Sunday, March 30, 2008

March grouch, many bits and pieces, probably how not to write a blog post.

I sometimes wonder if I shouldn't just call this blog 'daffodils and horses', which seem to be recurrent subjects. So, some more of the former.

There were sand martins over the fishing pond on Saturday. These are often the first hirundines I see at this time of year, though I have seen a pair of swallows there a few times already (the same pair? who knows, probably just passing through anyway...) . While the swallows really do seem to make rash promises of spring and summer, with their sleek, sharp lines and blue-black colouring with the gay flash of chestnut, these small, bank-dwelling cousins seem to be end-of-the-winter birds rather; they whirled about in the March gales like the last dead leaves, with the same mud-brown colouring and hectic movement.

I continue to have a strange throat problem; I haven't a cold, or even a sore throat in the usual way. My voice is not affected, but it is as a point of pain and discomfort somewhere to the left between my throat and soft palate, possibly extending to the back of my tongue. Rough textured foods scratch and are hard to swallow, and, worst of all, nothing tastes right, wine and anything on the acid side of sweet in particular taste horrid. I'm not exactly ill but feel continuously washed out, energy is hard to find.

I often get slightly unwell at this time of year, it almost seems a necessary, reculer pour mieux sauter, type of thing, a sloughing off of winter ills. But it is inconvenient. I want to enjoy my food and drink, but can't (though this may be my body's way of trying to do itself a favour...!), I want to get stuck into life, go further afield, take new pictures and find inspiration, but only seem to be able to do what I have to do, then huddle. Recently, one good blogging friend who lives in a desert part of America, good-naturedly upbraided another who lives in southern England for complaining about the weather, 'try living where I do and gardening!' was the gist, and I take it on board. However, I do have to say that continuing chill, wet, wind and dull, dull light is beginning to be wearing, I wouldn't mind a touch of desert!

There is a photo competition locally to celebrate 50 years of the Bay of St Brieuc nature reserve which I'd like to enter. I stand no chance of winning anything, the competition will be stiff and the categories are limited, and my landscape skills are not great, but I like the idea of simply getting stuff 'out there' (ghastly expression), just as I love it when people ask me for copies of pictures. But I'm not getting around to getting out in the cold drear weather to take the photos. There's until the end of April to go. Petrol prices too discourage fruitless and unnecessary journeys. More grouch. Try living in Zimbabwe, Tibet, Iraq etc etc anywhere really, stick a pin in the globe, and stop moaning.

Things to be glad of, which are legion: last night's garlic chicken, quite a lengthy procedure but a worthwhile one, even with an impaired sense of taste. In a big big cast iron casserole, fry some onions, shallots, leeks any combination. Make garlic butter which is more garlic than butter, I used two heads and kept back a few bigger cloves to fry whole with the other veg. Stuff the garlic butter, with any herbs you fancy if you fancy, inside the chicken, in the meantime be browning some chopped carrots following th onions. Push the onions, carrots etc to one side of the pan, and brown the chicken all over, trying not to let the garlic butter run out of it. Then surround with potatoes, cover with stock, water, wine in whatever proportions you prefer or come to hand, and leave to cook for quite a while, the longer the better, though the chicken will fall apart after several hours. This can be cooked entirely on the hob, though it is better if it spends at least some time in the oven. My oven is currently partially broken (another cause of discontent), the top element works but not the bottom, the part is on order, so this is a good stand-by. All kinds of other vegetables can be added, celery is good, or peas and beans, last night I added young turnips, which tasted funny to me, but I found them so pretty and dainty with their flattened globe shape and violet blush.

Washabi rice crackers, a totally decadent luxury, completely unnecessary, buying into the incessant drive to have something new and different from who knows where; 'and all the Athenians and the strangers that were there spent their time in nothing else but to tell of or to hear [or to taste] some new thing...'. They are very good though. They bite back when you put them in your mouth, and you think 'why am I eating this?' then they dissolve into the most delicious savoury sweetness in the tingling aftermath. Spicy things seem to be the most palatable. Mint syrup is OK, though it's a bit like drinking mouthwash.

When I ring Tom on the mobile, he won't be the one to cut it off. I've always suspected he was still there after we'd said goodbye, when I pressed the blue button to 'End'. So once I waited, and after a bit asked, 'Are you still there?'. Yes, he said, I can never cut you off. I said we'd better count 'one, two, three...' then do it, which we did, but he still held back. We were laughing so much by then it just got silly, but I still had to be the one to do it. Now I always know he's still there when I end the call, but one of us has to. I rather wish it didn't have to be me, but there we are.

Anyway, next week there will be a new arrival at Maison Kempton: the first new (to us) car in nearly 15 years. It never ceases to amaze me how casually people accept the fact of a new car, barely seeming to consider it worthy of remark. We have had dear Battered BX for very nearly as long as we have had each other. She is 19 years old, and we have had her for most of them. We love her dearly and we will keep her for the foreseeable, though I am aware that one's affection for inanimate machines dwindles rapidly when they start to be a worry and a hazard and not to do their job properly . I am not prepared to go over to left-hand drive before I must, and frankly I am nervous of driving the new one, a six-year-old Xsara, which seems very big and wide and very new and shiny. I have become accustomed to the idea that a car is not a car if you can't scuff it up a bit. But I will enjoy the new one anyway, and look forward to gleaming reflective surfaces, intersting lines and forms, and perhaps an excursion or two, petrol notwithstanding, all of which may yield photographic opportunities.

So, a rag-bag of bits and pieces, but I was determined to post something. I'm keeping up 30-a-day at the other place, and appreciate the odd comments left there to let me know you're about. But I have felt very creatively challenged of late. I seem to be collecting more and more blogs to read which seem to be more interesting places to hang out than this one, but now seem to have neglected those too! Finally getting around to subscribing to feeds ( thanks Rosie!) has been a boon, but even so, I've not been keeping on top of those very well. That'll be this afternoon's activity, my apologies if I've not been around, I'll be along soon. The day's not running away too badly as yet with the springing forward of the clocks, let's hope the spring proper is really on its way.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Gilded lilies

Waiting for inspiration. Muck about with some flowers.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Sonnet for Good Friday

The wind is lean as Lent, unkind, kneading

And rolling clods of cloud over the sullen land.

Hungry, I walk on stoney ground, treading

The coarse-grained granite lumps into the caked wet ground.

Blunting its blade the plough has pulled and piled,

Where three fields meet, three boulders up into an inadvertent cairn

Or perhaps, turning his face away, denying, stone cold,

A distant, sad homunculus of rock.

A broken elder branch, brittle, bare and bald,

Scratches across the spike-spired church, built like a barn, or tomb,

And the huddled homes below. It seems a world

Dispirited, unleavened, no warmth to prove or raise.

Holy Week is often cold, they say.

It's clear there'll be no bread from stones today.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Time for reflection ...

... and things close to home,

... to try to get to the root of the matter,

and to wait for something to emerge (or even burst...).

All's well, just a bit taken up. See you soon.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Jaded with jonquils?

Thinking and trying to reply to the comments for the daffies, I found I had quite a lot to say...

That damned poem, Dave called it, telling how his mother recites it every spring, 'as dependable as spring itself', while Joe pleads its case 'if only we come to it as if for the first time'. Yes, it is utterly familiar, trite, one might say. And it's subject matter is light, sweet, sugary, one might say...

Are we able to look at a show of daffodils without thinking about it? Are we unable to come to daffodils themselves as if for the first time because of it? Possibly not, which was why I whimsically broke up the images of the daffodils with the fragments of the text of the poem. But how able are we to look at anything without our cultural experiences and preconceptions affecting our perception of them?

Then GrannyJ's comment about her late mother reciting it near the end of her life moved me so much, and affirmed what I was coming to think about it, which reminded me also of Gillian Clarke's famous 'Miracle on St David's Day' (the link is to a post on Ally's blog, the only place I could find a tidy copy of it...). It is not only a poem about ickle pretty flowers. It is about what Jan Struther called 'stored up beauty': the experiences one internalises that stay and come back, often unasked, to 'flash upon that inward eye'. And it for so many people the poem itself has become an element in that internal storehouse, that matrix of stuff that makes up the critical bone mass density of the spirit, that we fall back on when, for whatever reason, the new and the fresh and the original is not available or accesible to us. These thing are often those which were forced down our throats as youngsters, that we scoffed at or disregarded at the time, but are grateful for later.

GrannyJ's mother must have learned it some ninety years ago, quite possibly from someone who was alive when Wordsworth was, and that is another aspect of the matter, the continuity and connection with the past such things give us. They are something shared.

And I suppose, the perennial appeal of the poem is the perennial appeal of spring itself. You really have to be very churlish to look about you in March, and say, 'Oh no, not bloody daffodils again!'

Saturday, March 15, 2008

It's that time of year again...

(Can't help myself. Might be worth clicking to enlarge this one...)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Watching again ...


Coming down from the cruel high plains of our beginnings
To stand in the mire of Auschwitz,
With his touchstone of effrontery
Persuades us still and again of ascent.
Through the burning glass of the screen
In the bone-ash cup of his intense integrity,
Assayed, parted, dross falls away.

They don't make them like that any more.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Odd things from the watermill.

I took myself, my dog and the camera down to the watermill. I thought I might make a post all about how many watermills there used to be on the River Lié, about wheat and buckwheat and bread and such like.
However, I simply got caught up with interesting patterns and shapes and forms and textures, so here is simply a big fat photo post of some of that, and the fascinating local history will have to wait, until I know more about it!

From the forest floor,

to stumps and trunks and things you find on, and in them.

The water itself, which I lack the skill, (and indeed, perhaps, the tripod, but I don't do tripods...) to capture well,
to the curious caddis-like forms it makes in flood, of leaves and grass and mud wrapped and shaped on dead twigs on the bank.

A handsome, huggable, mossy and muscular beech tree,

and an inexplicable piece of impromptu sculpture: a stack of huge old girders, near to the mill itself, edged with randomly wrought iron loops and tendrils, where the silvery bronze leaf litter drifts and collects,

and the rust plays a beguiling cameo.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Within 24 hours...

... the frighteningly clever Marly had guessed the book I'm reading from which came yesterday's extract, which was 'God Knows' by Joseph Heller. I first read it about 20 years ago when I picked it up after someone I lived with, who was a Heller and Vonnegut fan, had finished it. It stayed with me and I fancied re-reading it. At about the same time I also read the one about Rembrandt, 'Picture This', but I can remember little about that. I've never read 'Catch 22' , it's never much appealed.

But I did enjoy 'God Knows'. It's narrated by King David ( yes, the King David, the one who slew Goliath), at the end of his life, as he is ministered unto by Abishag the Shunamite, reflecting on his career and that of his people. Though one has the impression that Heller's biblical and historical knowledge is spot-on, the book makes no attempt to be historically authentic, as the extract shows, he is telling the story with the full knowledge of all the history, culture and literature that came after, makes references to the King James Bible, interjections in Yiddish, complains about Michelangelo misrepresenting him not least in giving him a foreskin, and generally revels in anachronism and anomaly to great comic effect. Bathsheba, it is revealed, is a callous, go-getting WASP; his first wife Michal a shrewish Jewish American Princess; Solomon is a boorish, literal-minded nitwit who really did want to cut the baby in half and whose best lines in the Song of Songs were really written by his father. David himself is brash, rash, pragmatic, sexy, arch and very funny, and ultimately movingly, tragically human, in his final irretrievable loss of his children and his God.

Well worth a read. And a re-read, so I lately got a copy from Amazon Marketplace for a penny and the postage.

So I've tagged Marly, who, as well as bringing up her lively brood, and writing proper books and gardening and heaven knows what else, is reading about five books at once, to give us an extract from one of them.

I think I'll also tag:

Avus - who's an impressively erudite fellow and usually up for a meme.
Joe / Plutarch - who doesn't usually get picked on for such things, but as he writes of three beautiful things a day, and often seems to be reading something interesting, one of the beautiful things could perhaps be an extract from what he is reading?( And yes, it can be in French, you can translate it if you want...)
Spiralskies - who's turned up in this neck of the woods quite recently. I know she's a bit shellshocked at returning to the world of full-time work, but she still manages to blog, has finished her novel... that's a point, she's supposed to be editing it now, she could give us an extract of that...
Jonathan in Paris, who comes up with some rare and wonderful poetry, his own and others', and must have something interesting to hand.

So with Marly, that's five. The basic rules are:

1. Pick up the book you are reading, or else the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

However, you can vary them as you wish, including not tagging other people or doing it at all.


Talking of memes, Tristan did a lovely seven random facts about himself. He's an enigmatic, self-effacing, thoughtful chap, who takes beautiful photos, often on nostalgic (for me) tours of south-east England, with a great eye for architectural detail. He doesn't write a lot but when he does it's never enough. Well-read and wears it lightly like a flower, you know. I remember hearing he once left a litre bottle of walnut oil - a real, in-the-flesh one, not a virtual one, at Joe's house with a recommendation to use it on goats' cheese, which I thought was the most incredibly stylish, impressive thing I was stricken with envy! When he shows up here (virtually that is to say) I always feel all overcome and sillily pleased. I'm half-afraid of sounding patronising here, I don't mean to. In fact, I might have tagged him for the meme, but I know he's rather busy and preoccupied with what he's going to wear when he goes to Madrid!

Talking again of memes, some fun over at Mrs Chili's I came by indirectly. A challenge to write your autobiography, or, at least, sum up your life, in just six words. Mine was ' Here I am. So what happened?'

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Book meme

Leslee tagged me for this. I quite like it as it doesn't require a lot of thought or jumping through hoops, but it's rather interesting to see what people are reading and also if they don't tell you beforehand, trying to guess what it might be.

The rules go like this:

1. Pick up the book you are reading, or else the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences (I'm going to do seven, I'll tell you why...)
5. Tag five people.

So, here goes.

' Now, frankly, we artists do not normally write well when we are distraught, if we can bestir ourselves to write at all. But my famous elegy is a glorious exception. Though composed rapidly, it's a better elegy than Milton's to Edward King or Shelley's on the death of Keats, which is pure dreck - revolting, sentimental dreck. 'Oh weep for Adonais, he is dead.' What kind of shit is that? Adonais instead of Adonis? Shelley needed that extra syllable?'

Now, to make this meme more interesting, I'm inviting submissions for what the book is, which is why I made the extract a bit longer. Clue: It's a biblical character narrating, and the author died in 1999, on my birthday, I just found out.

I'll publish the answer... when I feel like it, if no one gets it first, and decide who to tag then!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Horse's kisses

Her eyes are cabochons of agate in the copper of her head,

reflecting a dome of blue, an arc of green,

and me, with the one, curious jet-black eye over most of my face.

Until her sister's fragrant, dewy muzzle shoves that out the way, demanding horse's kisses:

you breathe up my nose and I'll breath up yours - huff huff!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Making your own entertainment in the absence of the Internet

I spoke too soon...

... tempting fate. Just after that it died again. I made several calls to the France Telecom/Wanadoo/Orange helpline, oft times getting cut off half way through, probably when the operateur decided he/or she couldn't be doing with my English accent. Finally I got a mellifluous and charming young man who insisted on speaking English, although, as he said, he did not 'have the right' to do so. I made him repeat the numbers and dates in French as frankly these were a bit shakey, but I complimented him anyway ( he was fishing hard enough...). He informed me he was, in fact in 'the south of Africa, Tunisia' and would, I'm sure have engaged me in a fascinating discussion on the social and economic effects of 'delocalisation' ( I think that was the word) and globalisation, but I thought perhaps I ought to hurry him up a bit. When I told him his English had a slight American accent he was really chuffed to bits. 'Thank you, thank you. That is so sophisticated!' he effused.

However, the final outcome was that we had a 'problem of synchronisation' ( I keep wanting to say synchronicity) on the line, and a technical expert would not be available for a week. So we would perforce need to batten down the hatches, pick up the phone (ugh), get out the semaphore flags, whatever ( Rosie, can you see me from here?), and live internetless for that long. Unless they were able to fix it from a distance before. I felt a little like I was participating in one of those iron age reconstructions, or else giving up smoking ( ah, this is one of those times of the day when I reach for the Internet, oh no, I can't. Playing with photos was the equivalent of a nicotine patch...)

So really, I shouldn't be here. I'm typing this as fast as I can lest we lose it again. I was in the middle of getting out the quill pen, (the glass of Madeira sounds an excellent idea, Avus), and thought I'd just try, but it could go at any time. Or perhaps it really is fixed. Seems a bit quick for that, we'll see.

So bear with me, sorry if I owe you e-mails, visits etc. It is most peculiar to think how quickly we have become habituated. See you later, or sooner. Thanks for lovely comments as ever.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Relief # 2

Hooray hooray! My internet connection is back!

The thunder roared, the lightning flashed and I thought it must have burned out something in the box. So we drove all the way to Gigaherz where the Platonic ideal of a Nice Helpful Young Man Doubtless Called Erwann tested it and said, no, must be the server. So rather than waste the trip, petrol prices etc, we bought mountains of rockwool, plastic plumbing pipes and timber and bumped our way home again, where, when all was plugged back in again, everything returned. I can talk to you all again! Phew!

More joy in heaven...

Sunday, March 02, 2008

7 things

Rosie my good friend in the world and the realm of the cyberspirit, has produced a splendid Seven Random Facts about herself, which I highly recommend, and has subsequently tagged me. I seem to recall I did this about a year ago when it was first doing the rounds as Five Things People Might Not Know About Me, if indeed it is the same phenomenon. Do these things mutate and evolve, or occur spontaneously at the same time in different places then cross-fertilise, as I believe is akin to some theory of human evolution?

Anyway, the Five Things was a while ago now, and I was then a very green and desperately earnest blogger who shrank and blushed at the unsolicited attention, even though hardly any bugger read it anyway, except darling rr who tagged me and lovely, loyal, dear Andy, with whom I enjoyed a follow-up conversation on the subject of Biggles.

I am still quite earnest. I reserve the right to remain so, figuring there are some bloody funny, witty, hilarious, satyrical, clever so-and-sos out there with whom I can't really compete so I think I'll carry on being rather serious on the whole. Does that constitute an Artist's Statement?

So, seven random facts, which I scribbled down last night after coming in from an evening out and a surfeit of fish pie and asparagus, chocolate mousse and kouign amann and of course a drop or two of wine. Some good advice picked up at Dick's once - write drunk, polish sober. Only I'll largely skip the second part of that.

1) I have always resisted having any kind of statcounter or similar here, thinking that would be conceding too much to the addictive, narcissistic, attention-seeking element in this activity which I fear is there for me at least, deny it how I may. I do, however, as a sop, sometimes sneak across to my profile page to see how many profile views I've had. When I did so last night, on observing the total was standing at 1,998, I went back and forth twice more to bring it up to 2000.

2) I have never eaten sauerkraut, or even choucroute, the Alsace-derived version by which a funny foreign dish is made acceptable to Gallic palates because it can be seen to have a French regional origin. One or two people have offered to prepare it for me so I may fill this gap in my gustatory experience, but so far they haven't delivered. I'm not sure I would like it, since...

3) ... I have tried to, but can't, like pickled things. I used to look longingly at pickled eggs in fish and chip shops, finding them utterly horrid the one time I tried to eat one. Pickled onions look positively ambrosial but make my eyes water (raw onions I also struggle with, so I am doubly handicapped here). I can only really enjoy gherkins chopped very small and added sparingly to a salad or sandwich with something very rich like pate or smoked salmon, which doesn't stop me reaching with my fingers into the jar of cornichons in the cupboard and pulling one out to munch on, only to be disappointed every time. Pickled walnuts sound delicious and sophisticated, but I find them fairly resisitible as they look a bit like something's droppings in a jar. This contrary seeking to acquire a taste for something I can't acquire a taste for is the antithesis to the old comic conceit, as expressed by Tom about pasta: I don't like it and I'm glad I don't, because if I liked it I'd have to eat it, and I don't like it.

4) I have been lurking on the blog of someone I last knew about twenty years ago. I am uncomfortable and slightly ashamed of this, and keep intending to take her off my bookmarks and not go back, but I don't. I am fascinated by how clever, funny, well-written, bitter and acerbic it is, so different from the person I thought I knew. I don't intend to reveal myself, and am very glad of the potential of a married name ( the taking of which, I felt, occasioned a few disapprovingly raised eybrows here or there at the time... the changing of the name, not the marrying of the husband, you understand) in the covering of tracks and burning of bridges. I have tried to write about this, and its ramifications, at more length, but am dissatisfied with what I've written.

5) I am the last of six children, three boys and three girls, with twenty years between myself and my eldest sibling ( blogged a bit but found life got in the way). My mother was 47 when I was born, my father 55. This may account for why large age gaps, between my spouse and myself (24 years) or between friends, bother me not at all. None of us siblings has ever fallen out with each other, though I can be an awkward and sanctimonious little cuss, and heaven knows we should have inherited a falling out gene from my mother and maternal grandmother.

6) Both the aforementioned eldest sibling and I sustained fractured skulls as very small children in life-threatening accidents. He fell out of a first floor window, and I think may have a plate in his head. I was run over by a car on Hemel Hempstead High Street and flew through the air with the greatest of ease. The West Herts Hospital failed to check my head until my mother, who had been a nurse, insisted, saying she could smell skull fracture. The x-ray revealed I did indeed have one.
The remaining four siblings survived their childhoods without broken heads.

7) I am torn between a) I hate letters torn open with fingers, rather than a letter opener, and b) I grew up under a box elder tree.

On review, I notice two of these are about blogging and two are about food, which may indicate something about the focus and compass of my life...
I shan't tag anyone, but anyone can pick it up if they want to.