Thursday, November 27, 2008

Offerings to myself

Not all to be eaten or drunk, not all to be bought for money. Some just to remember to enjoy, not to hurry along to the next thing, not to avoid, to make time and effort for. Some are over now, some still to come. With thanks to Herhimnbryn for the idea.

orange dahlias
taking the coast road through Yffiniac and Langueux instead of the quatre-voies.
catching the light
Roy Marsden as Adam Dalgliesh
boiled eggs on Sundays
reading 'Peter Abelard' again
walking to the horses, and rubbing noses with them
battered black walking trainers, Mum's old red paisley scarf, and photo-taking gloves
a walk with the camera
a walk without the camera
lighting the fire mid-afternoon
Monday night swimming
sun through beech leaves
pasta, or anything, in a red bowl
growing pumpkins
dog kisses
lapwings at dusk
lying like spoons


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Books lying about

Oh dear, there are so many wonderful things on others' blogs. I feel I could just lose myself reading around and sometimes commenting and never post again here, and when I do it feels very lightweight. Though I suppose perhaps there's room in the world for drawing faces on eggs and giving them silly captions too. There's a compelling discussion on matters religious and spiritual which people may be prompting each other to or which may be erupting spontaneously in different places, or it may simply be coincidence that I'm reading things on similar lines in different places, and my over-sophisicated animal brain is seeking to find patterns and connections where there aren't any...
Whatever, I have too much and too little to say about it, and feel unequal to the task.

So I shall go on with the memes and pro-formas I've been collecting. Apparently 'meme' in it's original sense is something its originator is somewhat backing away from, as it's really quite bad science to attribute to an abstract idea the properties of a physical reality like a gene. Or so I've heard, but it may be rubbish. What do I know? I make pictures and vacillate between deep wonder and small despondency, and the world goes on in ways I generally feel I can't really cope with, understand, stomach or compete with. Ah me. Little me. Grow up.

Something I picked up earlier.

Bee writes wonderful reviews, that are clever and clear and well rounded all at the same time, and make you want to immediately go and order the book or see the film or play. A little while back, she had a tidy-up of her bedside locker, and went through each book she found there with a little succinct review and a decision as to whether it should be allowed to remain or get reshelved.
As an exercise this seemed to me to have potential. I don't read as many books as I did, and many I start I don't finish. This would have been anathema at one time, when I prided myself on not giving up on a book, even if I was struggling with it. I'd like to pretend it's because I'm more discerning, but I think really I'm too dissolute (I don't know if that's quite an appropriate word there, but I like it...) in my concentration, and just give up and wander off toward something else. This activity is of course largely the culprit, though not entirely, there are other things which distract me too, and though the received wisdom is that books are inherently superior reading matter to all else, especially anything to be found on-line, I'm not so sure. Much I've read here of late gives the lie to that, and in my life at least, poetry seems to have undergone an enormous resurgence.

However, this means I have a lot of books of uncertain status lying around, either in the middle of being read, started and abandoned, in the to-be-read category, or, occasionally, recently finished and about to move on to a different plane. They are not usually on my bedside table, as in fact I rarely read in bed, and at some point in the establishment of the marital regime, it was agreed that cluttered bedside tables were an Undesirable Thing. Instead they are scattered around, on the dining table, beside the sofa, in bags or on the shelves beside the bureau mostly occupied by teaching stuff. Some of them are borrowed, which is why they don't disappear into the black hole of upstairs, but hang around. One or two I just like having permanently to hand.

I gathered them together a week or so ago and photographed them for the record. I'll go through from top to bottom and try, probably unsuccessfully, to be concise.

WH Auden, Selected Poems.
Auden is a wall I have been chipping away at intermittently for years. 'A rather well-made wall', as I remember an old Devonian saying saying of a solid and imposing but rather austere piece of road construction, and one with few extraneous adornments to distract the eye. The well-known and accessible lyrics like 'Funeral Blues' and 'Lay your sleeping head, my love'(sorry, I'm not going to do any more links, it takes too long and I'm too fussy about getting nice ones without annoying pop-ups and ads in them...), or charming lines taken out of context, like
'...when I try to imagine a faultless love
Or the life to come, what I hear is the murmur
Of underground streams, what I see is a limestone landscape.'
rather fail to show just how much work Auden is, but it is worth it, because just sometimes a chink appears in the wall and I see something wondrous I've never seen before.
I was carrying this back and forth to the hospital. Reshelve, but accessibly in the bedroom.
Everyman's Pocket Library - Rilke
I only came to Rilke in the last year, given the impetus to do so by way of blogging. I keep this one around to dip into. I like it, of course, but I'm uncertain about the translation, by Leishman. He uses words like 'vouchsafe' which may or may not be appropriate, but which grate a bit. The Duino Elegies are partly translated by Stephen Spender, and I fell they've got more juice somehow. Somebody last time I mentioned Rilke recommended another translator, so perhaps I'll look back and follow that up. I wouldn't mind a parallel German/English edition; my German's not strong but I might be able to read it like that.
Perhaps reshelve to bedroom.
Bill Bryson - Shakespeare
My lovely sister sometimes uses her waiting time at the airport when she comes here to buy paperbacks which she reads then leaves with me. It's rather nice, as I get things I might not normally. Here the cheery polymath turns his hand to Shakepseare's life, which he spends most of his time telling you we know next to nothing about, but what he does tell you is interesting an amusing, not least the surrounding facts about life in London and England generally at the time, and especially about all the words and expressions Shakespeare apparently introduced, or failed to. One of his notable innovations was the use of the un- prefix to words where it hadn't been applied before, such as 'unmask','unlock', 'untie' and 'unveil'. Also amusing the words he tried that didn't make it: undeaf, untent (to get someone out of their tent? Achilles perhaps?), unhappy (as a verb!), exsufflicate and insultment. The last sounds to me like a Bushism.
Bryson also does a good job of taking apart all the ridiculous 'Shakespeare wasn't Shakespeare' arguments and theories.
Finished, into storage, or lend it to J who expressed an interest.
The Gnostics - Andrew Phillip Smith
I've had an interest in Gnosticism and dualistic heresies for a while, certainly since reading Stephen O'Shea's 'The Perfect heresy' about the Cathars, a subject which seems to go in and out of literary fashion. I've never really been able to make head nor tail of the Gnostic gospels, and reluctantly came to the conclusion that perhaps the Council of Nicea had its reasons, but this overview does shed some light on them, if not a whole pleroma-full of it.
There is a certain appeal in the idea that the world is a flawed and vile creation of a lesser god, but that all life contains a seed of light which seeks to return to its source in the true god. Although that's only one element of the whole Gnostic shebang. Some of the imagery of their ideas is intriguing, and opens up imaginative possibilities, and the whole matter of the transference, cross-fertilisation, spontaneous emergence and sub-currents of ideas is always fascinating. It's readable and conveys the author's enthusiasm and personal interest in his subject, while keeping on the right side of scholarly integrity and not sliding into New Agey wishfulness. And it gives plenty of opportunity for raging at the intolerance, brutality and tyranny of the dominant religions.
I was very surprised to learn how many modern Gnostic churches there are about, and have been for a hundred years or so, even before the discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts, presumably in the wake of the re-invention of the Western mystery tradition, Golden Dawn and all that. Though quite what they actually do in practice I'm not sure, and in a way the whole notion of a Gnostic church is something of an oxymoron...
Also perhaps worth a look if you're a big Philip Pulman fan, which I'm not especially, but it was an interesting angle.
Finished, shelve upstairs.
Tess of the d'Urbevilles
Another one my sister left. I said I thought perhaps I ought to read it again, but so far I haven't found myself gravitating toward doing so. It was my third A level novel text, the others being 'Middlemarch' and 'Bleak House' and the one I liked least. I preferred, and I think still do, my novels very character driven, and/or with an epic scope so lots of different characters all doing different things at the same time. I actually think Hardy's characters are fairly thin, they're too busy being either the wretched victims of fate or its stupid or nasty agents. I quite like 'Far from the Madding Crowd' because the main characters survive and have to go on sadder and wiser but healed, though there's still that awful bit with the kindly dog that helps the distressed and pregnant girl to the workhouse then is 'stoned away' by the warden. I hate that kind of thing in Hardy. I know it's how it is and I know how much it hurt him ('but he could do little for them...') and that's why I hate it. The there's the whole rape/seduction-innocence/experience conflict, his textual changes and general confusion about it, I don't think he had quite emerged from the Victorian denial about it himself.
Also, I'm a bit put off by the photo of the girl who played Tess in the BBC adaptation on the cover, as I didn't really care much for that, and thought the main parts were badly miscast. Though the Polanski film also misfired in many ways - it simply wasn't English enough, Normandy cattle etc, don't get me started on authentic livestock and scenery - I though Nastasja Kinski and Peter Firth were actually better in their roles. Although she was rather oozing exotic sultriness, you had much more of a sense that her beauty and sensuality was fatal and dangerous and more than she could manage, and he was a wonderful prissy prig.
I think I prefer Hardy as a poet. But perhaps I ought to read it again for the scenery.
Leave it on the shelf.
Jeanette Winterson - The Stone Gods
My sister left this one too. I'm still not quite sure what I think of it. It was very compelling, and for the first part I was transfixed and enchanted, I couldn't imagine how she had thought it all up, the whole dystopic world was totally engrossing. I felt slightly dissatisfied when I finished though, not sure why; the narrative devices and stories within stories seemed a bit arch and made me feel a bit toyed-with. But it was still quite remarkable and very good.
It's wrapped up in plastic here to be sent tarif livres et brochures to my brother, whence it has gone.
small stones, a year of moments - Fiona Robyn
A blogger's book! Very nice, lovely to dip into, recommended.
Keep it around, or maybe bedroom bookshelf.
Fact of a Doorframe - Adrienne Rich
I got this really for the ghazals, or that's what prompted me. Her ghazals strip the form right back to simply dissociated couplets, no radif, no rhyme. Interesting. Overall, though, it's another brick wall, only I'm less inclined to take the time to chip than Auden. I'm not certain why. Perhaps it's her Americanness that puts up a barrier, perhaps her sometimes separatist feminism, her engagement with the world, society, politics. I admire it, but it leaves me cold.
Perhaps I just came to her as a poet too late. I don't know.
I'll keep it around; I might pick it up at the right moment and find a way in...
Unleash the poem within -Wendy Nyemaster
This was something I came across at Crafty Green Poet's place, when decided I ought to study poetic forms more. As such it is useful, but I wish she wasn't so bloody patronising. It's written to encourage women to write formal poetry as therapy, and she seems to think the way to do this is exclusively in cutesy terms of clothes-shopping, chocolate and babies. I have to work very hard to ignore this to extract the useful information from it. It's all the more irritating because she is clearly a much more intelligent and competent poet than this would indicate; her advice not only on how the forms are constructed but also on the kind of content and subject matter suited to them is very sound, so why she assume she has to talk down to the rest of us...
Keep it around for reference regardless.
Peter Hoeg - The Woman and the Ape, and Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow
Someone lent these to me, or was throwing them out, perhaps. I've not read 'Miss Smilla' yet, but I do mean to, perhaps now the winter is coming on. I'm a strong believer in climatically appropriate reading. I started 'The Woman and the Ape' but wasn't moved to continue. It has a horrid trashy picture on the cover. Both rather shallow reasons for reading and not reading - the weather and the cover picture.
Keep Miss Smilla around, store or pass on/give back the other.
Alec Guinness - My name escapes me.
J lent this to me, and seemed very determined I should read it. But I hardly ever read (auto-)biography. Real lives, even the most unusual, are almost inevitably boring for large stretches, and actorly lives interest me very little. Though I did once rather enjoy Joyce Grenfell's memoir, and that of Lutyens daughter (Mary?), whose mother was in with the Theosophist crowd that brought Krishnamurti to Europe in the belief he was the messiah or similar, only in the event he turned down the job.
Storage, or pass it on.
Jan Struther - Mrs Miniver
One of my all-time favourites. I know it depicts a ludicrously priviliged world, and the wartime spirit thing and the propaganda aspect of it should be regarded with suspicion, but her way of looking at things, her originality and zest, the word that she felt summed up the way life should be approached, are infectious and wonderful, and bear reading and rereading. Don't confuse it with the film, with Greer Garson, which is popular, and which Jan Struther was involved in the making of, but which bears littel relation to the original stories.
They should really do a blog of it, like Pepys and Gilbert White et al, for it has something about it that the best blog writing does, a delight in the ordinary and a vision that makes it extraordinary.
Jan Struther died quite young, and requested that her corneas be donated, so someone else could see the world through her eyes. Wish I'd had them (needless to say without the painful business of going blind and being operated on).
Got it out to read in hospital, but didn't in the end. I'll keep it out to dip into.
Flaubert - Bouvard and Pecuchet, and the Dictionary of Received Ideas.
I keep this around for several reasons: it was sent to me by a dear friend I've never met, at a time it gives me much pleasure to recall, and it contains a handwritten postcard and a bookmark cut from a pretty card with the end folded down. It is a beautiful old edition in French from 1910, and it looks, feels and smells like only such a book can.
I read, I'm afraid, very little in French these days, but if I feel like doing so this is a good one do pick up and dip into, particularly the Dictionary of Received Ideas, which is an ironic reference of stock opinions, responses and pieces of quite possibly spurious information which would equip one to move safely in Parisian society of the period when it was written. In fact, many of them are still quite applicable, for example, 'Celebrities: Concern yourself with every smallest detail of their private lives, in order to be able to denigrate them.' And 'always mistrust draughts(courants d'air)', still a French obsession.
The novel, 'Bouvard and Pecuchet', which I did start to read, is about two men whose relationship and exchanges consist of such received ideas. In fact, compared to some of the modern French novels I applied myself to a few years ago, it reads really quite clearly and easily.
As I said, I keep it to hand.
That'll do for now, that's a horribly long post. I didn't end up throwing many out.
I invite others to pick up this theme, as I'm sure you have all kinds of interesting tomes littering your homes, happily digested or paving the road to hell with good intentions...

Monday, November 24, 2008

"What, you egg!"

This chap came out of the box with his little feather toupée stuck on.
On reflection I realised that his white fluffy barnet and my black pen I should really have made him into Alistair Darling, but before the idea occurred to me I'd already given him a little curly moustache. So I decided on a Shakespearean theme.

Omelette, Prince of Denmark.
To beat or not to beat?
(Use every meringue after his dessert and who would 'scape whipping?)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Phew, and six of six.

Sunday afternoon, and since yesterday I've made it round everyone's blog who's been here and been so wonderful in the last couple of weeks, and a few more places besides, and I've put some pictures on Flickr and started Out-with-Molling again. I am somewhat bog-eyed but deeply satisfied!

Tom is doing very well, resting and being gentle with himself but very positive, and enjoying life and looking forward to things. As well as being happy to have him home, I'm happy to be home myself, and feel as though I'm setting about reclaiming things. Molly is happy that we're all pups in a basket again.

I have something of a backlog of memes and pro-formas to keep me busy. This one is doing the rounds. You take the sixth photograph from the sixth folder, simple as that, and don't mess with it.

My sixth folder is a selection I put together a couple of years ago, and I can't for the life of me remember why! This is the sixth photo in it.

It's some tracks in a field on a hilltop a few miles from here called, not strikingly originally, Bel Air. It is the highest point in Côtes d'Armor, the département wherein we live, and, though it is a plateau and rather wooded, there are some fine views out to the coast and into the interior. There is also a wind farm, very creepy little church and a somewhat seedy nightclub, and a few houses. The nightclub is a weird thing, I suppose it's sited there because it's miles from anywhere and so there aren't many people to be disturbed by it. The lycéens I used to teach had horrifying tales of roaring down from there at all hours of the morning in old cars with dodgy brakes and lights. However, it is a well known beauty spot, and the wind farm is an object of interest, and a lot of hikers and families trail up there at weekends especially, so there ought to be a nice pub serving food, or a tea room or even an ice cream van occasionally, but this is France. Still, at least over-development isn't a problem.
There were some rather more interesting pictures in that folder, and I was tempted to cheat and substitute this one for another, but that would completely defeat the object.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Home again.

So what if you see how messy our house is.
He insisted on staying up long enough to read back over the blog, and says that he has no words to express his thanks to everyone for their kind and wonderful words, good wishes and support.
Which goes for me too.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dear hearts,

Just a quick word; much improvement over 24 hours, and he should be altogether de-tubed tomorrow morning, and out on Thursday. He's still struggling to eat much, but I smuggled up hot chocolate and a small coconut cake, he ate them with enjoyment and we told the nurses and doctor after, who were cool about it. Unfortunately I can't smuggle Molly up likewise.

As I am nearly into my 18th waking hour of today, about 12 of them spent away from home, I shall resist the temptation to blather, even about the puffins on Skoma I just watched on the telly, which made me think of a beautiful afternoon on Staffa 14 years ago, which made me think of other boat trips: gannets on the Sept Iles, Molly getting her pieds de marin on the way to the Glenan, and humpback whales out of Sydney harbour.

I shall leave you with a double exposure of Princeling in a water lily, which I made yesterday in a rather impromptu and hasty fashion, and it made me laugh so I sent it to his mum, and it still amuses so I'm putting it here.

Much love, many thanks.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Two posts in a day...

but I'm still doing nothing at all on Out with Mol or Flickr, just seem to have lost momentum.

Anyway, an update on the state of the body Kempton, not because I necessarily expect you to be following it with an assiduity normally reserved for Strictly Come Dancing, but because you've all been so nice - which quite undoes me - and for the record, and because I know there are one or two people from that uncertain sphere called Real Life (as opposed to the rest of you, who are perhaps my computer generated Imaginary Friends, only you can't be because I don't think I could imagine such good ones) who are not necessarily regular readers have been good enough to come here for news, which is a thing I very much appreciate.

I've always feared blogging as a means of keeping in touch with family and friends might be construed as a rather narcisisstic, nonchalent, ignorant way to go about things, rather like round robin letters at Christmas. However, when things change quite quickly, or are rather tiring to recount, it can be helpful just to post news once rather than having to repeat it in phone calls and e-mails.

Tom's recovery seemed to stall rather for a few days, and the weekend was a bit tough, as the staff at the hospital were somewhat thin on the ground and non-committal. The surgeon came round last night (Sunday) though, and said his inside were still not working properly and he'd not be able to come out on Tuesday. Today they gave him something in his drip to quell the nausea he was feeling, and I washed his hair, and Iso (Princeling's mum) and The Quiet American looked in one after the other bearing Quality Street and the latest Economist magazine respectively, neither of which he is presently able to enjoy owing to poorly functioning digestion and concentration, but he'll enjoy the QS later and I read the Economist. I offered to sort out some music, (on HHB's suggestion, though I'd sort of thought of it), but he said he didn't think he'd be able to focus on that either.

These days seem to go slowly; yesterday seems a long time ago. However, things did start to move and he did pick up, the surgeon came again, and said while it was disappointing he hadn't recovered more quickly, it was a question of waiting, and nothing worse. When I left was humming something to himself, and just now on the phone he said he thought he had overcome a hurdle and the worst was over, and his voice sounded stronger and brighter.

So, just patience now really. The D10 is getting a little repetitive, but the constant changes of autumn are still interesting.

Here's a quick double exposure collage, as I've not done any pictures for a long time, and still you come. You really are so good. These multi-exposures seem to me to be able to create symbols and atmospheres and convey emotional affect in satisfying ways.

Through the bedroom window

Through the bedroom window thin
brown chestnut leaves stand against
blue winter leeks, and a wren sings.
Its sharpness pricks through the skin
of apathy, transfuses just
enough of vigour from the little thing's
heart to get me out of bed.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Before Poirot...

... which I think I will sit and watch with a glass of wine in hand and a dog on lap, having just finished the last of the baked aubergine and mozzarella I prepared in advance as the kind of thing in which I like to indulge in Tom's absence. The nice thing is I forget about wine until I get home then remember I can have it.
I think probably all things considered he's not too bad, wobbly and tired and sore and needing to get fluids sorted out, but really quite recognisably himself. We were very pleased to see each other today, he didn't really remember seeing me last night but knew I'd been because I'd left a card.
I'm taking care, lighting the fire when I get in, making myself hot water bottles, making sure I drink tea. The weather's turned dirty and wet and I'm glad of two new tyres on the front wheels. Molly's getting a good walk with Porridge tomorrow morning to make up for so much waiting it out in the car.
Before they go out-of-date I'm inclined to copy out the scribblings of Wednesday night, creative tension between real-time journalling and... whatever the other thing is. I love those three dots...

The soup was quite acceptable with the salt I'd begged from the hospital restaurant, and he ate quite happily the noodles he wouldn't have touched at home. He sat on the edge of the bed, and I hung over the rail at the end, watching him.
"Prisoner's last meal," he said ruefully, then with a quick sidelong smile held out a piece of the roast pork on his fork to me. He was right, it was very good.
In front of the foyer, in the sudden November chill, a young man paced and slouched, smoking, while a dark-haired, bright eyed girl, not wearing her red hooded coat, swung round and round one of the shiny metal posts. He ground out his cigarette and spoke to her, and they headed back into the building. I wondered about their story, what brought them there, the intimacy and distance of hospitals, and remembered the widowed father of two young men I once knew telling how the younger of them, as a small boy at school, was told to draw what he had done at the weekend. He had drawn a hospital bed, with his mother in it, sick with the brain tumour that eventually took her life. The father had recounted this on the evening his elder son had been diagnosed with the same condition, which, I learned some years later, after I had moved on, finally took his life too, when he was younger than I am now.
Directly ahead, a full moon hung in a nearly clear sky. The Manichaeans said they knew the souls of the dead filed up to the moon, a kind of halfway house to transcendence. A pure, flat disc of cool white light, looking down on our messy, fleshy, flawed solidity of matter, I could see the appeal, solace even, of this belief. Until I looked into the face of the Man in the Moon, and saw in it, not a smiling, wish-fulfilled benevolence, but an aghast, open-mouthed, paralysed dismay.
And yet the moonlight was a beauty and a comfort to me on my journey home; there was not merely the road in the darkness, an unwinding ribbon in my headlights, but the land shape I knew, given form and substance in silvered blue monochrome, I felt less of a small pinprick in the darkness.
As I came down from the ridge into Quessoy, the bakers' was still open, lit up cheery and yellow; if I'd wanted, I could have pulled up, bought a baguette or a Paris-Brest, I saw them there behind the glass. Rounding the ramparts below the ramparts in Moncontour, Christian Turbin, the garagist, square and solid in grey and red oily overalls, leaned wearily in the open doorway of his garage, pressing the button to bring down its metal shutters for the night, a good half hour after he should have been closed.
The moon saw me in, I fed myself and checked Tom's 'don't forget' list.
Love and the moon, good food, people and things to rely on. Matter. Much to be thankful for.
Thanks again for kindness and constancy. I really will be round soon.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Thanks all for the kind wishes. Fortunately mobiles take some of the worry from such occurrences. I contacted Orange (the organism formerly known as France Telecom) yesterday, and waited out the the prerecorded message about how all our teams are working on the problem, and grumbled at the operator when she told me it might not be repaired until Friday.

As we drove down the hill on the way to the hospital, I was led to speculate as to why they might be digging up the road, and Tom said 'Well you can bet your life it's nothing to do with fixing our bloody phone.' However, I noticed today that they did indeed have vans with 'Orange' on them, so perhaps our assumption that it was storm damage was incorrect. Funny really, one assumes that it's all going on in some non-concrete way up in the ether, it was something of an eye-opener to see a group of men in fluo jackets down in a muddy hole looking over a bunch of filthy-looking cables on a dank day in November. I was moved to think 'What a pig of a job!' and to regret my grumpiness and sense of entitlement about their services.

Anyway, installing Tom à l'hôpital last night all went quite smoothly, he was given food and iodine to shower in and various other preparatory instructions, and I sorted out his bedside phone. He was initially told he would be taken for the op at 8 am, but then the seven-foot tall, winkle-picker wearing surgeon with the nice English stopped by and said, no he'd be the second one and it would be later.

He called me a bit before 8 this morning,(or rather he tried to; I'd left the mobile in my dressing gown pocket and gone back to sleep, so had to use precious and short mobile credit ringing him back, got the number wrong and woke up some other poor sick patient, got through eventually), said they'd given him something to knock him out so he was talking while he still could. He'll have four, or five, we're not sure, keyholes in him at the end of the day, and about 25 cm less of his insides. He's been a bit twitchy the last few days, but calmed and cheered considerably at the last minute.

I got about half-way there at midday today, bought phone cards to recharge the mobiles and some other necessities, called the nurses who said he still hadn't gone down to the theatre and there was no point in my going in before 6 pm. I'll make it 5, in the hopes. I came home thinking I could be more usefully occupied here, picking up some wood from the sawmill on the way, and, though they were still working over lunchtime on the cables, on my return found we were back in the land of the telephonically living. I unloaded the wood, got a hot-coal-heaping call from a friend I thought we'd pretty much fallen out with, wishing us well, and sat down to this.

Molly and I are leading something of an itinerant existence, packing ourselves, and our supplies for the day, food, drink, money, books, notepads and pens, (not the camera at the moment, I'm not quite in the mood for it...) mobile, leads, towels and blankets, changes of footwear - I leave it to you to work out which are for Molly and which for me! - into the car in the morning, not quite sure where we might be and when. I don't actually mind, even rather enjoy it in an odd sort of way, so long as all goes well, and there's no reason to suppose it won't. The hospital staff work so hard and so conscientiously, patience is the least we can manage. Mol is calm and quiet, by her standards anyway, but is acting a little like my daemon.

Nablopomo, posting every day, has gone out of the window with the outage, but not to worry, my heart wasn't fully in it this year anyway. I'm scribbling a bit, and will just post as little or often as I feel like now.

Apologies that this has been a rather flat and linear (is that a tautology?) account of proceedings, it's an update rather than an attempt at anything creative. To some extent I find blogging's useful like that for one's own records, as I don't keep any very careful diary entries anywhere else, or even remember always to put things on the calendar.

A nice thing came this morning. I don't know if you recall in the post about chestnuts last month, I mentioned Mireille Johnston's TV series, and how I'd like to see it again, and how there was an excellent obituary to her on John Whiting's website? I e-mailed him my appreciation, and asked if he knew if the series was available on DVD. He replied that it wasn't, but he made me a copy of his own private recording of it and posted it to me, refusing to take anything for his trouble! The generosity of people in this medium never ceases to surprise and delight. Do visit his website if you've time, particularly if you're interested in food, (especially cassoulet!) and France, it's wonderfully fun and interesting and full of stuff.

I shall be about my business now, pack my bag for work tomorrow and perhaps lay a fire to cheer the spirits for when I come in tonight. Please bear with my neglect of others' blogs, I'll perhaps get around some at the weekend. And thanks again for support and concern. I have missed this, even for such a short time and with other distractions, I've become rather used to having it...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Very briefly...

... doing this on E's computer, which has a French keyboard, no broadband and not even a Google thing on the toolbar. If As come out as Qs that's why.

Phone lines are down in our corner since Monday night, Tom going into hospital this afternoon; all's well but just accounting for my absence, or phone silence if anyone has tried. I shall end this dactylographic torture, if we're back on line before we leave I'll append this...

Much love,seeyou soon!

Monday, November 10, 2008

A five minute post...

... before I go swimming.

glug glug glug.

Poor drowned nénuphar.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Blame it on Nablopomo...

Now I know there are people who come here for lofty meditations and skiey verse, or I like to think there might be, but owing to the absurd exigencies of Nablopomo, and submitting to an odd and largely pointless bet that you can't post every day, I find I am descending from the sublime to the ridiculous and blogging for a whole weekend on the subjects of Lidl supermarkets and stock cubes. The scary thing is I seem to be getting quite a bit of response...

The above are, as is somewhat bleeding obvious, Bovril cubes, the top layer of a year's supply thereof. I do not actually use these much for cooking, as they have all the subtlety of a charge from the hitherto placid Bull no 4019. However, a cube a day every day, wherever we may be, is required for Tom's elevenses. I think perhaps in a past life he may have been some crusty old colonial type who travelled the oceans Port Out Starboard Home, sipping at beef tea mid-morning and playing deck quoits, and he still carries the vestiges of this existence in a taste for Bovril, and occasional crustiness, no sign of an urge to play deck quoits. Maybe I'll win a Nablopomo prize for blogging every day which will be a free session of Past Life Regression Therapy which I could offer to him to get to the bottom of it.

We used to ask people coming and going to bring us the odd packet of Bovril, and kept going quite well like that, but then one dark night it happened, and we were nearly out of it with ne'ry a cross channel tripper in sight, so I did something I've never resorted to before and looked up a business that fulfilled the gastronomic longings of pining British expatriates, and ordered a large quantity.

While on stock cubes, Plutarch very graciously ate a helping of humble pie in the comments to the last post and admitted that he had given in to their siren call since questioning my use of them in the making of cock-a-leekie soup. The link to that post, as Zephyr asked for it, is here.

I sometimes wonder if I oughtn't to have a tag on this blog for Lidl, I seem to mention it so often, but that would just seem a step too sad. But the eminent Europhile and globe trotter Barrett Bonden has remarked on my lack of inhibition in admitting that I shop there.

So I feel bound now, (and because I can't be bothered to post about anything serious), to launch into an ode to the joy of this pan-European phenomenon. Now I know their standard issue architecture, an unlovely combo of big-shed and Fisher-Price, which is presumably manufactured and sent out on lorries all over this continent and its fringes from the outskirts of somewhere like Wuppertal (apologies to any Wuppertalian readers...), is something of an eyesore in and around our towns, and I know that they keep everything cheap by employing a maximum of two staff per store, so that going through the checkout there is like some bad dream or ghastly game show where you're having to dive to catch the products as they are fired through at great speed before they hit the floor, and I know that 'after-sales service' is not a concept that occurrs in their mission statement, but withal, I am very fond of Lidl.

I never actually set foot in one when I lived in the UK, and not for a long time after I came here, but once I had, I saw the point. I don't know how much there stuff varies from country to country - another thing that amuses me about them is they never seem quite sure what language they should put on the packaging.

Here are a few things you can find there:

Free range French Label Rouge chickens, a good two or three euros cheaper than anywhere else. (Free range stuff has always been easy to find here, forget animal welfare, think taste, this is France...)

Reasonable Basmati and Thai Jasmine rice.

Consistently good aubergines, and mushrooms.

Lubeck marzipan, chocolate covered.

Japanese rice crackers.

Fruit and nut chocolate quite as good as Cadbury's. (I was going to scan that too, as well as the stock cubes, but thought I'd better stop somewhere. I regretted not having any of their jamjar lids about, which are printed all over with big bold colourful designs of the fruit. Scanner art nouvelle vague, Marja-Leena eat your heart out!)

And occasionally:

Guest ranges of 'exotics', such as bagels, English mustard, unsalted cashews and pecans, Spanish big white beans in jars, oyster sauce...

Fleecy sweaters, thick socks, big packs of delicious coloured paper and card complete with cutting board and scalpel with spare blade, the wool for my pompom shawl.

The wine range may not quite be what you'd serve if you had Plutarch coming for lunch, though the Alsace Gewurztraminer isn't bad, but they do a white port which is an acceptable alternative to sherry (unobtainable) of a Sunday lunchtime, a whisky cream liqueur that is pretty well indistinguishable from Bailey's and half the price, and vodka and gin which are very useful for the making of sloe gin, schnapps and other infusions.

Now I'm hoping to receive a Lidl gift voucher for this piece of fawning publicity. I heard about someone the other day who got a thank you e-mail from Appletise for mentioning them in a blog post, so it's not impossible...

Apologies for not getting around much today. I did put my nose outside the door, but also was rather involved selecting photos for what seems a very interesting offer from Vistaprint for make-your-own calendars. I haven't checked exactly what the terms are, and I don't yet know what the software's like, but it seems worth a look.

This seems to have turned into a consumer blog...

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Possibly blowing my culinary credibility...

Well, not many people stop by on a weekend anyway...

I thought I'd share a little French packaging icon, rather the equivalent Oxo, or the Golden Syrup tin, though nothing is as fine as a Golden Syrup tin.

KubOr. Essentially a stock cube. I am a stock cube user, I'll come clean. Mostly I use Lidl's chicken stock cubes, quite attractively packaged in their own right, in fact I rather like quite a lot of Lidl's packaging, it's got a rather homespun, old-fashioned and somehow slightly German look about it. Oh dear, not only am I sending my foody readers packing in disgust but also my greener ones, admitting a fondness for packaging ... and probably any German ones I might have too, who would probably not want anyone to think Lidl was representative of their cultural aesthetic.
But I also buy KubOr. Old sheet metal advertising plaques from the last century, (the one you and I were born in ) for KubOr grace the walls of many a Bobo Parisian home, I know because I had a subscription to 'Art et Decoration' once. Its design is bold, and unchanged for decades.

Lidl's chicken stock cubes have a soft, smooth flavour and texture, KubOr is actually quite rough, completely vegetarian, with a fair dose of celery salt about it and even a whiff of curry which is puzzling, though that may be just the processed celery taste. A little goes a long way, and they come in gold-wrapped double cubes. I don't use them a lot, but recently I have discovered a spin-off product which is giving me further guilty pleasure.
KubOr à saupoudrer. Sprinkle on KubOr. Magic, on roast chicken, with or without paprika, or risotto (or the lazy cheaty version which is really fried rice I often resort to), really.

There, it's out in the open. I am a culinary slob and a philistine.

Anyway, tomorrow I may post a photo of a year's supply of Bovril, which I don't actually use for cooking, for it has a separate destiny. Now I must go and serve roast chicken, with, guess what, chicken stock cubes within and Kubor without.

Read this and weep, oh arbiters of good taste! (Your quiz question, who was the original Arbiter of Good Taste? No cheating on Google, now. Clue Quo vadis)

I added as an intro to the last post a couple of quotes and links to friends whom I admire very much, and who I wanted to work into it but didn't at first.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Election reflections, random and rambling, but with some tasty links.

'No matter how comfortable I feel in England, I know that Americans will always be family . . . precisely because they can make me so crazy.

They can also make me so proud.' Bee Drunken, Election Euphoria.

'I shall watch and wait with many other deeply reluctant sceptics, wondering, in the constant triumph of hope over experience, whether this time Sisyphus will fulfill his overwhelming task.'

Dick Jones, November 05, 2008.


The medium so successfully harnessed by the campaign has been the one that's helped me to share in the celebrations. One blogging friend in the US thought of me before she went to bed and left the words 'we did it' here, just as I was blearily opeing my eyes and stumbling downstairs to get the news. Another literally across the world in Melbourne posted his photo of fireworks then came across to leave a few words. And I read of others' journeys across faraway cities, their whoops of joy or sighs of relief, their lists and memories of other momentous occasions, which they stopped to record before laying their heads down. Two old friends I've never seen shared a celebratory lunch of champagne and curry and Kingfisher beer, another offered up his hair (read that one if you haven't, it's haunting and wonderful).

I couldn't be there for the party, but all these things I will remember and treasure.

Though it seemed regrettable and risky at the time that he didn't choose Hillary Clinton for his running mate, I couldn't imagine her and Bill on that stage in Chicago, without it striking a jarring note.
I have reservations, in principle, about public figures parading their families as accoutrements, but the girls were a heartbreakingly beautiful sight.
The best thing I've read hereabouts, and that's saying something, was Teju Cole's essay over at Beth's. I tended to steer a bit clear of Teju when he was blogging, because, in my poverty of spirit, I knew I would probably just give up hope of any form of verbal self-expression and not get out of bed in the morning (though really that would go for a lot of people I read if I let it...). My loss, but smallness is like that. It's long, but please, take the time and go read, you won't get a better ringside view from anywhere.
He draws attention to Obama as a 'hybrid', his story a hitherto unrecognised one: 'the story of immigration in the age of air travel, the kind of Americanism that issues from exchange students and H1B visas and lapsed work permits'. This cuts both ways, it frightens reactionary 'old America' because it's something new and unquantified, but it's also safe for queasy white folks, because he isn't 'an angry black man', from a people 'maimed by slavery'. I'll stop drawing from this piece, just do as you're told and read it.
But from that I was rather led to think about Obama's mother, Ann Dunham, who, had she lived, would be of an age with my sister, about 18 years older than me. She seems to have been an earnest, intellectual girl, raised in and embracing rootlessness but intensely seeking authenticity elsewhere. She had negative memories of the Christianity she grew up with, and chose no other religion, took on secular humanism but brought her children up on the speeches of Martin Luther King and every holy book of every major religion. She didn't fall out with her husbands, encouraged her children to know and own their fathers, but went her own way. Obama's youth with his white grandparents in Hawaii was his choice, he wanted to finish his high schooling, but she pursued her life elsewhere in the world as an anthropologist.
A white middle class girl, educated, intelligent, independent, liberal, humanist, adventurous, well-travelled, apparently fearless, seeking relationships and experience outside of the known and the comfortable. Nothing feckless, no abandonment or self-indulgence , but no self-sacrifice either. I'm not like her; I'm not American or a mother for a start, and I lack that independence of spirit, but I know women she reminds me of. If this new man is this kind of hybrid, rootless, undamaged, and if this is, as I think perhaps it is, good, then I like to think that a woman I can recognise had something to do with it.
The note of caution, of course, that brave if reluctant people are making sure is sounded: too easy to be swept along with the joy of it, to mistake simple shared excitement for real, authentically experienced epiphany, relief for true change for the better. Jean spoke of her hope as slow-burning, but expressed reservation about any politician partly stemming from disillusion with the Blair government. I too heard a warning voice, even as I watched and wept and felt quite taken out of myself, reminding me of that other moment of election night euphoria eleven years ago, which was followed so quickly by disappointment, the bitterness of which intensified over the years. The possibility that the impulses and motives which led to the betrayals might have originally been noble was no justification or comfort.
Hindsight always colours memory, of course, yet I still feel this is qualitatively different from that, in terms of the hope kindled and the power for healing represented. Some of the difference is in Obama's demeanor, what Beth remarked on as the gravity of the man, his sober, almost sombre, acknowledgement of the enormity of the task ahead of him, his dignity and humility. It may be he hasn't always shown so much of these qualities, but nevertheless. The 1997 UK elections were followed by an orgy of self-congratulation, a wave of entitlement they didn't come
down from. Dignity and humility were not much in evidence.
Any sensible person understands that the real work of change is ahead, much of it cannot be accomplished, many of his priorities may not be right and just. He is a politician, that's not just a glib dismissal; without a politician's guile he would be useless, with it he is flawed, I don't know how we can get around that. It may be, as Dale said in another post which explores delicately, personally and, of course, beautifully, the tension and difficulty surrounding all these questions of hope and realism, of personal engagement and detachment, (and more besides,read that one too if you know what's good for you)that 'we are dug into a hole so deep that maybe we will never get out', but at least I feel that if the change we hope for proves mostly impossible, it won't be through lack of courage, intelligence, will or engagement. And the change we have already seen is still a heartening one; less bad is better.
I'm not sure that joy, euphoria, the high that comes with relief, is necessarily to be knocked anyway, as long as we know it for what it is, and don't resent its passing. I'm not even convinced that the mythologising of a person or situation, that carries us along in a wave of collective exaltation, is altogether to be despised either, as long as we keep some sane and steadying part of ourselves apart from it, our centre within us, not them. It seems to allow us access to something unique and human and important. One of the problems of it is it often seems to involve death.
And finally, I am struck and moved by the sheer weight of pain my good American friends seem to have been carrying, which, I have the impression, they didn't always seem to be fully aware of, until now they find it has been lifted. And I am happy for that.
[Sorry about the squiggles, Blogger's refusing to double space and the block of text without looked frightful...]

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A small fib, with pictures.

I've been scribbling more reflections on elections all evening, but find I've run out of time to post them, especially as they rely rather on references to others, and would require quite a bit of linkage. Why I think I've got anything to add I don't know but I do, so I'll try to get onto it tomorrow.

So, meanwhile, a Fib and some photos.


we went
to the mill,
for woods and water

are just what Molly loves the best.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Or Chicago.

Which just looked a little like the Heavenly City.

I've never been happier to be up at 5.30 in the morning, (just as Zephyr was leaving her comment).

Euphoria. I know.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Storm in a teacup, or, feck it, it's only a car...

I can say that now because it's not looking so bad.

I wasn't really fishing for sympathy. Well, perhaps I was. I certainly received it in spades, for which many thanks. I don't deserve you all ('oh yes you do!' 'Oh no I don't!). The advice and kind words I received from you was wisdom, commonsense and compassion to the power of many.

The garagist didn't tease me at all. When he asked how I did it I said I was in the clouds, to which he replied, 'And did you come down from them then?'. 'Rapidly' I said.

Having a good garagist, I think, is probably as important as having a good doctor. At least if you have a car anyway. Once I was racketing along the Quessoy road with Monsieur Turbin in his tatty old camionette I began to feel already the situation was more manageable, that it would be dealt with and though it would cost we would not be ripped off for it. After a short struggle he got the wheel changed, and I was able to drive it very gingerly back to his garage with him following. It felt squelchy but OK (the spare was very soft anyway), no warning lights came on so the hydraulics must have been unruptured, and the brakes seemed to work.

As of this evening it's still unrepaired but should be done by tomorrow morning. The replacement of one tyre invariably necessitates replacing two; that on the other side was getting somewhat bald, apparently, so that's no bad thing. I still have a car and I will be able to visit Tom in hospital.

So, time to count blessings. What has cheered me today?

Geraniums and kalanchoe brought inside on the kitchen windowsill.

The last yellow sycamore leaves.

Flights of lapwings over thorn trees.

Landscape in opaque layers.
Bird on a wire.

Cabbages and corrugated.

Lingering autumn light.
We wish we were in Times Square tonight. Or even Paris, or Brussels. Or Prague. Prague would be great.

Monday, November 03, 2008

A sorry tale, of incompetence and self-pity.

Well. all the chirpy, creative, life-enhancing, best-laid plans I had for Nablopomo projects have temporarily disappeared, fugitive in a haemorrhage of self-esteem brought about by my having pranged the car. Not in any dramatic, skin of my teeth scenario of the kind to make one experience an epiphany of acute thankfulness at being alive or anything like that, simply the kind of stupid, unnecessary event that leaves one feeling a total bloody prat.

I'd had a pointless afternoon out at the shops. This was because on my weekly supermarket trip last Friday, I bought four litres of milk, split from a pack of six, which is normal practice. However, although the bill was somewhat alarmingly high, not until I was home did I realise the cashier had scanned the code for the six-pack and then timesed it by four, so I had in fact paid for 24 litres of milk. I telephoned, no problem, but I would have to make a return trip, and that had to be Monday, today, everything being closed on Saturday for the Day of the Chrysanthemum Dead. For the want of a nail...

This afternoon looked astonishingly like the first day of the January sales. Everybody having been cooped up for the weekend with their deceased and a pungent array of chrysanthemums, they clearly couldn't wait to get out to the shops and the land of the living again. Instead of sensibly obtaining my refund and getting the hell out, I thought I might as well make it worth my while being there and trailed round looking at things we can't afford to buy, like rugs and curtain material, and doing a bit of research for obscure items on Tom's wish list, so I was quite late starting for home. Molly started to whinge, understandably, by the time we got to Quessoy, that she'd been out in the car all afternoon and had barely sniffed so much as a fence post, so I diverted to the arboretum. We both relaxed and inhaled deeply of the twilighty, smoky air and glowing colours, and I rebuked myself for wasting my time in the fleshpots when I could have been here all along.

I relaxed yet more as I pottered homeward, and relaxed so much that I have no recall at all of what I was thinking about or looking at when the car mounted the very high pavement in the bend in the road by the small supermarket there with an alarming crack, but I do seem to remember I seemed to drive along it for quite some way before I dared to come down off it again. Fortunately no one was walking on it at the time. I limped a couple of hundred yards to the nearest carpark, that of the pharmacy.

Thanks to the conveniences of mobile phones and a second car, I quite quickly sorted out a lift home and the garagist to come and look at it sur place tomorrow (nither Tom nor I do wheel-changes), and then reassured the staff at the pharmacy that though my dear old BX might look like a rusting and abandoned wreck with a very flat tyre just waiting to be torched by the racaille of Quessoy, I truly was coming back for it in the morning.

So, I've done my best to make an entertaining anecdote out of it, and heaven knows I should be able to tell a story against myself by now, I've had enough opportunity. But the fact is, I am left with the unpleasant conviction, and it isn't the first time, that though I might occasionally be able to turn a reasonable phrase, make a pretty picture, even perhaps cook a meal, when it comes to certain basic life skills that other people take their ability to undertake unthinkingly for granted, like driving a car, I am a totally incompetent cretin. Attempts to mitigate the fact: I was tired, accidents mostly happen within 5 miles of home when people start to relax, it could have been worse, or have happened at a worse time, just don't cut it.

What's the point in taking great care to be thrifty, to carefully watch and husband our resources as we do, when with a moment of carelessness I bring down needless expense and worry on our heads? It may be only a burst tyre, bad enough, but it may be worse.

I hate hurting my car, there's no escaping our reliance on our motors; the car, and that car in particular, because it's the rough workhorse of the family, is the means by which I go to work, fetch provisions, collect the free off-cuts of wood from the sawmills to help keep us warm, pick up bags of plaster and cement and compost, carry the recyclables to the ecopoint and walk Molly in the woods or round the plan d'eau after, look after and keep my friendships oiled and attended to, and generally raise life above the level of harsh subsistence.

Since experiencing the awakening, enlightenment and reassessing of priorities occasioned by the onset of acute diverticulitis, and other spiritually improving practices and disciplines, Tom has become extraordinarily cheerful and laid back with a 'sufficient unto the day' kind of attitude to things like this that I wouldn't have believed possible at one time. I appreciate this deeply. I still feel crap. He doesn't, at this time especially, need to be suffering anxieties about my competence in moving myself about independently and safely. We don't, at this time especially, need to have the financial burden of car repair bills.

Ah me.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Three big things you can see from near our house...

The sea.

The sky.

Bull no. 4019 - he looks better if you make him even bigger...


(I've another photo up at qarrtsiluni! It's here.)

Saturday, November 01, 2008

All Hallows, and no entry for the Dance of Death.

I had other plans for a Halloween post, though Jack o'Lanterns did quite nicely really.

The danse macabre at Kermaria an Iskuit is one of the most famous and intact frescos of the subject in existence; it's 15th century, internationally famous, and was the inspration behind the Saint-Saens' piece of the same name. It's been waiting for me to go and visit it for about eleven years now, and is less than an hour's drive away.

However, the photo of it above is from Wikimedia commons. Because, although I finally made a plan to go, Tom happily complied (bribed with a possibility of lunch out at Binic), we got in the car and drove, when we got there, although it was a pretty place indeed,

leafy and peaceful,

the light lovely on the old stones

and through the turning leaves

it was closed.

We were shut out,

barred from entry.

It seemed the gardien, the person who had the key,

was absent.

I was really rather cross.

I had thought, you see, that the week leading up to All Souls, the time when the spirits and souls walk abroad, would be a good time to go to such a place. What I had forgotten was, it is also the time when good French secular citizens make pilgrimages home to their families and elders, and perform their own ritual processions to the cemeteries, armed with votive chrysanthemums for the dead (never give chrysanths here as an offering to the living, it is bad form and bad luck), for the feast of Toussaint, All Saints, All Hallows, the day after All Hallows' Evening - Halloween.

Hence, presumably, the absence of the caretakers, who had left a soulfully howling dog at their house and a message on the answering machine.

So, I wandered around the outside of the building,

(while Tom stayed in the car with a book)

and looked for any interesting details I could find.

and acquainted myself with other guardians of the place,

some of whom had wings.

In the porch, which was a remarkably grand structure, with an upper storey from which, from the 15th century, justice and decrees would be announced to the populace below,

I encountered the Twelve Apostles, of which here are some.

In their faded, later, chalky polychrome, their distant, rough-carved stares seem to say: we are an afterthought to the Dance of Death, a softening of its message, or maybe a denial.
So for this year, I'll content myself with Saints not Souls. Perhaps in another eleven years I'll go back to see inside.
There was far too much soup from Jack for us to eat alone (I've never had much luck with the roasted seeds, so threw them away, but he has some brothers coming along, and perhaps I'll try again), so I proposed sharing it with friends. It's been cold and wet and miserable all day today, so I've had the oven on most of the day and found things to cook and bake to keep cosy. In honour of the festival, I've listened to Emma Kirkby and Gothic Voices singing Hildegard of Bingen's music, and Loreena singing St John of the Cross' Dark Night, among other things. I'd love to know where the translation she uses comes from, it's not the Roy Campbell one she actually cites on the notes, but a very lovely one. (Sorry, not time for links now.)
Today is also the first day of Nablopomo, when one has an excuse to blog everyday without seeming to be a crashing bore or a sad obsessive. I'll see how I get on...