Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Spring: pussy willow, shopping, spring cleaning, something new and something all too familiar.

Pussy willow (with bee).

Saturday morning shopping, it is spring and everyone is smiling, I didn't know I could enjoy the supermarket and its denizens so much.  A very small boy walking across the car park with his father, a large, luxuriant-leaved pineapple about half his height tucked under his arm.  In the shop, another lone small boy stands wide-eyed as a good-looking young man in costume flips crepes on an electric skillet.  The large lady with the short grey hair at the till in front of me, who now and then gives me an rather conspiratorial smile, is buying yogurty desserts and chocolates (grandchildren fodder, I imagine), some very sticky-looking choux buns, six tomato plants and a garden hoe of very traditional design, a large white cotton bra (sans lace or underwiring - nice to be comfy, nice to be nice...), a litre of whisky and a litre and a half of pastis.  She departs with a 'bon weekend!', looking as if she intends to have just that.


I sweep the front of the house and clean the windows.  I plant the blue room window boxes with light blue pansies, primrose yellow primroses, and white grape hyacinths.

I pass Tom his evening drink and find he is watching the Boat Race, and almost jiggling in his seat with excitement.  I remark on this and he says that he always does, he loves the Boat Race.  Well, well, eighteen years together and I never knew that.


Currently thumb-twiddling waiting for Tom's sister and brother-in-law to show up, having had a call from them yesterday saying they're on their way back from Spain in new luxury camper van and will look in 'just for a cup of tea'.  We aren't really on their way back at all so it's awfully sweet of them to come out of their route, but what with the loss of the hour and all we are feeling a bit pressured by this, and that our precious time is getting rather squeezed.  This in turn makes me feel guilty; why must I continually perceive and transform so many things which should be normal and pleasant into obligation and onus, so much that could be a source of satisfaction and ordinary human interaction into sources of anxiety, recalcitrance and even resentment?  Why do I so often recoil from the idea that anyone has any expectations of me? I need contact and the bonds that make us human, just like anyone, and if I didn't have them I'd quickly start fretting that I was excluded, isolated and unloved, but why do I just find it all so difficult?

Never mind, it'll be fine once they get here, or at least once they've been and gone!


Thursday, March 24, 2011

New blogroll gadget!

A couple of years ago I deleted almost all my IE feeds, feeling that they were extending a tyranny of guilt over my life that I was continually racing to keep up with them and never succeeding.  I simply kept my blogroll and tried to do its contents justice, occasionally adding to or taking away from it.  Then I started using chrome anyway so the IE feeds became an irrelevance.  I kept a very few blogs on Feed My Inbox, then later on Google reader, because either they posted very infrequently but I didn't want to miss them when they did, or else they were daily - and usually fairly succinct - posters and I liked to keep up with them regularly rather than fall behind.

However, I've finally been seduced by those rolling feed blogrolls some of you have got, and have transferred some 50 odd blogs to one of those, as you can see.  Owing to the very narrow sidebar here - HTML adjusted so that I can post egomaniacally large photographs - I was unable to have them appearing with a snippet of text, or even thumbnail photos, which is a shame but it just looked too crowded and awful, but the title and time of posting are pretty appetising anyway.  I also limited the display to the 25 most recently updated blogs, to be tidy.

Some of my old blogroll  I have kept as a straightforward links list below.  If this is where I've left you, rest assured it is no disrespect; either I already have you on the other two feed-reading arrangements mentioned above, or else perhaps I like to visit as and when and prefer to have the link in a fixed and handy place and not moving around with the feed.

I'll see how it goes, but I do like the dynamic thing of it, and also that the blogs appear in a separate window, which is handy, I reckon.

Sometime, now I've found out by happenstance how it is done, I might get around to making some fixed pages.  Or I might not.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

St Pol de Léon, the cathedral, the dead and their heads.

St Pol de Léon (famous for artichokes, and cauliflowers too) is a place that might easily be overlooked by British ,or Irish, ferry passengers, disembarking at Roscoff (famous for onions) and heading straight on down to wherever they're going, bypassing it completely.  But we like it, including its 13th century cathedral, which is imposing, outside,

and inside.

It's quiet and twilighty, a bit dusty-feeling and melancholy as so many French churches seem to be,  but there are many interesting and lovely details.

St Pol, Paul Aurelian, was one of those Celtic saints that came bobbing over to Brittany in the dark ages at the time of the Franks and Merovingians, and got all mixed up with various pre-Christian ideas.  He had to see off or subdue a number of creatures who didn't want any saintly hermits setting up on their patch, such as this fine wild bull, who he sent off back into the forest,

a pesky dragon, which he led off, no sweat, occasionally belabouring it with his crook, to the water's edge whence it swam off,

and a grumpy wild sow and her young whom he persuaded to become tame and stay around (they''re running along the bottom of the picture in the window below).

I have been known to deplore the heavily pig-oriented nature of the agrarian economy in this part of the world, but things porcine have clearly been a preoccupation for a long time.  Here is St Antony, in good old wood polychrome.  His face is soulful, wise and world-weary, expressive and well rendered,

but someone clearly had some fun with his emblem - a pig.

Many people have been buried here, this stone set into the flagstone floor looks very ancient,

and this 18th century bishop had his well-fed, country face, as well as his gorgeous robes and trimmings, very exquisitely sculpted in marble for his tomb,

but below him the reminder of what all these things would come to.

But oddest of all these rather lugubrious artefacts were these.

Reliquaries, containing the skulls  (le chef originally meant the physical head, still used in the informal expression remuer le chef, to nod the head) of people disinterred from under the church floor, and later from the cemetery.  They are called, it seems, les étagères de la nuit, which, directly transalted as 'the night shelves' doesn't make a lot of sense, but according to this Breton expert on Flickr, it implies the levelling ( an obsolete meaning of  étage is connected with rank) of all in death - nevertheless, the bishop's is the fanciest by far, the big gilded one in the top middle... 

Little boxes - in poplar wood apparently, the same as is still used to make the crates for the artichokes and cauliflowers - in the form of little chapels.   They are simply painted in monochrome, often with a cross on top and sometimes a bit of other decoration, an aperture in the front in the shape of a heart or a trefoil, and the name of the person whose skull it contains.

The wiggly forms painted on the one below, and on several others, puzzled me, looking as they do like tadpoles or, indeed, spermatozoa, so that perhaps the very beginnings of life and the very end of it seemed to be coming together!  They are though, it seems, a representation of teardrops.

These collections of chefs used to be, apparently, quite commonplace in many Breton churches, and were part of the furniture of the ossuaires, the charnel houses, which are a notable part of the famous enclos paroissiaux of the region.

This has strong echoes to the cults of the dead and the head of the pre-Christian Celtic past, but the relative intimacy with mortal remains is nevertheless unsettling, of course. Prosper Mérimée was horrified and repulsed by what he saw as the casual  and disrespectful attitude of the Bretons to their, often not-long-enough, dead.  In recent times, just back in the 1980s, one reliquary and its contents, and one skull were stolen from here.  There are local folk tales, however, of people, mostly the young and curious, daring or naughty, who pushed their luck too far getting over-familiar with skulls and bones.  Generally they died of fright.  And hang around in or near bone houses too long, they say, and you might hear more than you want to...

Tom put his hand through the bars and gently ran a finger along an exposed eye-socket.  I was quite surprised, but it was not done in a spirit of bravado or of wishing to shock.  

" Jacquette," he said, reading the skull's name "I'm sure she won't mind."


( A good site for information is to be found at Ossuaires et Reliquaires en Basse Bretagne.  In French and rather small font, but some fascinating stories, extracts and astonishing photos. As I have been known to lament before, as one brought up with English parish churches and the obligatory leaflets on their history, architecture and features that one picks up as one enters, it is rare to have any information on the individual French church buildings and what they contain, only standard issue Catholic pamphlets about the benefits of the Catechism and of making the pilgrimage to Lourdes.  So one has to do one's researches before and/or after visiting them.) 

Friday, March 18, 2011


I'm a bit worried about the matter of thews.

Thews is an old word for the sinewy muscly manly bits in arms and legs, which are very visible and exaggerated in some William Blake's paintings, and which the ripply patterns the water makes in the sand remind me of.  The ripply sand patterns aren't called thews!

Just thought I'd better clear that up, in case I misled anyone and any readers of this blog anywhere might find themselves perplexing their companions while walking on the beach  by pointing downwards and remarking 'Look at those thews!'

Now.  Fruit liqueurs.

Sloe gin  -  orange spice  -  quince

Thursday, March 17, 2011


The patterns made by rivulets of water over sand are some of my favourite things at the seaside.  Sometimes they look like trees, or cloud shapes, or even twisted bits of cloth, but often they remind me of anatomical drawings, or the limbs of the figures in some of William Blake's paintings.

Thews, I think they're called...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

L'île Callot

The rain stopped, and tide went out, and we walked across the causeway to Callot.  

There is something liminal and tantalising about islands accessible at low tide, with their causeways which appear and disappear.  Short of staying here, at least for the twelve hours between tides, or perhaps using a small boat, you can't really have a sense of this as an island, but more as a straggle of sandy outcrop, rock and mussel beds extending from the peninsular of Carentec.

The chapel, it's said, has been a place of pilgrimage for more than a thousand years, the corsaires sailing out of Morlaix to do battle with the English would salute it as they passed with a cannonshot,

and clearly it's much frequented and gifted with votives and artworks still; one of the plaques on the wall above was for a fisherman lost at sea in 2004.

 I couldn't find out anything about the painting above however, one of a pair.

A lovely walk, and another corner of the bay to explore.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Witchy trees

A stand of twisted oaks, as much ivy as oak, looking out to sea just above the cliff path, on the first evening we were there.  The tide was high and the early evening light off the sea was good.

Sunday, March 13, 2011