Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wednesday 30 June

~  Thinking about last night in Erquy.  So many people relaxed and smiling, strangers looking at and talking to each other, in their faces the thought 'Would you believe it, it's summer already!'  The boys of summer leaping from the end of the harbour wall by the little red and white toy lighthouse into the so-many-shades-of -turquoise water, the bright boats in bobbing in rows, people still browsing restaurant menus in the daylight at 10 pm, Irish coffee, hot and sweet in a glass through a straw...

~  A. comes to yoga with a box full of broad beans all for me, I forgot to take my share last week.  I shell half of them for tonight's supper.

~  Hoverflies like lobelia.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tues 29th June

It didn't start off in a very promising way. 

The window boxes needed sprucing up. The lobelia was fine, the pot marigolds were looking a little weedy but nothing that a good feed, top up of soil and picking over wouldn't fix, but the little sunflowers were a disaster.  After the first flowers, the following buds were stunted and sad, a snail had got in and eaten some of the leaves, and they seemed to have become home from home to a colony of small black ants.

So I went to the garden centre.  But it was closed, for its annual stocktaking.

So I went to the peninsular, to visit the la Maison de la Baie and walk from there.  But there were roadworks in front of it, and I couldn't get in.

So I drove on a bit. But when I got to the seashore, the green seaweed was so thick and vile I didn't want to go near it.

So we walked up on the cliffs, which were hot and dry already and Mol got quite tired and puffed out, but there were

~  marbled white butterflies, thousands of them.  Which was one beautiful thing.

Then I thought I'd try the smaller farm supply, general hardware and garden shop further along, in the hopes of getting some plants.  They had four very satisfactory bright red geraniums. 

~ And a dwarf pot cherry tomato plant. 'Look' said the nice young man at the till 'there's one which is nearly ready to eat'

'Yes,'  I said 'that was what attracted me.'

And that was another beautiful thing.

So then I drove back the slightly longer, nicer way, not least so that I could go over

~  this blue bow of a bridge over the railway line, where there used to be just a dusty old level crossing.  Which I think is another beautiful thing.  When I approach it, I always feel as if I am going to fly .


So that was all right in the end.  And now I'm going for the infamous legwax, and then we'll drive up to Erquy, to eat by the harbour, and enjoy the cool of the evening.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Monday 28 June

~  Breakfast: two slices of brown toast, one with marmite the other with marmalade, eaten with a glass of orange juice (with the marmite one) and coffee - milk, no sugar - (with the marmalade one).  The whole is a harmonious balance of tastes for each part of the tongue, salt, sour, sweet and bitter.  Even the matching beginnings of the words 'marmite' and 'marmalade' seem to contribute to the aesthetic satisfaction.

~   Owing to a combination of being short and broad and owning a black dog, I dislike wearing pastel or over-bright colours.  I have bought washing machine dyes in dark blue and a dark purple.  The t-shirts - sky blue, a leafy pale green (pretty but not for me) and a rather crude viridian - which I subject to the dark blue dye give good results, a strong rich blue in the case of the sky and pale green, slightly pleasantly dirtied in the latter, and the viridian becomes a very fine dark teal, peacock even.  However, when tried with the purple, the light olive green dress which I never could take to in that colour, turns out an alarmingly violent violet.  I decide to dry it and try it on again to see if I really like it enough to make it worthwhile risking applying another colour on top - the dark blue again, or another green, even brown or red - to try to rectify it, or just to cut my losses and put it in the relais.

~  (Picture) A wren's nest under the porch at my brother's, close enough to the front door to touch.  The birds left invisibly a short time ago, and the nest is now unravelling.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Getting back

Getting back, not always easy. 

I've been home a while, after a busy few days visit from my brother and sister, and then a trip to my other brother's and sister-in-law's in the Mayenne, but I've felt persistently blog-shy.  I've stacks of pictures, and I have been writing, but mostly pen and paper, not here.  Of course it's been lovely weather, and house and garden have needed to be caught up with, and I know that a lapse of a fortnight is really neither here nor there. But it's probably the longest I've gone without doing anything here, and well into my fourth year of blogging, faced with ups and downs in my own mood, I could see how this place could be allowed to fall into neglect, and how the longer one stays away, the harder it might be to get back to it. 

So I decided I'd try to do Three Beautiful Things for a bit, Clare's wonderful invention, described by Plutarch, who consistently does it to the level of high art, as 'up there with the discovery of penicillin' (or words to that effect, I'm quoting from memory).  I began doing it on paper, as I didn't want to commit myself too soon to something I couldn't keep up.

There's a danger with it, perhaps, that it might seem like a rather over-jolly, Pollyana-ish, everything-in-the-garden's-rosy, don't-worry-be happy, kind of exercise.  It isn't.  The point of it seems to me that you have to make the effort to find the three things, even when you don't necessarily feel like it.  You have to take the trouble to notice and appreciate and make the record of them.  They don't have to be rosy-pretty-sugary things at all, but it's your business to find the beauty in them, be it charm or interest or oddity or rarity or their potential to raise a question.  Sometimes too, you might have to fight against apathy and laziness and depression, the creeping that everything in the garden is far from rosy, to do it.

Anyway, it's not for me to teach my grandmothers to suck eggs; those two and many many others have been showing how it's done for a long time, and I appreciate more than ever the sticking power and talent that it's taken.  I don't know how long I'll do it, I'll still probably want to do other things here, but I think it will be a help to me at the moment, keeping up with things here while leaving me free perhaps to write more in private too.    And maybe it will also help to use up some of the photos I can't quite think how else to do with, since I've let my Flickr account slide.

So, here are four days' worth, from last Wednesday to yesterday (Saturday).  I found six things yesterday, so that can serve for today's as well, as I'll probably drift off and do other things after that, like keeping an eye on the England - Germany game and taking a newly-bathed Molly out for the sunshine to finish drying her fur.  I'll stick a photo at the end, and try to do it daily for a while from now on.


Wed 23 June

~ Ylang-ylang oil in the small raw cotton bag with the Indian soap-nuts, to wash the bath towels, instead of the usual geranium or lavender.

~  The pictures we finally got round to hanging in the blue room before our visitors arrived, including the tapestry monkey, and the tiny etching of a Scottish glen I bought in a Cheltenham gallery many years ago.

~  Getting into the car to drive again.  I like driving too much, even though I'm not very good at it.  I forget to turn off at the old railtrack, and Mol doesn't remind me, so we have to go on to the plan d'eau, which we really prefer.  It only makes me slightly late for my yoga session.


Thurs 24 June

~  Having cut all the grass in the garden without murdering any toads, I should go into Moncontour to post a card and book a leg-wax, but instead I put out a wooden deckchair on the newly-cut grass and read 'Wolf Hall' until 6 o'clock.

~  A tub of organic chicken livers found in the freezer satisfies a craving I'd forgotten I had.  Sauté (how does one anglicise that, with or without a 'd'?) with a sliced shallot and some thyme, deglazed with a splash of port and a spoonful of cream, served with boiled potatoes and marrowfat peas.

~  I speak with my sister and brother on the 'phone.  We talk about Mont St Michel, Helvellyn, les Toiles de Mayenne, and how we hate goodbyes.


Fri 25 June

I've been picking up the Taschen paperback of Robert Doisneau's photographs, and wondering whether to go the the exhibition of them in Dinan next month.  Seeing originals of photos is perhaps not as importantly different from seeing reproductions of them as it is for paintings.  I decide to do so.  He said, according to the English text, 'one should take a photo only when one feels full of love for one's fellow man'.  A rather tall order, it seems, but then looking at the French text, what he actually said was not love but 'generosité', which is a slightly different kettle of fish.
~  Speaking of fish, fish pie, which I always make the way my mother showed me, seething the fish in milk with whatever seasonings, flaking it into the dish and then making the white sauce with the milk.

~  Cabernet d'Anjou, a mild summer tipple, sweet, quite low in alcohol, the colour of Tiza, a weakness I'm only slightly ashamed of.  With an ice cube.


Saturday 26 June ( double dose)

~  The pointy end of the ice-cream cone (the old fashioned dry wafer kind, not the posh ones with chocolate in the tip), with a smear of ice-cream licked down into it, must surely always have been the dog's portion...

~  Our philadelphus, belle-etoile with a slight smudge of purplish shading in the centre, always blooms late.  It waves over the laurel hedges, wafts its bubble-gum and orange-flower-water perfume across the garden.

~  I write a very short short story.  Though I can't quite see when or how it might see the light of day, I am pleased with it, and getting it done feels like an achievement.

~  My brother in Mayenne sends a write-up and links to two websites, of artists they have come across on their travels.  Stephen Meakin makes glorious complex gilded mandalas, and Rowena Maybourn, whose convictions about divining and the Goddess caused me to giggle with rather unkind scepticism when he told me about her, has quite won me over with mediaeval colour and mythical beasts and calligraphy, and seems to be ablaze with creative energy and drive.  You can't knock it. 

~  Taking Mol out for a last turn about the garden, I hear whoops and party trumpets from somewhere down the hill.  I see nothing, but it sounds closer than town, and there's no circus there just now.  The folks at the farm have had sad recent times, so I hope they've got something to celebrate.

~  A faraway friend throws out an unexpected line, which touches my heart deeply. 


Sunday, June 13, 2010

An elegant passing of tulips


Postpost:  By a wonderful cascade of serendipity and act of thoughtfulness, Jean heard and passed on this poem by EJ Scovell, whom I knew nothing about but having read the obituary linked to would like to know more of.  It's so beautiful and apposite that it deserves to be in the main post in the light. 

Blogging, like life, can be like that, you sometimes get more than you put in.

I would if I could choose

Age and die outwards as a tulip does;
Not as this iris drawing in, in-coiling
Its complex strange taut inflorescence, willing
Itself a bud again – though all achieved is
No more than a clenched sadness,

The tears of gum not flowing.
I would choose the tulip’s reckless way of going;
Whose petals answer light, altering by fractions
From closed to wide, from one through many perfections,
Till wrecked, flamboyant, strayed beyond recall,
Like flakes of fire they piecemeal fall.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Candlemas and Pentecost

Lacking original inspiration, a raid on the notebooks.  A couple seemed worth picking over.  Always short of confidence about posting poems, so do it on a Friday night when not so many come. 

I am not a believer, exactly.  But certain moments, and places, carry weight.  I too rarely put a date on anything I write and put aside, but these were written on those days.  Candlemas is 2nd February, the old Imbolc, Celtic spring, Groundhog Day if you like.  Pentecost of course was just a couple of weeks ago.

I am not writing about oil spills or aid convoys.  I probably should be.


Candlemas; what the sunset said.

I cannot give you absolution, though
you'd like me to. I won't restore
the grace you've lost, or thought
you ever had to lose.

Light will still bleed
from this torn skin of cloud; molten,
the burned-down stubs, chipped and scraped
from blackened sockets, will keep
some fragrance of the honeycomb.

(And not to would be waste for sure,
another evil added to the pile
already unredeemed...)

But something's always lost.
After how many sunsets
will this old star burn down,
smoke, gutter, grow cold?



Pentecost, and there are flames at last
about my head. The church spire shines
fresh out of its cocooning scaffold,
and woodpeckers hammer away in the valleys.

Flames, made from blades of maize
that blaze and flicker out of earth,
and tasselled heads of barley
sheening at evening in shades
we cannot name, and crushed
out of the odour of geranium weed,
and struck by the persistent finches
tapping out the edges of their worlds.

And on the ridge road, I'm told in tongues,
to live, and that we live within each other.

And entirely alone.


Next up, probably more bugs and flowers.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bordering on the indecent - more lewd and lascivious goings-on in the garden

It has been pointed out to me that the orange azaleas really were disporting themselves in a fashion which could be considered somewhat raunchy and provocative.

You weren't the only ones to think so.

Phew.  Was that good for you too?

Lest that was a surfeit of orange, here are some similar antics among the complementary blue geraniums.

While others fumbled among the hairy stems and droopy mauve frills of the comfrey.


(In case anyone should think that was a lame attempt to boost my stats by luring the kind of people who Google kinky things in the wee small hours, I don't do stats, and don't have any of those things which tell you what weird things people are Googling for either.  But in case there are any bee perverts stopping by, I hope you got a buzz out of it...)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

My ship came from China...

...With a cargo of tea,
All laden with presents
For you and for me...

My sister always brings good things.

The latest Sally Vickers, to finish reading and leave for me,

(the pink pig on a stick on the shelf behind came in an ice-cream sundae eaten on a terrace in Erquy.  My ice-cream had a small but fully functioning paper fan in it, just imagine my bliss...) 

and three lacquered Burmese bowls, light and glossy as feathers.

But the real treasures she brings are not to be weighed and measured in Ryanair's hand luggage allowance.

We walked through the woods and by the streams to the Seven Saints chapel,

and saw damsels, not in distress.

She doesn't even make much washing.

And she'll be back in a week bringing an even better consignment in the shape of my eldest brother all the way from Oz.

Further good news on the summer visitors front, this crew are coming again in August, for a bit longer this time.  I smiled and smiled.  It matters a lot at the moment.  It all goes by so fast.


Blogging light, seems to be the order of things just now.  I take the pics and want to share them, but don't seem to have much to say for myself.  Not to worry. 

Friday, June 04, 2010

Fragrantly orange

Either I want to eat this azalea or it wants to eat me. Whichever, I doubt we'd survive. I love it so much I'm not even going to collage it, but shamelessly slather large and rather samey single shots all about. So what if I use up my Blogger picture allowance.

Our rhodo and azalea bed is, we fear, too dry. This one nearly gave up the ghost in its first year or so, until Tom moved it just across the path to a bed that gets the run-off from the barn roof, where it flowers with a prodigal generosity. The other impossible-seeming bounty of it is its fragrance, that rich and blowsy ylang-ylang-tart's-boudoir miasma that I thought only came with the run-of-the-mill yellow luteum kind.

As you may have gathered, I don't require flowers to be subtle.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010


"In the midst of that wild expanse, a tall ruin rises; a square castle, flanked by towers, standing there, alone, between two wastes: the moorland and the sea."

That was Maupassant, passing through in 1879.  Now the Rhuys peninsula is no kind of waste, but a well-off and busy playground, with an arterial road running to a marina at the end of it.  It wasn't, we decided, our favourite of the corners of Brittany we'd explored. 

But you can branch out and follow any of the smaller arteries that flow from this, and sooner or later find yourself in a small capillary of a road finishing at the sea.  The castle at Suscinio lies near the end of one of these. 

Maupassant saw it in one of its lowest states, albeit one of its more romantically lonely and ruinous ones.  In the Middle Ages, it was also a playground for the well-off: the dukes of Brittany.  Its location was of little strategic or defensive importance, the views were negligible; it was really a large and sumptuous hunting lodge, for the marshes and forests around it teemed with game and fish.

It took a few hundred years to build, then fairly soon afterwards was largely abandoned for the more convenient castle at Nantes.  It fell into ruin, was sold off and pillaged as a quarry in the Revolution, provisionally rescued in the mid 19th century by the family of its former steward, then finally set bought by the department of Morbihan who set about restoring it, a process which continues.

In general the practice of restoration and reconstruction, the creation of replicas in fact, is set about with far more conviction here, I believe.  I'm sure historians, archaeologists, architects and town planners could argue and disagree about the rights and wrongs of this, but we find we rather like it.  And when I compare the meticulous facsimile of St Malo's walled town, for example, created after the bombings of WW2, with the monstrosities of modern town planning visited on British ports, I have to say I prefer the former.

The Victorians of course loved to make mock mediaeval where the real thing once stood, and perhaps a reaction to this is partly what motivates today's attitudes .  Some of that was awful, of course, though some (Cardiff Castle and  Castell Coch, Bute's and Burges's pretty follies, for instance - that Wiki link should take you to all the others if you're interested) have some charm.  But anyway, the land of le Corbusier and generally unrepentant modernism doesn't seem to worry half as much about making faithful replicas of the old as the Brits do.  So unlike the still ruined and just shored-up Welsh and English castles I grew up scrambling over in my holidays as a kid, which was good fun, though sometimes the dark and crumbling spiral staircases scared me, what we find here are often beautiful and detailed reconstructions. (Or nothing at all, if they bashed it all up and taken it away for hardcore in the Revolution.)

And Suscinio is one of these.  It is a place of pattern. In windows,

in walls,

and most of all in the floors.   Late in the 14th century, some 50 years after its completion, the chapel of the castle burned down.  The ash and fallen slates covered the tiled floors, and so they remained for 600 years, until they were discovered, lifted, and pieced back together again, late in the 20th century, so that their reds and blues and golds and umbers and pinks, their geometry and heraldy and fabulous beasts, glow and live again in the great halls of the castle.