wasn't quite so bad as anticipated. E. seemed calm, and her remaining dog Moos will be a comfort; as she says, he is not melancholic. The fear of the sight of death is alleviated when it is seen as peaceful, and we worked together efficiently and came away with equanimity, though the line between necessarily realistic briskness and flippancy can be a difficult one to tread, as can avoiding the kind of apprehensions and imaginings that lurk in the shadows of such events.

But it was good to get home, and I thought I'd just check the telly before e-mailing the installer. Lo and behold, we have Channels 4 and 5, and there is no need for further calls to Sky. I am still enjoying the relief. Sunday is itself again, and to celebrate, I opened the box of chocolates my grown-up students give me every Christmas, which are without doubt the best I have all year.

One of the things I still feel is a bit special about this part of the world is that just about every patisserie, even the village baker's, sell their own hand-made chocolates, which are always good, but Quinton in St Brieuc is widely thought to be among the best of all. Setting up this photograph was a hazardous matter, as it was touch and go whether I could hold back from dipping in long enough to take the picture. There is seldom a key to what's in the chocolates, and when there is it is vague and puzzling, just a list of descriptions, 'black, flat, rectangular, with a violet metallic flash', or 'milk, square, diagonal lines'. This year there wasn't even that much, but that only makes it more of an adventure.

In fact I'm just off to eat a couple more...

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Still enjoying...

... her new Christmas blanket.