Friday, December 31, 2010


Clementines, in a box made from shaved poplar wood, a blue stained band around its top, the leaves and stalks curling and growing matt and dull, that last-colour-in-the-paint-pots green.   Swearing off chocolate, just for today, but then for tomorrow too, and even, so far, for the next day, you pass the time gorging on them and on roasted chestnuts.  It was foggy and dank outside, the fire, which you didn't really need that much but which was to cheer the day, smoked and sulked.  Chestnuts are a chancey way to feast; split them with teeth and nails at the pointed end, and, with luck, you might see, and smell, if they're black and bad inside, but then there's always the risk they'll fall between the bars of the grate and into the ash pit, from where it is rarely possible to retrieve them, whether with the poker or the bamboo tongs. Then they may burn.

But when they are good, and come through ...  The crack of the brown scorched shell, perhaps just caught alight in a thin, glowing red line, smouldering like incense, the furry paper inside husk and the steaming kernel, its hard raw starches turned to chewy sugars.  You roast them one at a time, alternating eating them with the clementines, so that your fingertips go from charcoal and ash and hot to the cool and fragrant oils and juices in the skin and flesh of the citrus fruit.  Then you burn the husks and shells, the peel and the crackled drying leaves with their scent of petitgrain on the fire.  An afternoon can pass this way, with a much-loved book, and tea, and nowhere much to go and no one much to see.


Yet for all this idyll of indolence, I am prey to anxiety at this time.  I look forward to the lull, to being momentarily free of obligations, I envision a time of timelessness and dreaming, of serene emptiness, but also that somehow I will accomplish many useful tasks of restoring order in neglected corners, and still do something original and creative, and that I'll catch up on all the worthy and serious reading I've been setting aside.  In addition I see us taking long and healthy walks, as well as having the odd bit of contact with other people now and then ...

It's a lot to ask of a week or so holiday, and at a low-ebb time of year, of course, and I am inevitably stalked by a sense of failure; that I have left undone those things which I ought to have done, and done those things which I ought not to have done and there is no health in me.  Even the well-loved book seems questionable in its familiarity - why am I still hanging out with Celia and Sir James and Mrs Cadwallader and Camden Farebrother (for they are the ones I really love, more than the rather tiresome idealists and their disappointments), shouldn't I be getting out more, meeting some new and more exotic and exacting literary company?   My own drive to make anything is hampered and beset by a creeping sense of its own pointlessness, by the numberless crowds of other things there are yet to learn about, and the knowledge that other people have made things so much better already; idleness and the presence of too much of the kind of food and drink I've been getting better at avoiding bring about a creeping heaviness of body - one of the six hard-worn-away kilos back already - and spirit.  Abundance confounds me, and the weather has been dismal for walking and taking photos.

I bewail all this to Tom. Heaven forfend, he agrees, that we should actually relax and please ourselves this week.


I take out the tin of pastel pencils I bought when I went to England, and make myself draw a clementine and a chestnut, though the tin contains no colour orange.


We go to visit my new friend.  She quizzes Tom on St John of the Cross; I don't know if he passes muster better than I do but they seem quite taken with each other.  She has set up her pottery figures with the paperwhite narcissus bulb I brought last time, so that I can take a photograph.


Today,  we walk in the fog, Molly and I, further than we have done lately.  The countryside is, as it so often seems to be at this time,  sodden and dull, reduced to earth and grey and grudging green, the last colours in the paint pots once again.  Sullen heaps of manure lowering  along the field edges provide some of the few discernible forms in the landscape. The fog has hung heavy water drops on the trees, which are almost bare except that the early cold seems to have prompted the oaks to hang on more stubbornly to their rust brown and ochre leaves.  There is an occasional breeze, despite the foggy pall, and walking under them, they throw water at me in a tetchy imitation of rain.

It is so difficult not to be affected by light, or its absence, but reason tells me that this milder, damp weather is really something I should be thankful for.  Crystalline wintry high pressure, beautiful as it is, is a worry when it comes to driving, and getting up on endlessly dark mornings to go to work, as I must again from Monday.  And the globules of dew which the fog leaves, while they don't glitter and sparkle and delight, have their own reluctant glow and grace.  For Molly too, the crushed and dampened earth, the broken vegetation and moisture laden air filled with the smells of the winter-driven wild creatures, are sweet delight, she is lively and especially interested in the world around her.  I realise that for her these days, the world as I perceive it today - visually obscure, colourless, its shapes unclear, with muffled sounds from uncertain quarters pressing on the outside of the foggy curtain - is perfectly normal.  So I enjoy the walk more through her eyes, or rather nose.

The light is always still there, it will be back.


I dreamed of my sister last night.  There were the usual incongruities and inexplicable elements of most dreams, but in essence we were back to a time before she died, but I knew what was going to happen.  There was a melée of distractions and problematical activity going on around us, but suddenly I knew the important thing was to go and put my arms round her and tell her I loved her, and I did.

I am not much for New Year, never have been.   The celebrations always seemed  forced, and usually left me feeling miserable; New  Year resolutions are a dubious tradition.  The change of date from one year to the next is necessary but arbitrary; time and change go their own way regardless of how we choose to mark them out.  But mark it we do, and that tends to lead to reflection and a taking of stock.  In a personal and family sense, 2010 will always be marked as a year of great  loss and sadness, but not one of darkness.  I resolved this year to live as well as I could, against timidity and sloth and my own limitations, as a promise to someone who showed me how.  As with any worthwhile resolve, making and keeping it is a work in progress, I fail over and over and have to renew the resolve time and again.  Resolutions, promises, commitments, aren't one-off events, announced therefore accomplished, but need perpetual review and maintenance, if they mean anything at all.


Tonight we'll watch Cate Blanchett Elizabeth the first the second and her amazing CGI Spanish Armada, and sundry other fibs and anomalies, in a spirit of why-not, which will take us past midnight here, otherwise we wouldn't bother staying up.  Lunch at friends' tomorrow, that's fine. 

Happy New Year.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Christmas

to all the bright and rich and warm and colourful and chequered people I find here, with thanks and appreciation.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

How then to live...

... was the question, in the space there is?

I'm scarcely qualified to answer, but at odd moments, now and then, in a state either of ignorant hubris or utterly undeserved blessing, possibly both, certainly blessing, certainly undeserved,  I think perhaps I get an inkling.  So I've answered it anyway.  It's here, my response to Joe's last in the 'Questions' series at the Compasses blog.

What did I do to deserve the most trusted and trustworthy, respectful but no-shit critical reader and friend, who never makes me feel small or patronised, but can say 'you could...' and I say 'but I don't want to' and he says, 'don't then, but read it so and see' and I do and it really is better, so I change it and feel better for it.  I don't want prescriptive, judgemental, edgy writing groups, on or off-line, I don't want poetry as a contact sport, I don't want to call myself a poet, though I wouldn't mind having what it takes to be one, but I'm joyful and thankful for what I've got, and how.

And what did I do to make a real poet friend, even an ocean away who I've never seen, whose poems are luscious and heartbreaking and full of vivid juice and feeling and complexity, who tells me she wants one of my blue photos to go on the cover of her next collection?

What did I do to to deserve a yes when I feared a no?

What did I do to deserve any of it?  Nothing, and that's not self-abasement or little me or fishing for compliments, really.  It's just a deep and grateful wonder at my good luck at how things are.

I'll try to get one more post up before Christmas.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

People make such delightful things...

This was forwarded to me the other day by my lovely niece T and sparkly nephew-out-law.  It was made, just as a Christmas card for friends, by their friends Li Yi and Colin, who as far as I know are not professionals at this, certainly have no other similar things on Youtube, and according to my niece 'are so quiet and unassuming about it. They don't make a big noise they just get on and make lovely things'.

We agreed it was so astonishing and charming that we really wanted for it to 'go viral' as the rather unpleasant expression goes, anyway, for all the world to see and appreciate it, so I'm doing my bit to that end by putting it here.  Please enjoy it  and pass it on, or nip across to Youtube and give it the thumbs up, or whatever.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Walking with Genevieve Asse

I've recently made a friend who has been launching me on a precipitate tour of all manner of French writers and artists, particularly those who hail from this region.

While this is bringing home to me my own ignorance in a salutory fashion, it is, on the whole, more of a pleasure than a penance.

'You've not heard of Genevieve Asse?'  I get the quizzical and somewhat disbelieving cocked eyebrow, 'she's really very well-known...' followed by the sigh which only kindness and detachment prevents from being despairing of me.

'That may be so,' I shrug '' but...I really should take notes when you talk to me!'

But I remembered about Genevieve Asse, and glory be to the internet, I went home and looked her up.  She's 87 now, still looking magnificent, at least in all the photos I saw, and when she was younger than Maxime she was driving a wartime ambulance, and when she was the age of his big sister Anais she was present at the evacuation of a concentration camp.  She was born on the Rhuys peninsular, where we went this year, and lives on the Ile de Moines, in the Gulf of Morbihan.

I learned of her quest for blue, of how her surfaces, as she expresses it, change like the ocean, and her subjects are space and light.  This appeals.

I spent a nearly lightless snowy early afternoon looking at her work on-line, and though that provides a taster, and the photographs of it in exhibition space give more of an impression of how it appears, I wished I could stand in front of it for real.  There was an exhibition of her paintings in Rennes earlier this year, but I didn't know about her then.

Then I looked up, and the snow was melting a little and the cloud lifting, and there was a strange, partially illumined mist outside.  Why stare at a screen and hanker for galleries? 

Here were blue near-monochromes, bisecting lines, and space and light, and liquid changing surfaces. ( I've only done the minimum of editing of these.)

But it is not either/or.  The kind of romantic puritanism that says that the works of the human hand, art or making of any kind, must always be inferior to what nature can show us, that we should always be seeking some source or origin is missing the mark.  I looked at the space and the light with freshened eyes, having seen it, in some measure, through hers.  Art, great or small, does that, it takes the raw matter of the world, transforms it, but intensifies rather than dilutes it, so that we then turn back to it and see it more truly as itself.

We agreed, my friend and I, that abstract art is an unsatisfactory term; all art is abstract, it takes elements from the world and makes something else of them; sometimes more immediately recognisable than others.  I'm not sure though, that I would have fully appreciated this at an earlier time.

It is never too late to learn, to be educated, in the proper sense, led out.  I am easy on myself for what I don't know, and trust that it is the right moment for me to learn, and I am grateful for the people I find who help me do so. I hope it always will be so.  


[ There's no one site I could really link to on Genevieve Asse, though there is plenty about, much of it in French.  The images I've reproduced are those which a Google image search yields easily, mostly from exhibition previews and such like, so I've lifted them as I've found them, and reproduced them small which I hope is acceptable).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Lost and found, strange fruit, and poinsettia.

Meeting up with Iso and Princeling for a coffee and and walk this morning, I took a jar each of the summer's red mirabelle jam and the aforementioned marmalade, and a card.  The small boy nosed in the bag, and showed no disappointment that it wasn't anything he could enjoy right away; he stroked the glossy wrapping paper tops I put on the jam jars to his face and kissed the card when his mum showed him the message inside.  The toy shop with the old fashioned pedal cars next door was still a draw, however, so I left Iso and Tom to finish their coffee and took him in with an offer to buy him a Christmas present.

He was very good, not demanding or acquisitive at all, and seemed mostly happy to look and pick up and move on, and uncertain about choosing.  The rather expensive wooden toys that one always suspects are designed as much for adults' aesthetic sense as a child's amusement got a cursory once over, but anyway seemed too young and simple for him now.  Better were the realistic and detailed good quality plastic models of animals and figures.  Dinosaurs were popular of course, but also a rather horrid skeletal dragon, and zoo type animals; farmyard horses, cattle elicited little interest.  In the end he settled happily for a clear oblong plastic tube with a collection of small zoo animals in it. which seemed particularly satisfying because it had a small elephant like the big one he'd picked up from the shelf.

He bore it proudly back to the café, but cheerfully refrained from opening it when the offer of a walk round the park was made.  Once there, he still wanted to carry the new toys, but on seeing the things to climb on and space to run in, he laid the tube carefully on a low wall, rushed off and forgot all about it.  Tom picked it up and slipped it into his coat pocket for safe keeping, but didn't say anything.

Half way around the lake, a good half kilometer on he looked up and asked 'Dinosaurs?'.  No, said his mum, your dinosaurs are at home.  But something was clearly dawning on him. 

'Do you mean your animals you had?' I asked.  He nodded. 

'What did you do with them?  Did you leave them on the wall?'

His arm went up, pointing across the lake, and a three-year-old's knowledge of time and distance slowly began to make a desolation of his face.  There was no petulance, no peremptory fix-things-for-me-now demand, just a growing awareness that he had made a mistake, brought down a loss on himself and there might be no undoing it, it might be too late. He began to crumple, held out his arms toward his mother and went to bury his face in her body.  

This all took place in the second or two it took for Tom to take the tube out of his pocket, and hold it out to him.

The clouds cleared from the face of the sun, but he walked along beside Tom for a moment or two and looked up at him from under his eyebrows with a look which was part gratitude, part embarrassment, and just the merest smidgin of mistrust.


The mention of the word 'bletted' the other day introduced the subject of medlars.  Every week I drive past a medlar tree, which has been dropping quite large quantities of the fruit, which with the early  frosts and snows, I surmised might be in the required, half-rotted state for consumption.  Today I stopped and picked a couple up - it belongs to a private house but it looked as if no one was collecting it, the dropped fruit was on the road side, and the place looked fairly deserted anyway.  I was merely curious, frankly the idea of eating giant rotted rosehips seemed a fairly unattractive one.  But I brought them home, checked 'Food for Free' and on its instructions, scooped out the brown squishy flesh, a surprisingly large amount, mixed it with a little cream, and ate it just so.  The verdict: absolutely delicious.  I may have to go back and knock on the door.

Also, when googling to learn more, I found a rather smashing blog of an aficionado of the fruit ( and more besides), called Medlar Comfits ( the link to a post with the eponymous recipe).

As you see, they don't look much, but that only goes to show.  Incidentally, shown above also, the smallest wooden-handled knife, a kitchen favourite which dates from a trip to the Loire Valley about 15 years ago, where I bought it to cut up mushrooms grown in caves there.  It is very fine and sharpens well.

While we're on strange fruit, don't bother with these.

I think they're called horny melons ( OK, maybe I am angling for stats from sad people googling...).  They look interesting but taste like mildly fruity frogspawn.  Not very nice.


Finally, poinsettia.  I've never had one of these before.   They are a kind of euphorbia, or spurge.  I like things like this and hydrangeas, with leaves that pretend to be flowers.  I think I may have killed it with over-watering.   Mea culpa.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Feast Day

Marmalade on my feast day,
ten jars and then some,
the final stage a rolling boil
till the slivers of peel cut yesterday -
with the smallest wooden-handled knife
-  grew translucent.  Earlier
at the water mill the sun just touched
the treetops and the frost on the old stone
hadn't moved all day.

Coming home
the fire was lit, a clean bright good one,
and the blanket curtain left open until six
to catch the last deep bluegreen glow
of twilight through the winter trees
(chestnut shoots, wych elm, ash keys)

and I am wished well of Sainte Lucie

Saturday, December 11, 2010

49 articles

Herhimnbryn, who is the queen and the onlie begetter of many a good list, started this, some time back.  Zhoen and Fire Bird and the Polish Chick took it up and rattled off some which were so good I couldn't imagine adding anything to them, check on the links and you'll see.  But I started saving them up, reckoning that by this point I might have collected an adequate 49, for my span, and I have.

I have passed the time richly with friends, and will go on doing so.  We'll may be go up the coast tomorrow, just Tom and Molly and I, and I've a thing or two to open



1.  Don't forget about music

2.  Wine really does taste better if you don't drink it every day

3.  You weren't so good as you thought you were then, no reason to suppose you're as good as you think you are now.

4.  You weren't so bad as you thought you were then, no reason to suppose...

5.  Limes are so much more than green lemons

6.  Let yourself be nailed to the sofa by a warm spaniel while you can.

7.  Prepare for a lonely old age.  Then if anyone does show up, it'll be a bonus, and you'll still have the stores you laid by against a lonely old age.

8.  Eat all the veg you like, but mind the butter and mayonnaise you put on them

9.  Walk by woods and water.

10. Let Tom take out the recyclables and make coffee.

11. Sometimes you don't have to relax with something, you can just relax.

12. Good practice will sometimes desert you, it's just too bad.

13. Blue for summer, red for winter.

14. Don't be disloyal.

15. Brown paper bags are lovely, and often filled with good things.

16. Things change fast, it doesn't mean you were wrong.

17. Sometimes you will irresistibly crave the taste of Jerusalem artichokes, but remember, everything has its consequences.

18. It's a fine line between procrastinating and prioritising.  You aren't always guilty of the former.

19. Wear a scarf.

20. Thank them, even and especially the ones not there, you owe them so much, and they won't throw it back in your face, stamped with reproach.

21. Count your blessings.

22. Don't  take every offer of help as a criticism.

23. Look into the fire, stay awhile.

24. Exercise won't make you thin, but it will make you feel better.

25. Stroke the alabaster swan.

26. Don't lose heart.

27. Colours are too important to be mere adjectives.

28. Luxuriate in fatigue.

29. For fried egg sandwiches, it doesn't matter too much if the yolk breaks.

30. Blues seldom clash.

31. Don't be greedy.

32. More things than you think take less than an hour.

33. More things than you think take more than an hour.

34. Keep taking the magnesium.

35. Come on, don't be shy.

36. Always remember to pack the battery chargers and leads.

37. Take the long way round sometimes.

38. Though it is better to light a candle, there's a time and a place for cursing the darkness.

39. Make stock, take stock.

40. Make sure the bruise gel is always handy.

41. There is no bruise gel for the spirit; you just have to wait and watch the colours turn and fade.

42. Never underestimate the restorative power of hot water and toothpaste.

43. Don't expect people to be amenable to having vicarious amends made to them.  If they are, beware.

44. Try not to flinch.

45. Have something warm across your shoulders, an arm, a shawl, the sun...

46. The wrong you've done others hurts more than any wrong done you.  In this you may well be fortunate.

47. Make patterns, break patterns.

48. Kippers and balsamic vinegar.

49.  Light, light, light.


Thursday, December 09, 2010


Recently I expressed my complete puzzlement as to how anyone was able to raise children, and work full-time, when I feel quite busy and unequal to keeping up with the general business of life with neither of these demands.  I received a couple of rightly terse replies from women who do succeed, or have succeeded, in this everyday but nevertheless astonishing and, to me superhuman achievement, to the effect that you get extremely tired and don't do much else.  In fact both of them seem to be capable of doing all kinds of  other very impressive things, like reading a lot of books and blogging, to say nothing of singing and making things and all sorts of stuff and who knows what else.

However, one thing probably most people with proper lives don't do is spend ages and ages hand-making their Christmas cards.

Why then do I?  I don't even really like the whole business of Christmas cards.  And on receiving one of these offerings, most people will, quite frankly, either not give it a second look, since they've probably got at least 200 more to find room for in their homes already groaning with festive trappings with which my card will be chucked out with a sigh of relief on or before the feast of the Epiphany,or if they do will, quite understandably snort with derision and the probably words ' Well, she must have too much time on her hands!'

In fact those words are almost certainly somebody-somewhere's judgement on most everything I do, from blogging to burning wood to making chicken stock to reading poetry to scrambling egg in the microwave to make Molly's dinner more interesting.  Likewise they are my judgement on all manner of activities I don't understand or wish to participate in.  Only I try to judge not that I be not judged, though there are some things....

But  the fact is, I simply do enjoy making things sometimes.  We don't send a small fraction of the number of cards other people in the Anglo-Saxon (yes yes, I know it's both an ethnographic and a historical misnomer...) world do, partly because we live in a country where it isn't done so that lets us off the hook where neighbours and colleagues are concerned, and partly because we're an anti-social pair of no-mates.  Some years we just order charity cards, some years Tom does a picture and gets it copied. Yet other years I have dug out the stored piles of previous years' cards (because I don't sling them out because I'm hopeless about not wasting anything, while, like most thrift-obsessives I strain at gnats and swallow camels) and carefully snipped and glued and collaged them into new ones.

This year I ordered Moo mini cards of croppings from my photos, and snipped and glued and collaged them into bigger cards.  I always have stacks of coloured card and paper about because I can't walk past packs of this in places like Lidl and Noz.  I used hole punches, a standard round one and a heart-shaped one from somewhere like Lidl or Noz.  I'm still a little uncertain about hearts as a decorative motif, but I'm thinking more Scandinavian folk art than the sew-on jeans patches and teenage girls' magazines of my youth.

Like many of my creative efforts, they have an air of the primary school or Blue Peter about them.  But I enjoyed myself.

Now I'm fairly hopelessly behind with many other more pointful jobs which even in my child-free and part-time employed state I still ought to do, and must go to bed.  I might get around to putting some links into this post tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Crab apple thief

Young blackbird, breast still thrush-speckled, drunk on bletted crab apples.


Monday, December 06, 2010

34 cm and counting!

Couldn't get out of the gate,

and this is what the car looked like.

Now it's more or less disappeared, washed away in the rain, so back to work this morning.  For myself, I was quite glad of it, as there was no two ways about not getting out, it was pretty and a novelty, and it gave me some much appreciated time to catch up with some things which I really needed a chunk of undisturbed time at home for.  None of which was keeping up with this blog or anybody much else's, I'm afraid.  Still, quite a few more snowy pictures to come, and I'll try to get about again.  Though now, of course there'll be all the things I cancelled and put off to catch up with.  How do people work full-time and raise families, I often wonder?

Back soon.