Saturday, December 31, 2011

We'll all have some figgy pickle...

Remember the green figs I scrumped from the car park in Lamballe?  Well, it seems these little end of year hangers-on on fig trees in these latitudes are considered pretty worthless, an atavistic remnant of the second fruiting they enjoy in sunnier climes, and really they should be stripped from the tree for its health and discarded.  And indeed, unlike those I picked a month or so ago, they didn't show any signs of ripening indoors, but started to become dry, pithy and unattractive, an d none of us wants to end up like that, do we? Though I suppose dry and pithy are OK.  

And yet I couldn't quite bring myself to give up on them, and looked up 'unripe figs' on Google to see what could be done.  I found a rather interesting Turkish lady's food blog with a recipe for something called 'unripe fig jam' but which is more like candied fruit really.  I ended up not following it exactly as it's really just made with a straight syrup, but rather making a sweet pickling syrup with vinegar and herbs and a pinch of salt, but I did take her advice about boiling them twice and squeezing them, though obviously the ones she uses  are really green early season large figs, which clearly have quite a lot of nasty sap to be got rid of, but still it seemed useful.

While they were boiling, they really smelled very good, with that delicate vanilla-ish aroma typical of the fruit.  Then I made up the vinegar syrup and added them to that, so they bubbled away, with some thyme and sticks of fennel.  Our bronze fennel in the tubs in the garden has decided it's time to start throwing shoots again, since winter isn't showing up and it's been mild and wet, and I've been enjoying using it again.

I added some lemon juice and zest too.  I do like the word 'zest'.

Then I poured a glass of mead, or chouchen as it is known here.  We have very local beekeepers who make a good one, but this bottle was made by the Breton brewers Lancelot, who make excellent beer, and we bought it back in the summer when we visited the Scrap-merchant Poet's Universe.  It had a seal of beeswax instead of a foil capsule.

I blanched more herbs: sprigs of thyme and fennel and a bay leaf and added them to the fruit in the jar,

but it wasn't quite enough to fill a half litre Parfait jar, so I made up some more syrup and poached some walnuts in it,

which rounded it off.  I imagine eating it in a month or two with goats cheese, perhaps, or some other fairly creamy cheese, or maybe dry ham.

Then it was time to clean the cooker.


I'm aware that most New Year's Eves I come up with something more of a meditation on the moment, and hopefully more inspired  than a run-of-the-mill kitchen post like this.  But inspiration seems to have deserted me in that form.  And yet making something bright and piquant out of nothing seems quite important just now too, for I have a kind of sense of quiet excitement and elusive expectation about things to come, that just around the corner, winking in and out of the corner of my eye, there's a whole new way of seeing, of being, that's as plain as the nose on your face and as clear as day, but also mysterious and oblique and beyond a veil.  This delicious, joyful anticipation seems to be able to co-exist, or at least readily take the place of, moments of apprehension, pessimism, resignation and stoicism which is a near-sibling to despair.  And I seem to perceive this in others too (though it may be because always tends to see one's own state reflected elsewhere), as when a friend writes 

Each moment might be a moment of revelation, but most are not. Epiphanies. The sense of things being hidden rather than revealed, as if they were presents with almost recognisable shapes, wrapped in enticing paper. But you can't quite recognise them, and you can't unwrap them - tantalising, out of reach.
(Fire Bird)

Or another, with a playful image

The joy of sidelong glances, weird and unexpected apparitions, things we never even thought of looking for: for this I wish, for all of us in 2012

Or another, in a series of 11 things, wise words all, posits that

Instability is a part of life... 
Circumstances are always changing.  You're changing.  Life is fragile.  Living involves a series of adjustments, sometimes minute, other times huge and staggering.

The making of things, the intensifying of pleasure in tasting and smelling and hearing and seeing, so that less can be more and there's no need to be greedy or demanding, is perhaps something that needs to be looked out for and honoured, even if it doesn't always succeed, and pickled figs are really rather horrid and  not such a good idea after all, there was joy in the doing!

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Christmas treat I've been meaning to share...

This time last year I was sent a link to a beautiful, charming video made by Li Yi and Colin, who are friends of my niece, the other significant Tom in my life (she is in full Tamsin but has been Tom since she was a little thing).  This year they e-mailed me themselves with a new one they've made which I think is just as delightful, and perhaps even cleverer with more detail.  They really should be winning prizes for these.  I understand they're getting married in the coming year so it's congratulations all round to them.  Thanks Colin and Li Yi!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Day

Well, I've done my bit so far, which is the Brussels sprouts, though Tom started these while I was in the shower, so at one point I was standing in said shower while he stood in the pool of water I am incapable of not making holding out a Brussels sprout and asking exactly to what extent this wee brassica needed to be undressed.  I noticed, strangely perhaps for the first time, that Brussels have a kind of fractal growth habit: emerging as they do from a central stem, when you start to take the outer leaves off one, there are tiny, embryonic sprouts already forming on its own central stem.  Brussels sprouts have smaller sprouts upon their stems beside'em...

My other duties involve putting the Christmas pudding to steam in the slow cooker (hope this works), functioning as sous-chef and lab technician ('I need a measuring cylinder...' was one instant this morning, I kid you not. But I can forgive this in the knowledge that I live with a man who for a brief time worked under Jacob Bronowsky), and mixing and drinking generous quantities of fizzy cherry kir.  

I have not yet had much opportunity to sink myself in Noma, Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine, which Father Christmas brought me, a book so beautiful and so preposterous it makes your eyes water, mad Nordic food.   Something about it takes me back to the copy of All in French (can't find anything on-line so far about this book, perhaps I'll have to post about it sometime)  that appeared under the Christmas tree when I was five, or Emil SchulthessAfrica, that did likewise when I was nine ( I still have both of them).  Books which are   vivid and awesome and so huge you can hardly lift them, their bindings heavy and solid and formidable, and containing words and images of worlds beyond the imagination, which one day I might transcend to an acquaintance with, or perhaps not.  I can't yet decide whether the Noma thing is decadent, bizarre, precious and deeply ironic, or whether it is art in its highest and as yet not fully-grasped form, with something profound to say about our end-time state, our relationship with nature, land, time, place, beauty and one another, of how we came to and continue to be human, or whether perhaps it is both. I don't even know whether it's really got much to do with food as we generally understand it. I just know that when I knew about the book I had to get my hands on it for the photos alone, and once I did I almost shook with excitement, as I did all those years ago with All in French and Africa.  So far I can tell you that old-fashioned, pale, elegant cloth binding draws black cocker spaniel hairs as the sparks fly upwards. I might get around to finding more to say later. 

Anyway,  here is a wee snipper-snapper collage of stuff around the idolatry of hearth and home, as befits the season. 

Straw decorations, figs and rosemary (the former foraged from a tree near a car-park in Lamballe.  They are small and green, but the last ones I picked ripened quite well inside), holly from real wild trees, cards, walnuts and poinsettia.  Plenty of red, which is good for the heart at this time, I find.

And as promised, a stocking full of small stones.  No clear rules about what's small enough, three lines maximum seems about right.  One or two I collected earlier in the year, kept in a drawer, sort of.


An abandoned pumpkin in the long wet grass of a potager, its pale, collapsing state and decaying cavities are much more eerie than any Halloween Jack 'o' Lanterns.

The wind's eyelid of a white shutter batted against the sunlight.

The walls are flaking and saltpetered, shaded with mould. I work my way around them clearing cobwebs and dead woodlice, and throwing old bits of disused living into bin bags, washing and saving others, burning some.

Viscous raindrops slick on the paving slabs, a headlight from across the road lights the top branches of the sycamore like white paint.

I spill ink then coffee.  The boys deal with it sympathetically and competently with lots of kitchen roll.

She tells me about Wittgenstein and Claude Simon, and then the new television her son has just bought them, to replace the very old broken one. 'It's absolutely beautiful!  I've been watching Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman.'

Five red bowls, five white ones, in two stacks of alternating colours, one predominantly red, one white.

The morning is measured out in small clipped chunks of time.  There are ten tumble-dryer minutes free for coffee, a small white cup, roasted on the premises, they say, enjoyed alone with an almond covered in powdery chocolate.

He announces an extra something, despite her protests, and comes in with two mauve plates and a stollen cake he has found in town to eat with our tea.

The sausages are really rather Rabelaisian, hard and meaty and pungent and mis-shapen.  I buy four different flavours, including a Christmas' one, then buy slabs of salty, aged Swiss cheese. It's Christmas, and market traders work so hard, get up so early.

The thick murmuration of starlings is coming from the monkey puzzle tree behind the square. To the right a blackbird is singing.  Mild.

At first I feel resentful of the phone call's intrusion, but then I relax and listen to her envisioning of a life of variety and purpose, far away from here.

These straw angels, stars, bells and baubles, strung with red cotton glow and cheer, delicate and without a shred or speck of plastic.  Yet I feel worried and compomised by them, they could only have been made by small fingers in factories far away.

Getting on the downward travelator from the supermarket's upstairs car park, the trolley's wheels lock fast, so you are carried passively, no one can pass, and the wall opposite is an expanse of featureless matt anthracite.  It is a moment of complete repose amid the noise and bustle.

Both sister and brother call to pick my brains, about chestnuts for stuffing and health insurance. And maybe other things.


 I'll try to visit y'all in the next few days.  Once again, happy Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

So I just sent out the last e-mail Christmas 'cards', half a dozen or so to those we reckon might not see a virtual one as unacceptable insouciance or cheap-skating or who never send us a card anyway.  I used one of today's photos, added text and made a coloured background, then set about personalising and adapting them, only to find that, having sent one in French to a French friend, I had erased the text I'd sent to her but forgotten to change Lucy et Tom to 'Lucy and Tom' in all the subsequent ones to anglophone recipients. An ampersand would have been a better idea.  What bothers me about this is not that I have exposed myself as absent-minded and inept, or even a copy-and-paste correspondent, but that it might conceivably look as though I was attempting some kind of pretentious affected Franglais to prove how jolly cosmopolitan I am and how effortlessly I move between languages etc which is a thing I can't abide and which reflects no kind of truth about the situation.  So if you got one, my apologies and please take it from me it's the ineptitude option.

I like to get a post done to wish you all well on Christmas Eve, but often find I've run out of steam somewhat by the time I get here.  In fact I have been filling a stocking with small stones over the last week or two, to get in practice and also to have something to hang up here tonight if all else failed.  But then Mol and I went for a walk and took some pictures leaving Tom to play with chicken stock in the kitchen, so you can perhaps have the stocking tomorrow morning, and look at some landscape for now.

We seem to have had all kinds of weather lately, most of it dreary, though none of it intemperate, so a day of sun in and out of the house was most welcome.  As you can see, there are still flashes and sheens of gold to be seen in the countryside, and we have all manner of confused spring and summer flowers still blooming in fits and starts. As a friend said the other day, it seems as if it will go from autumn to spring with nothing in between this time.  But I wouldn't be sure, it can still have something up its sleeve, no doubt, and I do feel we need a touch of ice for our health's sake.

Mol has been going a bit short of exercise one way and another, the last time we tried to walk it was cold and she suddenly went all poorly and pathetic, holding up her paw and wouldn't walk any further, though she was chirpy enough when she got home, after being carried much of the way, hmm. Then the other morning she got up and seemed to be afflicted with cramp, squealed horribly for a few moments, limped  downstairs, then by the time she came in from the garden she was fine again - none of this looked as though it was ear-related, but seemed to be around her forequarters.

So it's time for her to wear her neck-warmer!  This is an old one of mine, a bit small for me but fine for her, and rather a fetching colour on her, we think.  She wears it happily and walked very well for an hour today.

We came home in time for tea and the last of the mince pies and Nine Lessons and Carols on Radio 4.  A nice one, I hadn't heard 'The First Tree in the Greenwood' for a long time.  We pottered in the kitchen for a while - I'm very appreciative that the level of busy-ness I experience at Christmas is largely of my own choosing, as much or as little as I wish, and I enjoy it.  We considered the telly but decided to skip it, anything we might have watched we'd either seen before or it wasn't that compelling, and then Tom surprised and pleased me by putting on The Messiah, which is still going.  Just us tomorrow and Boxing Day, dinner with friends the next day, then dear step-daughter is coming over, on her own and just for a couple of days at the beginning of the New Year, which was another lovely surprise.  'Step-daughter' always sounds very inappropriate in terms of our relationship for all sorts of reasons, yet I find I now want a way of placing her which involves 'my' rather than referring to as her 'Tom's daughter' all the time.  I hope, of course, that she is my friend, but that doesn't explain how we came to be here. I have an inclination to say 'daughter-in-law', and in French of course the distinction would not be made, but then, while she would be the rather nice-sounding belle-fille I would be a belle-mère which brings us back to Snow White, Cinderella et al.

Well now Mister Händel is just winding up with the big Amen, and it only remains for me to wish you all the very best of the season and the holiday, whatever it means and brings to you, and a fond goodnight.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Logs, shoots, cards, stones...

The amount of wood due for the rental of the field, which has always been rather a moot amount, plus a cord we paid for.  A cord also seems a moot amount, as we always understood it's three cubic metres, but in fact it turns out it should be a little more than that, strictly it doesn't exist in this metric country, and who gets out the tape measure when the wood tractor arrives anyway?  Whatever, it seemed like a lot when it came to stacking it, not that we're complaining, a well-stocked woodpile gives the same sense of riches, security and comfort that I imagine squirrels get when they make a good stash of filberts, only we're not likely to forget where we put the woodpile or to have it all eaten by field voles.  Dropped in front of the house mid-afternoon on Wednesday, we ferried it round  to the back and stacked it there until rain, darkness and exhaustion defeated us, but we got it all under cover anyway.  We've been thrifty with the fire until now, which with the mild and sunny autumn we've had hasn't been a hardship really, but now we feel we can be generous with ourselves for a bit.


More evidence of the mild autumn and early winter, the narcissus bulbs poking their noses up to see what's going on.

Christmas cards.  Oh I've moaned and cogitated about this plenty before, then last year I made really quite nice cards, then this year even though I should have been less busy I didn't really get properly organised with them, and there isn't really the possibility here of just nipping out to the charity shop and picking up a couple of packets.  So I ended up doodling some stuff with pastels ans scanning them.  This coincided with the arrival of a new Canon printer. 

 We got this because the old Dell one which came with the last computer seemed to have compatibilty issues with Windows 7.  As it turned out these could have been resolved by wiggling through the preferences dialogue boxes and finding 'fit to page'.  Still, the print quality even for black and white was becoming dreadful and there didn't seem to be an evident way to service it, and I was fed up with having to send away for exorbitantly priced ink in obscure cartridges which couldn't be flogged back for recycling.  The print quality on the Canon one is very good, and the cartridges are cheaper and available from the supermarket.

So, the doodles.  Not too keen to put my name on them really - the holly's all right but the baubles look like nothing so much as radishes and turnips.        
I made some from the contact sheet and lots of fiddly snipping and pasting, but ended up putting the better designs in collages and adding text; which is always quite fun as Picasa's choice of fonts seems to get larger by the day,

They still look like boring wrapping paper though. I'll try to do better next year.


I've taken the plunge and put the small stones badge on my sidebar, thereby committing myself to daily blogging again in January.  Just one very brief item of observational writing every day seems like it might be a good idea, and I do admire Fiona and Kaspa for their energy and talent and consistency and all-round general good-eggness - click on the badge to find out more.  I still try to keep up Out with Mol form time to time, but the constraint, not of sticking to 30 words, which is good discipline and enjoyable, but of finding something new to observe in walking the same routes, and then remembering them, is often more than I manage.  So I'll try small stones for a month.     Then I'll probably slip back into irregular meandering posts again, but it won't do me any harm to change the pattern.

Monday, December 12, 2011


Staycation, ghastly word but an interesting idea.  Some choose them, some have them thrust upon them.

Essential elements of a successful staycation: set aside a time to go on holiday (I can think of no equivalent grating rhyme/pun in Britspeak to the vacation/staycation on so the discrepancy will have to stand); save up the money to do so; tell everyone you know you are going; get the house into a reasonable state of order; generally convince yourselves of the reality of your departure.

While on staycation, spend each morning in robe and pyjamas, have plenty of books and DVDs in stock, pull the plug on the phone. Spend some time each day in a fairly energetic outdoor activity to give you an appetite and thirst for the extra eating and drinking you are likely to do, as you might if you were on real holiday, but since going for walks, bike rides etc will only reinforce one's homebound state, and the idea is to be at home but also not-at-home, in a peculiar kind of psychologically displaced state, these are not recommended, sweeping up hedge cuttings has proved to be effective.

Things not recommended for a successful home-séjour (I like that better): booking a hotel which you won't get to, getting a last-minute sick dog on your hands.


'And how's Molly?'  asked my brother last week when we were making arrangements to meet in Pontorson for lunch on my birthday.

'Great.' I replied, 'still rolling around and playing about and acting like a puppy at eleven.  She hasn't had ear trouble for quite a while now.'

Then I added flippantly

'She'll probably go down with it at the end of the week.'

I shouldn't have said that.  The week drew on, I phoned the hotel to confirm the booking.  Then on Friday morning, the day before we were due to go, Mol jumped up on the bed in the morning and squealed as she touched the right side of her head on nothing in particular, and I knew what it meant.  I phoned Emy the vet to make an appointment for that afternoon, and by the time we set off for it I'd already rung hotel and brother to cancel, and Mol was curled up in a moping heap, shaking her head, walking into things disoriented and squealing every time she did so.

The hotel had already said that no deposit was necessary, simply arriving in good time on the day would confirm the booking.  I asked if they were sure I didn't owe them anything for such a late cancellation, and they insisted not.  I told them about the suddenness and unpredictablility of doggy ear-boils, that I was disappointed, it was my birthday, I'd been looking forward to it...

'Ah, désolé!' said the manager kindly, 'You come back and stay when your dog is better.'

That was the only time I indulged in a self-piteous sniffle.  Only it wasn't really self-pity, just that kindness can undo one when brusqueness wouldn't, as we all know. But when she gets these sessions, she needs to be home and in the warm; a strange place, walks she couldn't manage, time spent in a cold car, would not have been any good.

My brother was also sympathetic but we changed the subject and had a bracing chat about septic tanks and I pulled myself together.

Emy did all the usual stuff, shaved the area in readiness for the abscess breaking open and gave her an injection and a course of a brand new magic-bullet-devil's-bargain-kill-everything-but-the-dog antibiotic.  We pulled the plug on the 'phone (sorry if you were trying to reach us, as far as we were concerned we were away, I really didn't much feel like chatting) and dug ourselves in for the duration.

It really wasn't too bad, just a question of resignation and waiting.  And the wonder drug really did seem to help; Mol spent a day near-comatose as before, but not apparently in great pain, and then woke up and was quite cheerful and alert, bothered and irritated by having a fat head on one side but not as ill with it as usual.  I was half-afraid, as was Emy when I told her, that stopping the infection in its tracks like that might mean it didn't work its way out and she might have to have it lanced, but in fact she jumped down this morning, after keeping us awake fidgeting and grumbling for a while, and the offending abscess burst dramatically.  Sorry, I'm sure no one really wants to hear about this.  What a lovely birthday present! Still, better out than in and better here than in a hotel or even the car. Since then she has been recovering in leaps and bounds, almost literally.  I plugged the phone back in and rang Emy to let her know, and she was pleased and interested that the results seemed favourable.

(Even at her worst, a tuna sandwich was enough to make her sit up and sniff.)

So I spent this morning, my fiftieth year to heaven (or whatever), playing with my new Kindle, chatting to my sister and er, cleaning up, enough said.  Tom went out shopping to cook something for my birthday meal later, which should be nice, and when he got back we started on last year's sloe gin and orange spice liqueur.

I feel pretty chipper on the whole.  Whingeing about not getting what I might think I'm entitled to doesn't seem in order; I'm not spending my 50th birthday at home, unsurrounded by troops of friends and merry conviviality late into to night because I am dull, forgotten, unloved and unlovable, and the nasty little gremlin that insinuates it's way up into my mind and tells me it is so has been sent packing, hopefully once and for all for the next fifty years at least.  I am so glad and thankful that Mol has people who can and will afford to take care of her and give her priority, that I've a home I'm happy to stay in, abundance of food and drink, of warmth and comfort and security, a husband who'll shop and cook for me, plenty of evidence of affection in e-mails etc from far and wide. I really am a spoiled brat.  I'm prepared to take the lesson that you just can't rely on plans.  Mol's ailments have prevented me from attending my old friend's wedding, have overshadowed other trips and outings in the past, but at least this time it's only really ourselves who have been disappointed and inconvenienced - my brother and s-i-l suggest we meet in Dinan or somewhere at a later date, and probably won't beak their hearts over a cancelled lunch.  Caring for what or who needs to be cared for and doing what's needful come first.  Le Mont St Michel has stood for a thousand-odd years, it'll still be there later.

(Transfigured by sunbeams and suffering, but why am I having to lie on an old sheet in my beanbag?)

Other stuff.

We had a new jobbing gardener in to cut the hedges, hence the need to be sweeping up the cuttings.  We were rather trepidatious about this, as he was an unknown quantity, looked a bit of a bruiser, and wasn't our old one.  He quoted us about twice as much as the old one (an English friend who was always rather under-capitalised and under-equipped), a rather scary amount, but it seems we can recoup half of the cost off our income tax for next year (only works if you pay enough tax, and pay it in France).  He sent us a quote which we had to agree to and sign with about 25% up front.  But our worry turned to sweet relief and reassurance.  He and his machine were well up to the job, he made excellent progress, and ended up doing a load of other jobs in addition which he hadn't quoted us for and charged no extra.  Molly went out and had him make a fuss of her (this was before she was ill), then told him off for being an intruder in her garden as an afterthought.  He told me he had a King Charles spaniel, his second, for which he liked to throw a toy chicken leg. This amused me, and endeared him, as he looked the type who'd be more likely to keep a Beauceron on a chain or similar.  He really made a very good job of the hedges.

I enjoy Christmas baking because it is very largely optional.  I am a rubbish pastry cook and can make even bought pastry brown, hard and unappetising.  However, in the spirit of staycational departure from norms and routines, I decided to get into a bit of fusion cooking: mince pies made with gâteau breton dough (I took the recipe and instructions from the video in the link, which is good but with junky ads on before the main clip.  I halved the quantities which still made plenty). 

I reckon that gâteau breton is pretty much idiot-proof and will taste good whatever you do to it, and am thinking of exploring other possibilities, such as rolling it thinner, making a sandwich with medlar paste, and serving the resulting cake cut into traditional lozenges with medlar fool.

I disembowelled the last of the medlars listening to Radio 4's dramatisation of Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel, which proved to be hilariously appropriate in a predictably gross-out kind of way.


So there it is.  I shall put the Condrieu to chill which was supposed to be for last year's birthday but we never got around to drinking it, and I've been doing a Silas Marner and getting it out and looking at it and putting it away again ever since, and enjoy my fish dish that is planned.  

You can bring on the next half-century.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The week before turning fifty

White shreds of birch bark whisper in your ear
like prayer flags; they buzz and flitter like the wings
of the last insects of the damp and dying year.

You know this place of yours is still unmade,
and never will be finished now, or put quite straight;
you know too there will still be small, white, late
self-seeded snapdragons and orange marigolds
under the darkening hydrangea's violet shade.

And from your grave, sleep-softened face
- the lines and weight that morning brings -
you think perhaps you might even have done
some brave, as well as weak and stupid, things.


Monday, December 05, 2011

Medlar update.

The medlars are bletting to perfection; an old bronze in colour, evenly, heavily soft, their skin, like an old person's, the way my hands are becoming, holding the depression when pushed gently inwards. A few of them fail in this delicate balance of decay, and a hairy mould penetrates through lesions and spoils the taste with mustiness, but many of them are quite flawless. Sometimes when turning them and bringing in the ones that are ready, I stand outside in the cool damp winter air and pick a hole in one and suck the flesh out, as it's recommended you should.  Something of dates, something of apple butter, something of spices.

Mostly though I bring them in, scoop out the pulp and freeze it in batches, planning a vast medlar fool for the turn of the year. I've developed a method of taking them apart: with a sharp serrated knife take the stalk end off and peel the skin away downward, then turn them over and remove the star shaped crown ( the 'open arse' in some parlance!), taking out the seeds with it, count these out, there are five in each, unfailingly.  I sometimes lick the flesh off the seeds.

I stopped again at the rather dour modern house which has the trees in front of it, climbed the outside stairway at the side and pressed the button of the doorbell.  After a moment a birdy old lady opened it - the bell didn't work, she said.

I asked if I could take some medlars, and she was more than happy, but said they were hard and sour, that she didn't really know what to do with them.  I explained that I was ripening them, and we chatted a bit, agreed that, although jam was a possibility, we didn't in fact eat that much jam, and there'd been so much other fruit, the apples were overwhelming, but then the birds have to eat too... Now when the children were young, she recalled, they used to eat the medlars all the time. Don't they have a lot of big seeds inside? Take all you want, she repeated.

So I was able to shuffle through the leaf litter in the beds under the trees and find the unblemished, hard, russety globes with my feet ( the ones I picked up the week before had mostly fallen on the road surface so that many were damaged) and fill a cotton shopping  bag with them, and these are the ones I've been gradually mining from the straw box in the barn.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Last day of November

Well, here we are and I've managed to come up with something for every day of November.  It's been good to see a number of other bloggers who have drifted off a bit of recent times coming back and warming up to it again.

I thought I'd be raiding the external hard drive for old pictures but in fact I haven't, and have found that I'm thinking about photography again and picking the camera up more often, which can't be bad.  I don't feel that I've had a great deal of consequence to say for myself, but then when I'm asking people to look in every day it's probably just as well not to be blathering on too much. 

The less said the better, sometimes, more and more I feel.  I've found myself much more inclined to read blogs without an obligation to comment than I used to. Yet I sometimes also fear that I take few risks, put myself out very little, that my blogging is safe, bland and anodyne.  But I also know my limits, and they are legion.

Very saddening in the last couple of days to see the departure of someone who I hope has genuinely become a friend in the world as well as in the blogging spirit, and who, however quirky, eccentric, occasionally abrasive or truculent, has enriched my life and my comments threads with  extraordinary wit, humour, imagination ( a lot of that!) compassion, kindness, compliments and affection. He says he has taken a risk too many, not played safe enough, and rues the consequences.  This feels all wrong, but brings home once again the sense that our on-line lives are rather vulnerable and precarious.  Yet I still value this way of making a window into our lives, however small, selective and infrequently opened; it has brought new friends in and brought old ones closer, and strengthened ans stimulated more private conversation. But when the window closes, there's a danger we'll disappear to one another. I don't know whether this is something to worry about or not.

Ah well.  So then we here at home ended up having a ... discussion,  about what I rather antagonistically and pejoratively called the doctrine of detachment, and which I equally antagonistically and pejoratively attacked as being potentially glib and disingenuous.  (I can be an argumentative cuss).  About how much responsibility we need to take for the effect our words and/or actions have on others, the role of intention in the matter, and ultimately the nature of the self that acts or is acted on.  These things happen round here. We didn't exactly reach any conclusions but we didn't end up divorcing either.  And it made me think I'd go and look up Marcus Aurelius.

I found him on Tom's shelf because I'd passed him on to him.  And it really must be a long time since I read any, since I found this marking a page:

It's a label from the 1992 vintage of Burrow Hill's Somerset Cider Brandy (what it says on the tin, really).  I think they sent this, just the label, to me with an offer because I'd bought half a bottle of the first year ever.  If I'd kept it it might be worth a bit now, but I finished it one night with one of my nieces after she'd just finished a boyfriend.

Marcus Aurelius was just too dense to plunder for a quick soundbite about detachment, and even the dictionary of quotations didn't yield too much, except that he was to be found between St Augustine who said

To Carthage I came and there sang all around me a cauldron of unholy loves

and Jane Austen who had Emma's dad saying

The sooner every party breaks up the better.

So on that note, and because if I don't stop soon it will no longer be November and my pledge will be broken, I will close here.  With some random pictures.   

This is the sign for our village.  It means 'The Holly', and I'm quite sure that old Marcel, whose house and holly tree this is, the first house in the village, insisted that they put the sign there.

More holly,

and mistletoe.  Very festive.

She's probably hoping she's not going to be festive,

and she's getting out of here in case.

Bunnies and pumpkins,


and don't forget the vegetables.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cider apples and more fungal fun

This pile of apples for cider appears at the roadside on one of my regular routes every year, this is the first time I've remembered the camera and made the time to stop for it.  The morbidly picturesque levels of decay of the apples will not put me off the next coruscating glass of the delectable beverage I enjoy; I trust to the time-honoured practice of fermentation to render all things pure to the pure.  And I notice that some willow leaves have also made their way into the mix, thereby perhaps supplying some useful salicylic acid to offset the headache-provoking properties of the final product.  Yum.

And further to this paean to the season of mist and mellow fruitfulness, rot, fungus and decay, a collection of mushrooms and toadstools.  My friend E found a real cep today in the woods near her house, though not a very large one, I have never been so lucky.   She was going to take it to the pharmacy to be sure, and a field mouse or some such had had a little go at it first, but she was looking forward to eating it later.  Never such a year for fungi, so late.

Just one more blogging day to go!

Monday, November 28, 2011


A big parcel arrived this morning, as is often the case it came from my sister.  It occurred to me that the whole business of  monetary exchange and consumption, of acquiring stuff in general, is possibly a manipulated surrogate for the giving and receiving of gifts; we seek to achieve the same warmth we feel when we give or receive with love by exchanging money and giving to ourselves, feeding a craving which can only remain unsatisfied.

On the other hand it can be very nice to treat yourself, and the wrong present given in a spirit of dull obligation without love or discernment is a sorry thing, so perhaps I'm talking bollocks.

To return to the parcel; it contained, among other things: a white elephant tea cosy and two black bird coffee cosies; saffron, argan oil, nigella seeds and almond skin cream that smells of marzipan from Morocco; and a CD of just short of 200 photos of that country and a request that if I could manage it, could I edit them and get them printed as Moo postcards.   I've done this before for my sister's holiday photos; she was a bit apologetic this time, fearing that, she felt, the photos weren't very good and perhaps I couldn't make much of them ... She has quite an old and simple compact, and was not, I got the feeling, as stimulated and relaxed on this trip as on others, so the photos were quite patchy, but well worth sifting, cleaning up and trimming.

And it just so happened that Moo had sent out an e-mail that their 30% off everything sale was closing at midnight tonight, so the job was on to get sixty images sorted out in the space of today.

Bliss and joy.  I love editing photos, and consequently feel it's an unjustifiable self-indulgence that I don't deserve to spend too much time on.  However, doing it for love for someone else, who has made and done endless lovely things for us, with a serious money-saving deadline to boot, allowed me to spend every available moment on it today.

I'm sure this ought to be something one could do for money.  People have taken on board the idea that digital photography allows them to snap away with total abandon in pursuit of one good shot out of many, but often underestimate the time and effort this scattergun approach requires in editing.  How often have you heard people groan about being subjected to other people's endless unedited holiday photos?

But going through them and sorting out the better ones, touching out the odd unwanted lamp post or electricity cable and cropping off the fat bald strangers wandering through the shot, brightening the pictures up, and snipping bits and pieces out of even the least interesting of them to make into patchwork collages, makes this potentially frustrating and passive experience a satisfying one.  I started off finding this rather muddled welter of images of Morocco quite off-putting, but by the end I felt I had shared something of it and enjoyed it.

However, I know my sister's eye and understand a little of what matters to her, and I don't mind taking a lot of time and trouble over it. I'm not sure I could do the same for strangers' snaps of themselves getting drunk and sunburned on beaches on the Maldives.  Sorry, I know that sounds horribly judgemental.

Anyway, here's a handful of them.  Not my photos, just my editing.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Haiku, some orange things I made, looking up in St Brieuc...

Tending to curse darkness,
it takes two matches, then
the beeswax kindles.

The clementine marmalade potted up last night still looked runny, but when I opened a jar, it had a reasonable soft set on it. No need to pour it all back into the pan.

And to match the marmalade, I finally sewed all the corners and the ends in on this rather quaint garment, knitted in one piece on a circular needle from a pack of yarn from a cheap supermarket of German origin which will remain nameless.

Not the most elegant or flattering item of clothing, but I worked the pattern out myself on squared paper, and it is very chunky yarn, so that's hardly surprising.  The big old Bakelite buttons which I found in the button tin, came, I think, from an old coat of my mum's.  I do like wearing warm sleeveless things in winter, down the back seems to be the coldest part.


First Sunday in Advent, time for the first mince pie of the season and to listening to the Advent service on Radio 3, perhaps the moment I feel happiest about Christmas. 

I went into St Brieuc the other day where they were putting the Christmas lights in the trees with a crane vehicle thing.  

A number of people, like the woman on the bike with the child on the back, and me, stopped to watch and remark on this, which may indicate a lack of sophistication or much else going on, but I prefer to think it shows a curiosity and pleasure in life.


I'd taken the camera because of late I've got out of the habit rather, and then now and then I see something I'd like to snap and regret not having it, and there are also certain things I've meant to record for a long time.  One of them is this frieze on the pediment of the post office in St Brieuc.  It features a topless classical kind of god and goddess, of benign rather than fearsome aspect, but the god has a quill pen in one hand and an old-fashioned telegraph machine, like the one in 'Lark Rise to Candleford', in the other, and the goddess, naked breasts akimbo, is chatting on the phone and leaning on a mail box, with a telegraph pole and wires in the background.  I've long loved this bit of municipal sculpture, which I now notice is signed 'Le Goff'  and probably I ought to find out more about it; I can't quite work out how much conscious humour it contains.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Fly agaric

Just a quick collage for a Saturday night.