Thursday, February 28, 2008

I love Loudeac in the springtime...

I am sitting in the CPAM* in Loudeac, next to a woman in a fleecy twinset in a diconcerting shade of lime green, and her teenage daughter with a possibly more disconcerting bubble gum popping habit. The daughter is wearing jeans with a rather magnificent embroidered tiger appliqué all down her left thigh, which reminds me of 'The Life of Pi', which causes me to wish I'd brought that book to read, but it doesn't really matter, because I pass the twenty minutes or so waiting time quite happily craning my neck to look out of the plate glass sliding doors.

Loudeac is a generally unlovely inland town which happens to have administrative jurisdiction for some things over where we live. We had to go there rather a lot when we first moved here, and found the functionaries in the offices we had to deal with often, though not always, unhelpful, defensive and grumpy, so we rather petulantly dubbed it Rudeac, or occasionally, childishly, Poodeac. However, Loudeac does have one grace that I've not taken particular note of before, because I haven't been here at the right moment: it is extensively planted with red-leaved, pale pink-blossomed ornamental crab trees.

The car park opposite, serving this and the tax office, looks like an Arcadian glade, overarched with boughs of the luxuriant blooms, its kerbsides slathered with the drifted petals.

the nondescript slate-clad and concrete modern buildings around seem to be illuminated and bejewelled by the flowery bounty.

What a stroke of town planning genius to make these trees such a theme here, even if they are only so striking for a short few weeks of the year.

I lack the nerve to take the small camera from my bag and try a view from the waiting room, through the plate glass entrance, though it is an interesting one, with the darkening hood of the building's porch accentuating the luminosity of the blossom, and the metal edges and bands of the doors intersecting the scene like rifle sights, and odd clashing scarlet tabs of gaffer tape stuck on the glass to stop people walking into it.

But, with business attended too, I retrieve the other camera from the car, and treat myself to a viewfinder-full, or several, of the feast.

An elderly woman with a clipped blue poodle smiles at me indulgently as I squat down to take a macro of a single fallen flower. I hope the good citizens of Loudeac are all able sometimes to enjoy their pink blossom trees, even when they are having to sort out their tax and health insurance.

( CPAM = Caisse primaire d'assurance maladie, the national body overseeing healthcare funding.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Monday, February 25, 2008

Hidden treasure

Having confessed to my weakness for Lidl, I might as well come clean altogether. What's good about living in France? The wine, OK; the cheese, mm, though we miss harder cheeses ( Cantal and the other Auvergne cheeses are a good replacement); the cuisine, well, not as good as they think it is; the healthcare, so far so good, though for how long?; the people, probably no better or worse than anywhere, generally found to be welcoming, civic-minded, civilised, we've been lucky, can be chauvinistic (in the true sense, he was a soldier of Napoleon...), especially about the cuisine, reactionary, horror stories of corruption and closing of ranks have been heard...

But no. A really great thing about living in France is... won't find that in Peter Mayle. Noz is a discount, end-of-line type store found in big ugly sheds on the edge of most towns of any size throughout la belle France. It is the place where one can indulge in delightful, serendipitous retail therapy and barely feel it. You have to have the right mentality, of course. Tom who, like many though not all men, prefers to go to a shop for something in particular, find it, buy it and come away again, can't be doing with it, though he enjoys what I bring back. The first time you walk in, you look about and think ' How awful! What am I doing here?'. On subsequent visits you think, hmm, not much here today, I won't be here long, but then the spell of Noz begins to work, and you start looking properly, and Finding Things. I don't think I have ever left empty-handed.

There is little logic to how things are displayed, indeed, display is really not an appropriate usage here. You are quite likely to find bits of tawdry tarty underwear in amongst the pickled gerkins, Swiss chocolate amongst the loo brushes, plastic plants in with the hosiery...
And you don't need to be to dainty and fastidious about your shopping environment, the floor is concrete, the bins chipboard and plastic, and the light is mostly provided by a few suspended neon tubes and some bits of clear corrugated plastic set into the roof.

Here is today's haul,

Clockwise from top left:
-Three clip frames of rather odd proportions. Not sure what I'll do with these but I often crop my pictures into odd proportions so they may have a destiny.
-One chunky blue candle. Tom can entertain himself for hours poking burning candles with dead matches and only burns himself occasionally, so this should keep him out of my hair for a bit.
-One 625 gr jar of redcurrant jelly, no kitchen cupboard should be without.
-One small aluminium saucepan, non-stick with a design of strawberries not only on its sides but in the little circle in the centre of its bottom. I simply couldn't resist that. There were ones with oranges and lemons and flowers too, but the strawberries won easily.
-Pack of three (label, not that I give a stuff about labels unless I get them really cheap from Noz)cotton socks for Tom - bless them.
-Rhubarb and yoghurt filled German chocolates. This is only the packet as we scoffed the lot as soon as I came home. They were delicious and really did taste of rhubarb and yoghurt.
-Packet of assorted sunflower seeds, the multi-headed multicoloured ones for cutting.
-Pack of ten sheets photo paper. Not quite as cheap as Carrefour's everyday photo paper I use for making cards etc, but this might be better quality. Worth experimenting.
-2008 calendar with pictures of angels from Old Masters. I bought it for the pictures, we've already got several calendars for this year: a dreadful one someone gave us of pictures of the Peloponnese from the air, weirdly Photoshopped and mostly in Greek, so we'd probably end up inadvertantly celebrating Easter a month late; another I bought last year with mediocre photos of Brittany with a view to copying the date pages and making my own (didn't get round to), both of which are rather too small, and finally a Harry Potter one which I capitulated and let Tom have, in fact it's rather well designed, though I'm not looking forward to June when there's a scary picture of Voldemort sticking his tongue out. I actually prefer calendars with paintings on, as we put them in the loo and consequently spend quite a lot of time looking at them. If they're photos and not much good I'm iritated by them, if they are good I'm disheartened and jealous. Story of my life.
-Two gel pens and two fineliners.
-Two pairs quite girly socks with slightly frilly tops for me.

The total came to 20. 70 euros ( I've got a euro sign here somewhere but don't know how to work it...). That's a bit more in pounds than it used to be, but still not very much, no idea how much in dollars. I daresay quite abit of it came from China and I should rightly feel guilty about it, but not all of it, and most of it's fairly useful and not totally wanton and wasteful consumption...
My cup runneth over. Quality of life comes in many guises.

Friday, February 22, 2008


Mid-February; three horses, a black, a bay and a chestnut, graze
In the old château orchard, under apple trees
Whose branches are heavy with green leaves and fruit,
Of mistletoe. Sacred, magical and poison parasite,
Token of clean air, whose pearly, mucous berries
Whet the whistles, it is said, of mistle thrushes,
So they can bring from the topmost twigs,
The first taste, crisp and sweet and juicy,
Of early season's birdsong.
(Prompted by the coming Festival of the Trees special on orchards)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Of a morning

As I have mentioned before, I am a morning person. Which is just as well. More westerly as we are than much of Britain, we are nevertheless on Central European Time, an hour ahead of them. The springing forward change of the clocks in March takes me weeks to fully adjust to, and even people who've lived here all their lives find it difficult, and by the time it comes to the falling back at the end of November, the Toussaint holiday and the extra hour in bed, I feel like I'm hanging on by my fingernails, I long for it so much.

In the summer, we have to stay up until nearly midnight to see a starry sky, and for much of the part of the year I spend working, I need to be out of the house, and even arriving at work, well before first light. In the dark, our accustomed, visually assured place in the world uncertain, we are very small and powerless. Stepping out of my cosy, controlled, electrically lit domesticity, my typically uselessly female rod cells ill-equipped for dealing with headlights, listening to the owls or the wind or the rain, looking up at the stars or the glow before dawn, I have developed a peculiar kind of prayer of petition, if you will, which is not a request, but simply to ask Einstein's question: is the universe friendly?

I don't know quite why, or how, I ask it. It isn't a grovelling plea - be nice to me, don't let bad things happen. I know there is no reason why I deserve comfort and freedom from harm more than anyone else, and I doubt the existence of, or wouldn't want to know, a teleological God who listens and attends to me and my needs while deciding not to bother with Darfur at the moment. Perhaps I ask in the spirit that a comfortable but fearful slave asks a capricious master, in the third person: I trust Sir is feeling well this morning? He doesn't quite know if he'll get a smile or a kick; the master has been pretty good to him so far, but one never knows, he can turn, and he's seen how he's treated some of the others...

It may just be a ritual formula of words which steadies and reassures simply by its repetition, I don't know. I receive, of course, no answer. Yet, insignificant as I am against the dark and the stars and the sunrise, something in me believes I have the right to ask.


My slightly later start on Saturday, to be in Lamballe at 9, meant I was at the fishing pond before the sun was up, to give Mol her walk first.

Everything was visible but nearly monochrome,

and the mist and the water were doing their smoke and mirrors trick.

The frost was hard and stingingly crisp,

etching a world of thresholds,

and as we made our tour of the pond, colour began to return to the world.

I am unable to know of the friendliness or otherwise of the universe. In this pinpoint of it, I know of its beauty. That will have to do.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


White birch
Yellow dogwood
Blue water


Saturday, February 16, 2008

By way of passing the time....

... an experiment. Done with the 'blog this' function on Picasa. Don't know what it'll look like...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Overnight, the car radiator had haemorrhaged alarming amounts of water, so that for the first time in four years my classes were cancelled, owing to the prof (me) having no transport to get there. None of the students I rang seemed unduly distressed at the prospect of an English-free Tuesday.
As I scrambled dog and personal effects to make the trip to the garage and walk the couple of miles back, and as Tom refilled the water, it became apparent that my mobile phone was not in its proper place and I couldn't find it. I kept this to myself, as misplaced objects (I being inevitably the misplacer), especially when found to be so on the point of hurried departures, are the scourge of our marriage, that and Tom's refusal to eat pasta in any form, and now would not have been a good time. Using one mobile to ring and thus locate the missing other was not possible, as I have been keeping mine switched off for the last few days.
It started the other morning when the mobile went in the Spar shop. We have a minimalist attitude to the use of mobiles; ours are the simplest available, no pictures, nuffink, we have a deal with Breizh mobile, a local outfit who buy airspace or time or whatever commodity it is from Orange and resell it extra cheap, so network coverage is not always guaranteed, and we buy a card for 10 euros every two months which is enough for our needs, which are few. It's usually only ever Tom who's ringing me, and then only from necessity, so it's always a little unsettling when it goes off unexpectedly. The muzak and other background racket and poor reception in the shop made it hard to catch, but it was something to do with an advert on the internet. No, wrong number, I said, and rang off.

As I arrived at my friend's house it rang again; the advert, the caller said, on the website. Was it you earlier? I asked. No. After a few more I had the reply rehearsed, no, not me, and could they inform the website of the error.

I am very slow. Several calls later it had barely dawned on me that all the callers were male, their tone varied between inarticulate gruffness and a decidedly self-conscious bumptious suavity, none of them had mentioned what the advert was actually for, and they all pushed off sharpish without a query when I told them of their mistake. Nevertheless, I was still half-consciously assuming it must just be a good deal on a Bosch sander or some such. It wasn't until about the seventh call in the space of an hour, when Fi was already on the computer to find out about the website, that I got around to asking what was being advertised. A garbled response which I had to ask to be repeated three times; the second sounded something like 'skart', so I still had some kind of notion of electronic equipment and peritel connections.

When he finally got through to me by shouting 'escort girl!' loud and clear, the caller joined in with my hysterical laughter, despite the fact he was the sad person trying to chase up a prostitute. When she's finally picked herself up off the floor, Fi found the relevant page of the website, an otherwise quite respectable one advertising everything imaginable in free small ads, including presumably Bosch sanders and peritel connection cables. It was soon evident, though, that we would have to open up every 'escort girl' ad to find the one with my number in it, a prospect neither feasible nor appetizing, so I never did find out exactly what they thought I was offering.

So I turned off the phone and finished my coffee in peace. Fi's parting words were, 'now take it easy, Luce, don't wear yourself out...'. I contacted the website when I was home, laying it on rather thick with the 'I am a retired schoolteacher living quietly in the country...' line, and they were back to me within an hour or two to say they had suppressed the ad. The poor call girl must have had a very quiet day.

However, I've rather become accustomed to keeping the thing turned off. Fi's husband, our kind and constant gardener, begged her to give him the number so he could call me and wind me up. It might have worked, as I say, I'm terribly slow. Tom raised his eyebrows when I said he wouldn't be able to reach me during Friday morning, as I didn't want to be disturbed at work, saying far be it from him to interfere when I was busy with clients. But, as he remarked, the chances are someone would just scribble down the number and use it later, not aware the ad was no longer there. When I repeated this to Fi, she asked tartly (oops) now how would Tom know a thing like that? When another friend, trying to arrange a shopping matter with me on Saturday, suggested calling me while I was out, I explained I had been keeping the phone off, and why, adding that I had just ruined a perfectly good anecdote by telling her the whole story in one sentence.

So, that was why I left without my Starfleet link yesterday morning, but by the time I reached the swimming pool, I remembered that I'd put it into the bottom of the tie-dye cotton haversack I took to walk along the old railtrack, along with the big sister camera, a scarf and the book I was dropping off at D and J's, and that that receptacle has an uncanny knack of swallowing objects and rendering them invisible. Thereafter I was able to enjoy my walk, and even take a few pictures with the small camera of the swimming pool,

and the rising sun on its wooden walls,

and the vegetation around it.

The ever cheerful and often cheeky garagiste informs us that the radiator leak is significant but not serious, and it will be ready today. Being carless here is rather like being snowbound, quite cosy and fun ans long as it doesn't go on too long or incur any real inconvenience or cost. I spent much of the rest of the day trying to bring my photos on the computer into some kind of order, one of the many jobs I had pledged to do during next weeks holiday, a sieving process of apparent endlessness worthy of the Danaides. I wonder if a Flickr account would make matters better or worse...

This glorious false spring continues on its halcyon way. Molly overcame her fatigue after such a long morning walk and was up for another by the afternoon, and we visited the hens in the orchard, who meandered towards us nonchalantly, and the foals in the paddock, who nibbled at the zips and cords of my jacket. The unexpected day off was an un expected treat. Life for a (semi-)retired schoolteacher living quietly in the country is far from unpleasant.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Woeful destruction

All the birds in the forest

they bitterly weep

Saying, "Where shall we shelter,

where shall we sleep?"

For the oak and the ash,

they are all cutten down,

And the walls of bonny Portmore

are all down to the ground.

( Bonny Portmore - Irish folksong ).

Friday, February 08, 2008

A quite shamelessly long post about knitting

The brown shawl is not exactly brown; more a mix of charcoal and silver colours. The yarn was in a pack , with a large circular needle, that I bought in Lidl's sale ( yes, things in Lidl are even cheaper after Christmas than before...) for 5 euros, the same price and provenance as the Sistine Chapel jigsaw. Both jigsaw and shawl are long finished, but I felt the latter needed something to brighten it up a bit. I rather fancied those felt pompoms from Nepal that have been around as jewellery and trimmings for a while, but when it came to it, I couldn't find any locally, and could only buy them on the internet in large quantity and at some expense from abroad, which rather seemed to defeat the spirit of thrifty serendipity in which the garment has been created.

My solution was satisfactory on more than one count: using up, letting go, and rediscovering a childhood pleasure. Tapestry wool pompoms! Bags of tapestry wools sit mustifying in cupboards and boxes. I am not going to finish any existing tapestry projects, begun before even we left England, or start any new ones. So I cut cardboard discs and set about making pompoms,something I haven't done since I was a nipper, and I'd forgotten what a pleasure it is, especially the random variegated ones when you wind the wool round in different colours and see how they turn out. ( You have to make your own entertainment round here...).

Making a shawl is satisfyingly easy: you just cast on three, then increase a stitch at the start of each row by doing yarn over, and don't stop till you've had enough. Any yarn, any gauge. You have to do garter stitch so it lies flat, but you could do something fancy with a garter stitch border. (I found the pattern on the web but unfortunately it downloaded on a wordpad file with no record of its original source, so no link, sorry about that.) A triangular thing really does sit more easily over the shoulders than a rectangle. The long edge needs to be about as long as your arm span, which is about the same as your height, so work out about how many stitches you need from your tension square. If it's bigger it's even better. The shawl is good for sitting at the computer, which is in a slightly draughty spot, or curling up on the sofa. Tom sometimes nicks it, and Molly likes it too, though can get her claws caught in it. I'm resolved to only knit things that can be done in one piece, or maximum two, so I could come round to socks if some kind soul were to show me how to turn a heel.

The shawl is mostly acrylic with a bit of wool, but a pleasant texture. Knitting the baby coat with Loch Sunart's fabulous silk/alpaca blend was a treat and a privilege, but while the knitting craze sweeps the internet and beyond, and my knitting/blogging buddies roll around sensuously in natural fibres of heavenly hue and luxuriant texture, I find it is something altogether more tawdry and synthetic which is tickling my textile tastebuds. I'm talking about the seductions of spun polyester.

I found an remarkably cheap source of these yarns ( Bradeo on the retail estate behind Carrefour near Conforama, for those in this neck of the woods who might care to know), and cannot believe the things that can be done with the slippery and deceptive stuff. I know it's terribly tacky and completely right-off, and it does have a slightly weird petro-chemical smell to it, but it's such fun, and I'm hoping it's made from recycled plastic bottles.

The amazing Barbie pink fluffy one, above, has already become a scarf for young A., whose delight in Barbie pink belies a tough and serious-minded character.

The autumn shaded one above (and last but one) has one ply fluffy, and one ply with chenille bobbles, which makes for a dense intriguing texture that you can knit up very quickly on big needles. (Another point in the favour of this kind of stuff is the fluffiness can cover a multitude of sins in the execution...) It's well on the way to being something for someone but I'm not giving away what, as sometimes people read this and surprises get spoiled.

I'm not quite sure why I bought the one above in quite large quantity. I was just very taken by the sample knitted up in the shop, as it takes on a quite stiff, nubby-slubby, tapestry texture. It's slightly greener than it looks here, and goes rather well with the living room, so it might end up as cushions. Yes, I've come to this, a domestic idyll of knit-your-own-cushion-covers. Well, it was all I ever really wanted.
There were many more colours and textures available, but for the moment I'm avoiding the place.
This post was brought to you by Woman's Weekly, (but she be feeling better soon, as my mother used to say.)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Cute moments between species

These pictures are not here as great photography, but for their cuteness factor. The pony lives in a very well-appointed paddock and loose box a short distance from here, and has as its companions two pygmy goats. When the horse is grazing, the goats scamper round its head and come about up to its ears. They seem very devoted. The other day I was driving past and had to stop sharply to capture this scene, unfortunately only with the little camera. Just after I took it the pony rolled over and tipped the goat unceremoniously off its back.

The foals, which are now nearly yearlings, no longer live with their mothers, but together. They are still very friendly and immensely gentle, and rather curious about a dog, who is quite realxed around them too.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Sepia geometrics

Following Jean's post with sepia, and Marja-Leena's, I was wondering what I could do with it; winter trees were of course a temptation, but Jean had done those so beautifully, and Marja-Leena had done lovely etchy twiggy plant forms. I suppose the danger of it is it can look a bit mannered and pastichey in modern photography; I could have made some pictures of Moncontour, all ramparts and rooftops that would have looked so like Victorian postcards that I would have deserved to be shot for them. A friend ( Princeling's dad in fact ) does lovely portraits often using sepia, which look really alive and fresh but just a bit softened.
Anyway, then I saw these rather interesting geometrics on an old workshop, which really needed a monochrome, and the rusty, woody, mossy earth colours suggested sepia. Black and white would have been too harsh. I used Picasa's sepia effect, but turned the colour temperature up an notch - perhaps unneccesary - and tweeked the contrast shadows quite a bit too.