Monday, June 30, 2008

Le Mariage

Princeling's mum and dad, Isobel and Pascal, got married on Saturday. Here they are in their wedding car.

M. le Maire (seen below with Iso and Pascal's mother, Gisele) and Marianne bedecked themselves for the occasion in their tricouleur ribbons, and warm words were spoken by the former about the new super-Euro-citoyens their union would produce, and the sterling qualities of Princeling's great-grandfather, whom he had known well.

Marianne didn't say much, but she looked on approvingly.

It was of necessity a small, select gathering; it really had to be all or (nearly) nothing, since all would probably have meant most of the performing arts scene of the département plus the groom's extended family and amounted to a sizeable percentage of the population of Côtes d'Armor. We blagged an invite on the grounds of long acquaintance which got me a position as a witness.

We had to tie crepe ribbon on our nice new car (phew, respectability at last, and we put it through the car wash...)

and adjourned to a very swish and friendly restaurant, Les 3 Lunes, in Dinan (no link, website doesn't seem to be up and running yet...).

It had a little garden out the back just for us for the day, and I was delighted to note this contained a box elder tree! Tucked in a corner against the fence, just like my original one, and offering a pleasant shade.

Many games of Pass the Baby were played.

Alas, I love him but I cannot make him happy. Only a jar of apple compote can do that.

(What did babies eat before there was apple compote, I often wonder. It seems to be the staple diet of babies...)

But the restaurant cat helped to distract him momentarily.

Afterwards we were joined in the garden for coffee by the restaurant dog, who greeted us all as long-lost and much-loved friends, and helped Pascal's dad out with his macaroons.

All in all, a splendid day with much to celebrate and congratulate, and many thanks to them for letting us be part of it.


We took an enormous number of photos, and probably bugged everyone half to death in doing so, of which most of those shown here are the rejects, so I've a vast editing task on my hands to get a selection into some kind of shape to put into a book for them. This is really taking up most of my computer time, since the weather is currently too damn nice to be spending too much time indoors in front of the screen. So please any scarcity of presence!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Summer ghazal

'Ghazal' means 'dalliance'. I am having a dalliance with the ghazal. Specifically with the Persian ghazal in English.

I don't know nearly enough about it, but I'm learning more all the time, and even with the little I do know, I could go on at too great length about the wonder of it. Better to go to the Ghazal Page, and read what I've been reading.

The ghazal is a very old verse form, or is it a genre? It has its origins somewhere back in pre-Islamic Arabia. They come in many languages, and people did and do sing them. They need to express, or at least have an atmosphere of, intense longing, but this isn't always so. It's all about being bound to a very restrictive form and taking bounds of imaginative freedom. I think. If you're lucky.

The Persian version, the kind I'm trying to write, comes in couplets (shers), there is a refrain word or phrase (radif) at the very end of every couplet, and a monorhyme (qâfiya) that comes just before the refrain in each couplet. In the first couplet both rhyme and refrain occur in both lines, thereafter just in the second. The couplets should stand on their own like beads in a necklace, they don't make a linking whole exactly, you should be able to shuffle them around (except the first),without losing anything, and there shouldn't be any enjambement between the lines either. The meter and line length is optional but you should try to be consistent. Oh yes, and you work your name into the last line as a kind of signature to round it all off.

This is also a response to Totally Optional Prompts' 'Summer' prompt. I'm only moderately pleased with it; it doesn't have enough longing in it. I'm happy to brag that the Ghazal Page has accepted to publish next month two which I wrote in response to their challenge to write a ghazal with the radif of 'moon', and these I liked much better, partly also because I kept the meter very tight and consistent. I tried a freer style here, and feel a little uncomfortable with it within the very strict verse form.

Summer Ghazal - radif, midsummer.

Cold bare feet tucked under, dew still on the terrace tabletop from the shortest night, the night of midsummer,
The sun umbrella closed, the air is chilly, morning grey, reluctant, clouded light, in spite of midsummer.
Greenfinches rise and fall, the dunnock's song wavers, and larks still, out in the fields, climb into oblivion,
Yet the symphony of birdsong is quieter, nests empty, fledglings disowned and put to flight, now that its midsummer.
Stripes and lines of bladed maize, chocolate and lime in parallels and isobars, mapping how the land lies,
Drooping barley heads, yellowing and yearning, pastures bleaching near to white, although it's just midsummer.
Tired from mowing, weeding, the dust, heat and dryness, we walk at an amble now, taking it slow,
Lie down among grasses, between gangling oak trees, squint up at the sun, who's as high as a kite in the sky of midsummer.
Forget-me-nots forgotten, a fistful of goldfinches fly from purple, rollicking thistles, singing like a music box,
Faces of crimson, harlequin patterned and striped wings whirring, always filling with delight the days of midsummer.

A swallowtail gliding, ivory etched-black and jewelled, seeking out a caterpillar's cradle of carrot top or fennel,
Bees in the phacelia, no heatwave yet for hawkmoth nights, only the midges dancing like sprites at sunset this midsummer.

Lone crow goes 'kew kew kew' across a mottled evening sky, sweet williams coloured like cassis and strawberries and cream,
Sparrows scutter, gulls go home, Lucy sits on cushioned concrete, sips wine, cross-legged and cool and quiet, wondering at midsummer.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Molly Streep is...

... the French Lieutenant's Spaniel!
She was lost the moment she saw him - and he offered her a bit of buttered baguette... (had to be buttered or she wasn't having any) 'Vot ees zat odeur of chien mouillé?' he enquired twitching his gallic nose... she knew at once that he was insincere but what was a dog to do?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Lucy likes...

This is a meme I picked up a while back at Rosie's, but hadn't got around to doing anything about beyond the research stage.

What you do, put your name, assumed or otherwise, followed by 'likes', into the search engine of your choice (which phrase ie Google, is reminiscent of Blue Peter's 'rubber solution glue' with the brand name 'Copydex' blanked out; we all knew what it was but they weren't allowed to say, in the days of the Reithian ban on advertising being observed to the letter...), and see what comes up. This is a selection from mine. Different names seem to lend themselves to different activities, some people seem to have names which lead into all sorts of salacious areas, another complained that her given name all seemed to belong to ladies of a certain age who like to knit, crochet, make jam etc (nothing wrong with that, I hear you protest, and I am with you totally). Many of the Lucy's I found seemed to be dogs and cats.

Lucy likes her science diet ... I can't say I usually like any kind of a thing called a diet, but apparently this one's good for furballs, so perhaps I should consider it...

Lucy likes to hide behind storage shelves ... depends what 's on the storage shelves really.

Lucy likes to dine... well I'm afraid I do rather. Rather too much, in fact. But this is actually a very funny and ultimately heart-breaking story by a graphic novel writer, Mike Baron, on his website, about how he decided it was grossly unfair he couldn't take his dog, Lucy, to eat in restaurants with him, so he decided to disguise her as a guide dog in training so he could. It's written a bit like a review of the restaurants in question, but Lucy was of a somewhat feisty nature and frequently acted in a far from impeccable guide doglike manner... you can read it here, I enjoyed it very much.

Lucy likes big expansive things - think beaches and skyscrapers... this was a blog or some such of two women called Lucy and Emily who I think worked for something like the Board of Film Censors or whatever they're called now. Emily by contrast liked 'small perfect things like photos and jewels'. On reflection, I think I'm probably rather more like Emily in this regard, though one needs contrast and variety. I prefer big natural expansive things to man-made ones; beaches, mountains and canyons leave me feeling awed and happy, whereas big human ones like skyscrapers and ocean-going ships can make me feel small and powerless and worried at the hubris of the human race. Of course, photographs, though small in themselves, can be of big things, but I think they are mostly better when of small things, especially if they succeed in making the small seem big ... ok, I'm digressing now, back to...

Lucy likes lovers - hmm, no thanks, give me a dog and a camera any day. Or perhaps it means likes seeing other pairs of lovers, which is OK, I suppose, depending on what they're doing and how in-yer-face they're being, and if they're too young and gorgeous and show-off about it... I like seeing middle aged to elderly lovers, makes me feel a bit hopeful. In fact this is the name of a garage band that probably everybody's heard of but me, since I don't even have an Ipod and wouldn't know what to do with it if I did ...

Lucy likes to play with milk bottle rings, fuzzy mice and ribbons... oh yes please! Much better than lovers I'm quite sure.

Lucy likes to sleep on Jason's clothes... Who's Jason?

Lucy likes to hold Ricky down by the tail and he likes to peck... enough enough already! Jason, Ricky... I deny all knowledge...

Lucy likes to bite her ears... well, having one's ears bitten is sometimes quite nice so I daresay if I could bite my own it might be fun, though it might be like tickling your own feet, doesn't really work. I can, as I may have bragged here before, touch my own nose with my tongue, and here's a picture to prove it. I've rendered it in black and white and uploaded it small to spare you the full horror...

Hmm, think I've probably lowered the tone enough now, I'll be back to poetry and pensive high-mindedness next time, be assured. Finally, to restore some of my dignity and use this as an excuse for a pretty photo post after all

Lucy likes to watch the goldfish ... I do indeed. I can spend far too long gazing into the garden pond when I'm supposed to be weeding or whatever. Not only do I watch goldfish,

but also other flora

water plants, and lily pad leaves, which I continue to photograph obsessively in all kinds of forms,

and the worlds contained in them,

and fauna, like this dragonfly nymph (which turned out to be dead, though I didn't know that when I first photographed it. I'm telling you this in the interests of authenticity and transparency. I did then consider setting it up in some dramatic attitude so you would all gasp and say 'amazing capture Lucy!', but I didn't.)

The newt is one of our little eath-and-water dragons. We often find them in piles of leaves and even rubble around the garden the rest of the year, but these have been in the pond for a month or two now. I keep meaning to look up their life cycle so I know what the young ones look like.

and there was even this narcissistic snail, which seemed drawn inexorably to its own reflection.

Any excuse to hang out by the pool!

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Pelicans seem to be top of the bill. My co-editor at qarrtsiluni put forward an elegant photo of two of them winging their way off across a turquoise ocean to conclude our edition, we thought they reminded us of us ( the edition doesn't conclude for a couple of weeks at least, but we were pondering how to wrap it up). Then straight afterwards a great post about the birds at GrannyJ's, one element of which, however, rather served quell any poetic sentimentality I was feeling about them. Put it this way, if you check GrannyJ's post, don't click on the Youtube link for the 'Pelican eats Pigeon' video unless you have a strong stomach of the David Attenborough kind!

Nevertheless, they are magnificent and astonishing birds, as was forcefully impressed upon me on our visit to Australia a year or two back. Whether dozing placidly near a fish and chip shop, (yes really,)

or seen at eye level at Sydney Zoo,

or soaring majestically overhead.

I'm happy to say we didn't see them eating any pigeons.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Three flowers

Pink oriental

Purple-hearted, dark
inside and out. Despite reaching
for mandala perfection
I'll still become only
a dessicated pepper-pot
of blue-black seeds.
I give up,
drop cellophanous petals.
Fleur fanée.

Yellow rose, remontant.

Bedsheets aurore, a rumple
of apricot, tumbled
in lemon-gold dawn, pleasure
unfolded, unfurled, uncurled,
petal by petal, plunge
your nose, your face, your senses
into my luminous heart.
My love is not a red red rose,
lutea sum sed forma...



Roots hold to mud and slime
of copper-eyed and lecherous toads.
Stems climb through
green, forming
livid verticalities for fishy folk.
Leaves are continents upon
a flat earth's sea,
landfall for damselflies.
Mud, water, light and air, up
through worlds,
I raise my head, behold the jewel!


Prompted by Totally Optional Prompts, 'Write like a flower'. Which I took to mean, write as a flower... ( weird wiggly dashes between stanzas because I cannot, try as I might, get Blogger to accept the line spacing and formatting that I want today... I quite like those wiggly dashes, might make a habit of them.)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Catching up, and elderflower cordial.

Well, there aren't too many standing out accusingly in bold on my feeds now, though there are of course those who've turned up recently who I haven't yet put on my feeds, and those on my feeds I haven't yet put on my blogroll... but I feel as if I'm something like up to speed again.

It's all over bar the splashing at qarrtsiluni, the editorial decision making is drawing to a close. The water-themed edition will continue to be published until well into July, and it's running at an unprecedented two posts a day, because, though we had to make many a heart-breaking decision and pass over much, we still accepted an enormous number, because they were all so delicious! If you haven't visited, or haven't been lately, please go and look. I feel inordinately proud of it, while being fully aware my overall part in it has been small. It's been a marvellous experience, if not always easy, and I still don't know what all its effects will be on me, but I think they'll be significant. It's been nothing but a privilege to work with the my brilliant and indefatigable, inspired and inspirational, co-editor and managing editors, and perhaps most of all with the writers, poets, artists and photographers who submitted work, I've gained glimpses into worlds I'd never dreamed of ...

Other projects and adventures and things to find out about await, ghazals and Mahima's travelling journal among them. More on these later, no doubt. And of course I really should be painting the back wall-plate and pointing the gable-end of the house this summer...

Gorgeous, Moon Walking Bee Drunken, with whom, as she is a Texan in the shires of South-East England, and hence a slightly culturally displaced person, I like to flatter myself I have something in common, often comes with me, virtually, on my walks with Mol. In fact, I would like to have more in common with her elegant, witty, informed, literary prose, she really ought to be writing a column somewhere, to say nothing of her knowledge of snickerdoodle and other baking matters. She enquired about elderflower cordial, and the making thereof, so, that process having just been completed, here is the recipe, with illustrations, before the blossoms go over. I love an opportunity to release my inner food photographer!


1 kg sugar, I use white as it makes a pretty clear cordial and doesn't impinge on the delicate flavour, but I've seen browner sugars suggested, or some honey might be interesting.

850 ml (1 1/2 pints) boiling water

45g (1 1/2 oz, about four tablespoons ) citric acid, you really do need this, I tried doing without and using extra lemons the first time I made it, and it turned out horribly sweet and started to ferment almost immediately. Get it from the pharmacist.

15 to 20 elderflower heads. Don't pick them too green or in bud, they're difficult to separate from the stalks and will taste of cat's pee. The further blown they are the better, though obviously if they've got too many black bits that's not so nice.

2 sliced lemons.

How to make it:

Strip all the little flowers off the stems. This takes ages, c'est un travail de patience, but I am, relatively, time rich and cash poor. Some suggest doing it with a fork, others with scissors, but in my experience, you can't beat just pulling them off with your finger tips. The aim is to get as little stalk in with them as possible. Remember, white bits of elder = ambrosial perfume and flavour worthy to be drunken by angels, green bits of elder = cat pee.

I have to add this process is probably not recommended for any with a pollen allergy, I have a disgustingly robust constitution as regards anything like that but my nose still tickles and a blocked-up headache lurks at the edges of my awareness for a day or two after I've done it. Your fingers become a delightful dusty yellow.
Finally, you end up with a bowl of fairy confetti.

Put the sugar into a big bowl, and pour on the boiling water. It looks a colossal amount of sugar, which makes you realise how much sugar is contained in commercial drinks and sodas. Stir until it dissolves. Stir in the citric acid, elderflowers, and sliced lemons.

Cover the bowl, and leave to stand for about five days, stirring daily. The stirring is quite important as the lemons have a tendency to catch a bit of mould, so keep an eye out for that, fish'em out if they do. It will make the whole house smell heavenly, and is almost worth doing just for that.

Strain once through a sieve, and again through the sieve lined with muslin, or I use kitchen roll, with plenty of changes. Coffee filter's probably a bit too slow and would block.

This makes about a litre and a half, and although it's not so elegant, it's best to store it in the 'fridge in plastic bottles, a large mineral or tonic water water one is ideal. Elderflowers must contain huge amounts of natural yeasts, as all it really wants to do is ferment. The citric acid inhibits this to a point, as does the cool of the fridge, but it is a wild and mercurial brew, so drink it up quick. Shouldn't be too much of a problem. Dilute it to taste of course, perhaps one part to four or five. It's also very good on strawberries and lemon sorbet.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

We interrupt this transmission...

... for a spot of cat-blogging. This is my lovely sister ( see why I call her that?)

and these

are her new cats. New to her, anyway. They came from a cat refuge, they are brothers and are eleven years old. The one below she's called Ziggy, three guesses why,

and his brother with the ostrich plume tail has been named Lancelot, Lancelot Blue.

I don't know their history, but they shouldn't mind being renamed, as they are, in the manner of white cats, almost completely deaf. So they will live a life of sybaritic luxury in lovely sister's light- and beauty-filled home, with supervised excursions into the little walled garden, since they won't hear traffic and are too precious to risk.

Welcome to the family, boys!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Midsummer song

Late music from the blue spruce where
the song thrush, straight as a nail, sings
a faultless aria, turns, then springs
off into the darkening cooling air.

June blue night, day till long
past bedtime when I fall asleep
eyelids pierced still by the deep
light, and the fierce high call and leap
last moments of the thrush's song.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

We choose our friends?

We were talking about D and J the other morning, and quite what the nature of our friendship with them is. We were by no means unequivocal. They are our dear good friends with whom we feel quite at ease, and they drive us mad.

Be assured, they will will not read this; she has little understanding of or interest in computer-related matters, which therefore are a pointless waste of time, he, in his mid-eighties (she is somewhat younger), is remarkably competent and quick to pick things up, but his interest in computers and the internet is purely practical. Also though, the idea of reflection on oneself or other matters, the examined life, of seeking to understand more deeply, which I think this kind of blogging at its best should lead one to, is alien to both of them, I think. They simply don't understand why I do it, are dismissive of it, and so I no longer try to talk about it.

I explored the idea that I see the relationship with them as a little like that with my parents. Some of the dynamic that marred things between my parents and myself is present with them too: they have, in my eyes, a tendency toward prejudice on certain matters verging on bigotry, a mental and spiritual laziness giving rise to glibness and conviction as to the rightness of their own opinions, and, with J especially, an exasperating tendency to repeat herself and go over matters from the past which we know all about already and didn't find very interesting in the first place. All this, of which I'm probably equally guilty but blind to, or I will be when I'm old, triggers a reaction of irritable impatience and smart-arsedness on my part worthy of any stroppy adolescent, which I usually curb but not always. Yet there is the kind of safe familiarity and appreciation that they will always be themselves and one will always receive a welcome that is the positive side of a good parental-filial bond.

Another way in which they may be akin to parent figures, at least within my experience of the family model, is that they rather form the central connecting knot of our friendships with other, generally younger, people. We may really like and admire B and D better, for example, yet we have a little trouble relating to them without reference to D and J, and when we see them on our own, frequently end up talking about the older couple, often with a degree of rueful exasperation. This is quite reminisicent of siblings, I feel.

D has no children, J has sons around my age, not in France, daughters-in-law she gets on well with, but no daughters. She and I sometimes go shopping, have coffee, exchange novels, recipes and non-malicious gossip. On a day to day level, she knows me quite well, but little of my history. She is fairly incurious, I am fairly guarded, but if one is in reaction to the other, or if that is our general default position, I'm not sure. She is one of the few people I am quite at ease with on the 'phone. When I answer and it is her, my voice lightens with relief, she hears this and laughs, and we slip into comfortable chit-chat for as long as we feel inclined, even if we're seeing each other later.

So, it could be seen that we are a little like surrogate mother and daughter. Yet there are important differences too. J is a very positive person, a galloping extrovert and seems very secure in her self-esteem. She is good at asking for what she needs, but not emotionally needy. She never drains me. We sometimes feel quite exasperated at her adoration of her favourite son, who seems incapable if fulfilling any commitment to her except for occasionally flashing his money about, and that not as often as he says he will, but she genuinely seems to feel no sense of disappointment or reproach. Indeed, reproach, like malice or jealousy, doesn't seem to be much in her nature.

By contrast, my mother was a sensitive, thoughtful, perceptive person, very considerate of others and tactful, but with wounds deep down to her self-esteem that could never really be healed, only ignored or covered over for a time, but which erupted painfully when life, especially in the form of her family, disappointed her, and as the skin of her spirit grew fragile with age. Reproach was a fairly large part of her being, certainly by the time I was growing up. The more keenly I felt this, the more I pulled away from her, and then the more she had to reproach me for. I am a far better surrogate daughter to J out of goodwill, than I was a real and dutiful daughter to my mother. Am I trying to make amends? It may be so.

J is undergoing chemotherapy at the moment, as I've mentioned before. Fear, exacerbated by a Job's comforter or two distressed her at first, but now the treatment is underway, she's embarked on it with a notable degree of positivity, treating it rather as a creative project, something going on round which to organise her life and busy herself finding ways to make as bearable as possible.

"Come on Monday, D'll appreciate the drinking company, and I won't feel like socialising for a bit after Tuesday's treatment."

"Couldn't make the the Tuesday's, the white blood cells were too low, so I took advantage of the week's parole to do such and such... and it means I've still got a bit of hair for a bit longer."

"I went to the material shop and bought some pretty bits for scarves..."

Unable to take alcohol, she has become a connoisseur of fruit juice blends,

"... and now I've bought a blender to make smoothies. It's good for D too, he's so lazy about eating fruit."

She told me about the blender on the 'phone the other day, and we fell to talking about these. They were, I recalled, among the first bits of motorised kitchen gadgetry to appear, after hand-held mixers and before the full-blown food processors. My mother had one, a Sunbeam I think, she was always a great one for electrically powered kitchen hardware. I recounted how she used to do our milk drinks in it to make them frothy, and that my brother's preferred cold Nesquick chocolate sometimes finished with buttery bits in it, since, as the second wave of post-war and rationing offspring, we lived off the fat of the land, including gold-top Channel Island milk with everything. (This probably accounts for the relatively svelter shapes and better looks of my older sublings...). J, who lived in Guernsey with the second of her three husbands - another area in which she differs significantly from my mother - concurred on the tendency of Channel Island milk and cream to turn to butter at the drop of a hat, or third turn of a whisk.

"It was nice, though," I said "coming home from school to frothy warm chocolate. My childhood wasn't bad really."

J laughed

" I can see you suffered terribly!"

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


Why descry

the sad- and sameness of the barley when,

bewildered in encounters with the wind,

it confesses its longings?

Pollen-drizzled perfumed heads and horms

drift, watered-silk-green sheening sunlight

makes the land luminous, runs and flows

to nowhere.

Meets the sky.