Saturday, October 30, 2010

Three cinquains for autumn, Judas pods, and off now.

the Judas tree
a snapdragon glows red
as a pheasant's cheek brazens out


blackbirds argue
the toss of October
ragamuffin wind scattered


and plimsolls leave
the perch of the shoe rack
lace-up walking shoes roost there now
and boots


(The first one came to me mostly unbidden.  I thought perhaps it would make a haiku, but it couldn't be reduced enough.  Looking in the manual, I found that, in fact, with very little work, it wanted to be a cinquain, of the American kind, as invented by the unfortunately named Adelaide Crapsey.  The link looks interesting, including the picture of Adelaide herself in a bare-shouldered-with-feathery-frills studio photograph, looking truculent - she doesn't really strike me as a feathery frills kind of gal ...

Having discovered this rather satisfying form by accident, I tried a couple more.)

Now the seed pods on the Judas trees are dry and kipper brown, but a week or so ago they were still pink-tinted, translucent and pliable.  The legend that this was the tree on which Judas hanged himself, after which its white flowers turned red with shame, is a puzzle to me, as I have never seen one of adequate height strength or growth habit for anyone to be able to do such a thing.  Perhaps they grow bigger down south.


Off now, Essex-bound, for my weekend, which we are resolved to make the best of - it's often surprising how much can be made of a short trip.  My sister and I are going to Cambridge and the Fitzwilliam museum anyway, where as well as the Persian paintings there is also an expo of Pre-Raphaelite portraits and a very posh museum caff offering what sounds like a delicious plate of Persian-style food to go with the paintings, which featuring as it does things like aubergines, chickpeas and spices, should go some little way towards making up for missing the curry if not the company that went with it.  I shall take the camera and warm clothing; I've not been to Cambridge for decades, but I do remember it being fairly parky - next stop the Urals and all that.

Back on Monday, and I hope to launch into the stretch of Nablo and daily posting; don't worry, mostly photos that need picking over before being swept off to the limbo of the external hard drive, nothing too demanding either of blogger or reader.  See you soon.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Further woes, and a blue egg.

No no, I shall gripe no more.  I was resolved to make this a simple and joyful post to quash the impression that I am a miserable complainer.

However, I feel that disappointment is in order all the same.  My already quite short and rare trip to England, the principal element of which was to spend a few days with my sister, but which, it was reckoned could just be stretched to incorporate a trip in one direction to spend a day with my youngest brother and sister-in-law, who would give us the benefit of their extensive insiders' knowledge of Cambridge and join us in visiting an exhibition of Persian miniatures at the Fitzwilliam Museum, and another in the other direction to take advantage of my sister's membership of the V&A, finding time perhaps to enjoy a curry luncheon at the illustrious Bloggers' Retreat with the Brothers Hyam (this one and this one), has alas now been  delayed and drastically curtailed to a bare two nights, and neither of the above events will any longer be possible, at least not in the forms originally conceived.

Nothing of any value to say on the vagaries of French strike action or Ryanair's re-booking policies. I must simply grin and bear it, count my blessings in Pollyanna-ish fashion:  I will at least get the two nights chez my sister, I am comfortable at home not sleeping on an airport floor somewhere,  I am not missing a deathbed, a wedding or even a work-commitment, and only spending two nights means I can more or less go in the clothes I stand up in and fill my hand-baggage with treats and comestibles on the return voyage.  And I'm unequivocally insisting on a raincheck for the curry lunch.


So, in this spirit of only slightly recalcitrant gratitude, here is something I have been keeping in reserve as embodying a spirit of pure delight: a blue egg!  My friend A was minding her neighbour's hens a while back, and gave me some of the surplus production, including one from an Araucana.  I was so impressed with the beauty and novelty of this egg,  I simply cannot understand why poultry geneticists haven't been labouring night and day to breed strains of high-productivity-blue-egg-laying chickens to furnish supermarket shelves and create a market to titillate the jaded imaginations and appetites of the egg-buying public everywhere.   However, a quick dip into the history and background of the breed indicates that, on the contrary, the poultry fanciers have actually diluted and polluted the blue-egg-laying gene in the interests of making fancier-looking chickens, so that the eggs can be all kinds of muddy and unsatisfactory colours.  Ah well, it was altogether a lovely egg, and tasted good too, though in truth no different from the brown or white ones.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Thorns in my side

In rather over-sensitive fashion, I've hesitated about posting these photos, because I didn't want anyone to think they were some allegory for my inward state: burned out, smouldering, thorny ... none of which is really the case.  Just as I was going out for a quick turn around the block a couple of weeks ago, Tom said he might light the bonfire and burn the berberis cuttings.  This shrub forms a hedge to the right of our house.  It has small pale yellow sprays of flowers with a perfume like that of heaven itself in the spring, and thorns of incomparable savagery all the time.  It is something of a worry and has lately been the source, or at least the catalyst, of our final (we hope) severing of all relations with Charmless Dutch Bulb Growing Neighbour (- who is proof that, The Princeling, Lovely Sister and The Quiet American notwithstanding, to have one's own capitalised epithet on this blog does not automatically mean one is held in affection and esteem here).  

Anyway, enough about that, you don't want to know, really you don't ... although I was so pleased with the carefully drafted and crafted 'Dear Charmless' letter that I sent him to make it official that I was quite tempted to publish it here.  I am not always a nice person.  

Back to the berberis (I note that Chrome's built in spell-checker, which nags and snickers at me with a little wiggly red line when I make a typo or spelling error, does not recognise the name of this shrub, nor the word princeling .  Neither does it approve the words Google, blog or Blogger, which is somewhat ironic and perverse of it, I reckon, though it didn't bat an eyelid at tarantella, which surprised me).  The plant also clearly contains high levels of volatile oils, and burns with a satisfying crackle even when green, so by the time I returned less than a half-hour later, I was a little disappointed to find the bonfire was no more, mere scorched remnants, charcoal and ashes, wisps of smoke, and here or there the tiny flicker of a flame.  

But I rather liked it anyway.


Just adding my tuppence worth of griping about Blogger's new image upload thing, which won't upload images.  Or at least not on the main computer, it just keeps saying 'server error'.  It works OK on the newer little mini notebook, but that's got so little memory and such a tiny screen for photo editing that it's really quite inconvenient to work from there all the time.  So I have either to go to settings and change back to the old post editor,  with all its drawbacks, rummage in my memory to recall how it works, then change settings back to the new editor so as to be able to blow the pictures up to extra-large, which doesn't exist on the old one, or else upload the photos to a Picasa web album and access them from there on the smaller computer  as I can't do that either on the big one, and this also creates duplicates and uses up my already over half-full allowance, or else I have to use the 'blog this' function from Picasa, but that only allows you three pics per post so if I want any more I have to do multiple posts, then go over to the small computer and transfer them all onto one post and keep unpublished ghost posts hanging around because if you delete them you lose the photos from everywhere... are you still following this?  

And even when I can get it to work I don't like the new format of it so much anyway.  I've just spent rather too long on a Blogger help forum establishing that I'm not the only one with these problems, and that there are really some very strange and disturbed people who hang out on Blogger help forums.  Neither of which facts helps me much.

Did I say I wasn't feeling thorny...?

Count your blessings, Lucy.  You have a nearly full tank of petrol, and a half-term holiday already.  Shut up and stop whingeing ( spell-checker doesn't like that word either).   

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


The Princeling is three today, it doesn't seem five minutes since he was the Most Beautiful Not-a-Wailing-Orange in the maternity ward He's still a very handsome fellow and, following a brief and sporadic spell of being rather more two-year-old goblin than elf, a very lovely character too.

So to mark the occasion, some pictures from an outing we made a couple of weeks ago.

It was a rare day of sunshine among a lot of rainy and cold ones, and we set off around the big lake in Lamballe.

There were things to climb on,

and it was so warm, we spread plastic bags on the rather soggy picnic benches and table,

and bread and Nutella, among other things, were consumed,

 Mostly by Ilan.

Then we repaired to the cafe in the square.

A spoonful of the froth from his mother's coffee, followed by the speculoos biscuit; he is evidently being raised as un vrai français.*   In fact, despite being quite as accustomed to functioning in French herself, Iso's always been very good about speaking in English to him, even curbing her execrable if unwitting Franglais to make sure she does so properly.  However, as he's generally surrounded by French otherwise, at home, with his dad's family and with his nounou, his childminder, he's been inclined to keep his counsel and not to commit himself too much in either language until recently. Now though, while most of the words were coming out French, he was obviously quite at ease with us in English and understands and responds happily.

(Thinks: this one's not quite such a pushover but I think I can probably get around him...)

The cafe turned out to be next to a rather charming toyshop containing nice old-fashioned things made of wood and cloth.  It was closed for lunch but was clearly an irresistible draw, but we were obliged to be gone, so we finished our coffee and went on our way, leaving them to it.  

It was a lovely outing and a welcome bit of sunshine, in more ways than one.  

Happy Birthday Princeling!

*Yes, I know speculoos are Belgian.    

Friday, October 15, 2010

Hornets, the final act of the drama.

A week ago, getting up in the dark and putting the kitchen light on, there were a record five hornets swarming on the outside of the window. Coming home in the day later on, I looked up at our gable end wall, which has been perforated  by nesting sparrows and general desuetude, and which is  inaccessible, being above a rather flimsy lean-to roof, so no attempt has been made to repoint it, and there observed a myriad of the minibeasts coming and going to and from a particularly large hole some way up.

The time had come, we decided, to call in outside agency.  Do it, England.  

I contacted A and C, who had a nest in their chimney disposed of last year, the denizens of which occasionally dropped into the fireplace, to see if they could recommend someone.  A regaled me with a tale of how C had recently stumbled downstairs for a pee in the middle of the night and, in the dark, brushed off something that was tickling his leg, which turned out to be a hornet making its way upwards, perhaps having been resting first on his slipper.  They were still shuddering at the what-if scenarios.  She went on to recommend a firm the other side of St Brieuc who had cleansed their chimney of its unwanted residents.

So, a phone call later, a strapping and reassuringly calm young chap drew up at our door in a large van with ladders.  The destruction of wasps' and hornets' nests used to be done for a small charge by the pompiers, the professional and volunteer firemen who are the unqualified heroes of modern France, not only rescuing people from burning buildings, cutting them out of smashed cars, and maybe even getting stranded cats out of trees (nah, perhaps not that, this isn't the UK...) but also taking people to hospital an performing all manner of emergency medical treatments.  However, it would seem that pest control is no longer deemed to be within their remit (unless the intervention requires ascending above a certain height, in which case they still do it but for a steep fee) so you have to get private business in instead.  Now quite a lot of the people who do it for a living are apparently ex-pompiers, and this fellow certainly had an air of the firefighter about him, so we felt that we were in good hands.

Yes, he said, that was indeed the nest, where all the hornets had been coming from all the time even though we hadn't noticed before, and no, they would not be dying off naturally for a good month or so, and when they did, all the incubating queens, having hibernated, would be heading back for next year to recolonise, so it really was worth our while to get rid of the nest, and then to get the holes in the wall blocked up. They were so evident now because the nest had reached such a size that they could no longer be discreet about their comings and goings, it seemed.  He could deal with it toute de suite, he said, no worries.

And without further ado, despite the chilly weather, he stripped to the waist, donned heavy padded overalls, boots and visor, and scaled our lean-to roof and gable wall, noxious chemicals in hand, as if it were nothing whatsoever.

Well, in fact that is a bit of imaginative licence; I didn't in fact see this, since by then I was hiding in the house, as he warned us that once the insects were 'unwell' with the poison, they would start falling about in a rather dangerous fashion.  However, Tom did go out the back and brief me as to the hornet man's attire and actions. Within a short time he was down again, and we ventured out to observe the scene.  Hornets were still coming and going, though, he assured us, not for long.  It was a big nest, he said, basketball sized, probably, though extending into different chambers in the wall.

'Ca ronronne,' he said - it hums*.

'They don't seem angry,' I remarked.

'No,' he said 'they aren't.  With hornets that is rare. Wasps are much worse.'

At this point one of them entangled itself in my hair.  I did a small tarantella, with sound effects, in the road until it dropped to the ground, where Tom gallantly trod on it, and we all repaired straightway indoors.

The hornet man had quite a lot of forms to fill in, but I was full of questions.  He turned out to be quite an apologist for them, and gratified to find someone who was as much of a hornet nerd as he was.  Yes, he said, they are interesting, and when you see a complete nest in a loft space, it is truly beautiful, they work so well... The largest nest he had ever dealt with was a full metre across, under the eaves of a house.

The dreaded Asian hornet, it seems, has found its way into Brittany, and in our department.  They have been sighted and caught somewhere east of here, but no nests have been found.  40 % of their diet is honey bees, and they are more aggressive than their European relations, he said, who eat very few bees.  I told him of the one A caught decimating bees on her sedum flowers, and speculated that perhaps the reason we have had so few butterflies this year is because the hornets have eaten them. He insisted that they didn't really eat butterflies, only things like flies and spiders and caterpillars...

Ah, said I, but if they eat the caterpillars then there will be no butterflies!

He had to concede that point to me.

Eventually Tom had to tell me to shut up and let the man fill his forms in.

''A la prochaine!' said the young man cheerily as he left.

'I hope not,'  I replied 'but if necessary.'

'Oh we do all kinds of things' he went on 'flies, mice, moles, we do moles...'

For someone whose business was killing things, we agreed, he was a very gentle, likeable and thoughtful person, and we were very glad of his services.  It still fills me with grateful relief when it turns out that problems don't always have to be endured or solved by ourselves alone, that there are people with the knowledge, equipment and experience to step in and help us out, for pay or otherwise.

Next morning, Tom reflected that it seemed as if there was a kind of silence about the place, which was odd, because he'd never heard the hornets, and all that time we'd been assuming they were Out There In The Woods, they had been discreetly coming and going as our very near neighbours, actually living in the house with us.

'And they never really did us any harm.  I feel a little sad.'

This from the man who was swearing violent revenge on the bee-murdering bastards for besieging us in our own home every night for months.

But in the end, we didn't get rid of them it in any spirit of cruelty or spite or arrogance, I don't think, but because they were simply too many, and would have been more so, and we saw the need to redress a balance and preserve our own peace of mind and what we consider, rightly or wrongly, our right to live reasonably free from risk and discomfort.  In truth and on the whole, we're pretty relieved.


* But also the word for a cat's purr!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

It's that dewy spiders' webs time of year again

I do these every year.  They make me think of much-missed GrannyJ, who was always loved a beady spider's web.

And this is the mysterious Russian woman's cosmos.

I might get around to writing a proper post one day.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The garden, Kerbiriou.

Down among the flowers, and nothing was nicer, those warm September days, than to sit on the wrought iron chairs under the big green parasol.  Idly pointing the camera anywhere you liked, always yielded something.  This was what we had to ourselves, with goats and goat cheese and home-made crepes and jam and cider in abundance, and a swish bathroom of our own and sea views with breakfast, all for 50 euros a night, for the three of us, a stone's throw from the Roscoff ferry.  We even took bread away from the breakfast table to eat for lunch. I shouldn't be broadcasting this, but keeping it to ourselves.


I've a new class at a different level to teach tomorrow morning.  Times like these, it seems as if, for the actual hours I spend, and get paid for, teaching, I spend a great deal of time and energy preparing, driving, photocopying, going over books and materials, and indeed worrying about it.  However, it has to be done, and it's not without satisfaction.  I haven't  had a new class or had to devise a new course for a while, and perhaps it will be a tonic.  My other classes were getting a little dull and frustrating too, for the students and for me, so I've put quite a bit of effort into finding new things to do with them too.  And it will get easier; the more of a push I give to get the ball rolling now, the better it'll go, I hope.

And, in the same manner that hunger is the best sauce, I find there's an edge to the appetite for the things I haven't had time for, but will again soon.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Witless and wordless (well, almost)...

... weary and a little work-worn, but really none the worse.

And still wonderstruck.


I've missed playing about here;  I'll try to do some little-and-often picture posts to get back into the way of it.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Kerbiriou billy

A venerable, if rather pompous and extremely smelly old gentleman. Not a permanent resident, but a visitor, like us, a paying guest also one might say, only his means of payment were, as it were, in kind.

'That will be the last of the goat cheese,' said Paul, as I spread the ambrosial product on my breakfast bread 'no more milk until next year now. The buc is here to make the babies.'

'When Paul came in after he'd brought him here,' said Yvette 'I told him to get out of the house until he's changed his clothes, he smelled so terrible.'

The funny thing is, although it's the nannies that give the milk to make the stuff, the billies smell like nothing so much as an very mature goat's cheese. 

Lovely beasts.  


Very busy with work now for a bit, so likely to be a bit scarce here and chez-vous.  Bear with, bear with.