Monday, December 24, 2012

'This holy tide of Christmas all others doth efface...'

Best Carols from Kings we can remember, we thought.  Even a reading from Rilke (Annunciation to Mary, can't find a decent link, and it was a better translation than the Leishman I have), and some of those wonderful mediaeval extrapolations like The Cherry Tree Carol.  It's not the mawkish, emblazoned Victorian disingenuousness of Once in Royal, or even the lone chorister really that gets to me, it's the procession in front of the Rubens painting.  After that I'm sold, usually until it gets to the tuneless modern carol where I start to get bored, but which was blessedly absent this year, so I stayed sold. Brings out the reactionary English nostalgic wannabe Anglican in me, so I catch myself thinking: 'My brothers and sisters of the Republics of the Enlightenment, thanks for everything, your Declarations and Bills of Rights, your Liberty,Equality and Fraternity and your Pursuit of Happiness, your Bastille Day parades and your movie industries and all and all, but you have nothing to touch this.'


A sober looking letter from our DIY store this morning, which on closer examination concerned the heated towel rail we had bought and installed in the bathroom adjacent to my blue room, and used only intermittently, until this summer when we went to turn it on for visitors and found that it was malfunctioning, flickering on the display and generally not co-operating.  We cursed it as out of guarantee, and the receipt long-since lost, pulled the wires from the wall and abandoned it indefinitely.  Now it seems The Appliance (in its universal, Platonic sense) has been deemed unsafe, and on the presentation of said letter, and after signing an attestation that we will remove and destroy the appliance (in its specific sense of the one we bought) from our home, we receive a credit note for the original price and a voucher for 30 euros for our trouble.  It must be Christmas.


We had the chimney swept, not before time, the house was beginning to smell of sooty kippers.  The young man who came, at 5.30 pm, spent a good 45 minutes on the job, quietly and efficiently, and cleaned the whole hearth area, apologised several times for bringing a minimal amount of dirt in with him, and left the whole place smelling sweet. He charged a very reasonable amount, and had several more jobs to go to before he was finished for the day.  I often think there's a kind of quiet and modest heroism about people who do jobs like this.  Now it's like having a lovely new fireplace, which doesn't smoke at all.


The organic butcher we screwed up our courage and took out a mortgage to buy some of our festive eats from finds us a good-looking piece of pork skin for crackling.  We have to explain that we eat it ourselves, and how we prepare it.  One butcher thought we want it to put in some kind of rat trap or something. Another occasion gave rise to the dialogue which we have enjoyed in the retelling ever since

Butcher: You eat that? It's full of cholesterol!
We: So what do you normally do with it?
Butcher: We put it in the charcuterie.

This butcher seemed genuinely interested in the preparation of crackling though.


Some birthday cards before I took them down before Christmas.  Funny how often my birthday cards co-ordinate tastefully with one another.  This year's theme seemed to be black and white and rosy reds, including a couple of beautiful ones from people's own photos (the sweet-pea from the Fire Bird and the seascape from B the German Doctor), 

This one, from my Lovely Sister,

gives an impression of how I would like to spend this Christmas. 


Gnostic Angel has had Christmas transfiguration.


Best gift of all, Molly is still with us, short-sighted and hard-of-hearing (to put it mildly) and with sundry little elderly troubles, but basically well and happy and scrounging sausage roll pastry.


My guest stint curating at Clive Hicks-Jenkins Artlog for the Alphabet Soup exhibition draws to it's close.  It's been a blast.  I have fallen behind with posting links to it here, but do get over and look at it; there's been a dazzling array from Fluttering fairies to Meso-American myths to gruesome Greek harridans, culminating in Clive's own covetably delicious Hansel and Gretel.  

But I must say, after a week or so of groping my way inexpertly around a Wordpress blog, I'm much relieved to be back with Blogger, whatever it's shortcomings, it really is easier. And apologies for neglecting blog reading and commenting, which I look forward to catching up with.

And so to bed.  Merry Christmas to all.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Eat, drink and be merry...

While noting Christmas charity donations, Tom said:

"Of course, it doesn't really matter whether we sent the blind dogs a cheque for twenty euros or five million, they won't have time to cash it before the world ends anyway."

"No, and the dogs won't have time to undergo their training either."

One of several such conversations.

" Be funny if it did happen though, wouldn't it? We'd be laughing on the other side of our faces then..."

There have been some numerogical weirdnesses, not only will tomorrow be 21/12, palindromic, today is 20.12.2012, and the other week was the 12th of the 12th of the 12th.  Which also happened to be my birthday, don't know if this gives me any privileges in apocalyptic terms.

I had a nice day or two but forgot to take the camera out when we went up to the seaside to eat, because the weather was so frightful, I didn't really want to go out at all but Tom said he'd drag me out by the scruff if necessary.  And it turned out rather lovely, with sun breaking through the mist and shining off the wet sand, and the little lighthouse on the harbour wall all looking pastel and sculpted, and distant flashes off the waves beyond.  The deserted terraces were rain-washed and puddled and sodden, the viviers were drained and empty of crustaceans, but inside the restaurant was cosy and warm, and I ate crab maki and fried sea bream with winter squash confit, and the crême brulée had bits of broken gingerbread on the top which tasted Christmassy.

And I came into my internet radio which means I no longer have to choose in the kitchen between the under-shelf task lighting and The Archers, plus I've discovered a non-stop early music station with a rolling display of what they're playing. It's like some early music nerd's i-pod on shuffle, which may well be what it is.


So in the expectation that I will be able to get through all the submissions before the end of the world, Alphabet Soup continues, with

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Still holidaying...

... over at the Artlog, looking in here just to feed the cat and water the plants and stuff.

from Liz King-Sangster (that's U for Unicorn, of course)


and Natalie.

from my co-curator Shellie

and her friend Betty Pennell.

Why be here when you could be there?


- And alternating between Weirdpress and Blugger software is rather taxing my poor wee brain, and anyway, in that shadowy half-world known as real life, I am rather busy making fusion mince pies (with gâteau breton dough, the link is to a picture of last year's), pumpkin butter and such like, and distributing them to hopefully grateful recipients.  I'll be around when I can.

Monday, December 17, 2012

In the Soup

Just a quick one to say that the on-line open exhibition Alphabet Soup which Shellie Byatt and I are curating over at Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog has kicked off with works by Stephanie Redfern and Philippa Robbins. To see the post click here.

I'll be posting something for the exhibition there every day until Christmas Eve, and I strongly recommend you visit.  There has been some truly wonderful, varied and substantial work submitted for the exhibition from all kinds of artists; it really is a pleasure and a privilege to be working with it - and being allowed to post freely at the Artlog feels as if I've been given free run of someone else's very sumptuous home! I'm not inclined to make much commentary on the work myself, beyond what the artists themselves have said about it; it speaks for itself of course, and Clive's very fine, intelligent and generous commentariat will also have interesting and illuminating things to say. I'll try to put a link and a sample of the work here for each post too.

Thanks for your fun and interesting comments on the last post, I'll try to get back to them and indeed post again here on my own account when I can!

H is for Hand: Philippa Robbins

Moon: Stephanie Redfern

Friday, December 14, 2012

Crispy salads; in defence of bitterness

Another night of frost, and Molly and I went to look at the scarole. I'm not quite sure what scarole is. I mean, I know it's a salad, that sort of acts as a lettuce, except it grows in winter, and the slugs don't eat it, and it really is much nicer than any lettuce.  It might be a kind of chicory, or it might be kind of endive, but with the turn-and-turn-about of false friendships between English and French on this I'm not really sure which is which of those two things. It is very crispy, and a little sweet and a little bitter.  

I read somewhere once that children's aversion to green vegetables stems from an evolutionary response that rejects any hint of a bitter back-taste as a defence against possible toxins.  I am wary of this as it seems to me to give the fussy little buggers an excuse.  I can clearly remember schooling myself out of this resistance from quite a young age, tempering the bitter with sweet and salt until it became more acceptable.  I have to say in my experience British children are incorrigibly stubborn about this, most that I know won't even touch green peas, which don't seem to me to carry any bitter back-taste whatever; French youngsters seem to be able to take green veg on board far more readily, especially the ubiquitous and rather boring green beans. Our Dutch friend E, who partly introduced us to scarole, quoted a pretty sounding proverb in Dutch the other day which goes something like 'Bitter in the mouth is good for the heart', which may be a bit of folk wisdom that proves sound in scientific terms of antioxidants and such like.  Tom is often quite fussy about anything bitter, but happily eats scarole as a salad entrée every day with nothing more than a light raspberry vinegar dressing and a good dollop of Heinz salad cream.

When we got to the veg garden, things did not look good:

Apart from the fact that the germination rate of the seed back in August/September was decidedly haphazard (we have eaten quite a few already, mind), and there are rather a lot of weeds in my raised bed, the scarole was even crispier than it should be; in fact it was stiff and frosted. (Those are my feet/legs/scarf, of course).

It's said to be frost hardy, but Jean-Paul and his missus, who gave us some very luscious ones a few weeks ago, warned that it was only so much so, and should really be covered with fleece to be on the safe side, which needless to say I didn't do.  

It looked rather as though a harvest of photographs was all that remained, for the frost did pick out the shapes and lines rather nicely, and merited, I thought, conversion to black and white, as the greens are rather livid.

I pulled one up a little later in the day, however, when the frost had lightened but not completely gone, and it recovered remarkably well, only some of the outer leaves going somewhat cellophane-like and frost damaged.  With the blustery wet thaw we've in the last couple of days, they have completely recovered and we enjoyed a whole one, inner and outer leaves, before dinner tonight.

And as for the tatsoi, they aren't big, but they don't seem to mind any kind of inclemency, and the frosts have killed off the flea beetle and green caterpillars that were nom-nomming them to bits.

So steamed, stir-fry or salad, we eat up our greens.

Monday, December 10, 2012


The first frost came before the water lily leaves had gone, begun their fall through water, not air. Even some corpse flower buds remained. The ice holding them was a creased and pleated membrane, not a rigid sheet, the fish moved freely below it. 



Wednesday, December 05, 2012

On cars, driving, comment spam, and a strange yellow sky, where the camera lies and photo-editing tells the truth.

The trouble is, I said to Tom and J, that I can't help thinking of them as horses.  I'm not so much anthropomorphic about cars as hippomorphic.  The old Saxo, the one I just had to have shot, was a dear little steady old Exmoor pony, a bit rough and ready, easy to stable and pasture and feed, affectionate...

Initially they found the idea odd and silly - Tom's rightly doing his best to crack down on my getting too sentimental and heart-achey about the matter of the old car.  But then they rather took it up and ran with it. J said her Renault was a good solid grey hack.  The BX, we decided, was a strong and useful workhorse, but with a tendency to unexpected viciousness, which, Tom said, would sometimes get the bit between its teeth and refuse to stop.

This new one's more like a little chestnut mare who fancies herself part-thoroughbred with an inclination to be a bit frisky. She's been spoiled, and kept in a garage for much of her life and primped and beribboned; her car-proud previous owner apologised for not having had a chance to vacuum again since the mechanic who did the test made the mat a bit dirty, and she looked a little distressed when I said that this was going to be my dog's car too, and wouldn't stay clean for very long.  It also came with some jingly and affected bits of harness that irritate me and don't suit my way of life or self-image.  For example the steering wheel:

Yes, it really is meant to look like it's made of scrap metal and wood offcuts and belongs on a go-kart. A Saxo go-kart. I'm somewhat torn about it, in fact: it's slightly smaller than normal, so the steering seems a bit twitchy, and also because it isn't the original wheel it has interfered with the indicator thing so that it doesn't self-cancel, which is quite annoying and reminds me of when we were kids and used to have to call out 'ticker Dad!' from the back seat to remind my father to cancel the indicator.  On the other hand, being short of leg, in most other cars I've driven I've found that to have the seat far enough forward I practically had to have the steering wheel up against my chest which wasn't great, and in fact this one, smaller and flatter with a shorter column, gives me a better driving position from that point of view. And that nasty looking fishnet-rubber grip is actually quite pleasant to hold.

Then there are the black stretchy seat covers with the shocking pink appliqué flowers on (I've more or less covered those up with wool check travel rugs, dog blankets and my old candy striped chair cushions you can see for padding), and worst of all, the hideous boombox amplifier and speakers which nearly made Tom jump out of his skin when he first turned the engine on and which took up almost all of the boot (trunk, transatlantic readers) so that one simply can't get any shopping/recyclables/scavenged firewood/scrumped apples or whatever in there, and made the back shelf too heavy to lift.  The young woman who sold it to me was delighted to be able to include the sound system in the bargain, but I'm afraid they just had to go, and now they are occupying the back seat in a cardboard box, their wires having been careful extricated by the new garage man, who seemed slightly surprised that I didn't want them there, didn't I like music? Yes, I said, very much, but not in the car and not like that .

I can't quite think what to do with them, a depot-vente will, I hope, be an option, otherwise it'll have to be Emmaus or even the dechetterie.  Sorry, my little pony, your jingle bells are out of here, you might even feel better for it. Now you will be working for a living, you aren't a filly any more, you will live outside and put up with mud and cow-poo and dog hair and pulling the shopping home, OK?  Knuckle down and I'll take reasonable care of you, feed you on sans-plomb 95 oats, give you a quick curry-combing and a spit-and-polish now and then at the car-wash - though only the hose, not the fluffy brushes - and in time, maybe, you and I might even become friends.  And you can keep your flowery seat covers, they're one more barrier to the tide of mud and dog hair and dead leaves, and in fact the rather post-modern combo of checks, stripes and floral in black, red, orange and pink is kind of growing on me.  We'll see about the steering wheel.


The left-hand drive is OK, still working on the positioning.  When discussing this people often seem to think what I'm worrying about is suddenly forgetting which country I'm in and so which side of the road I'm meant to be driving on, and turning into oncoming traffic, going the wrong way around roundabouts, etc.  In fact, of all the cock-ups I've made driving here, that was never one of them and I don't think it will be now, unless serious dementia kicks in; I have driven in France far more and longer than I ever did in England, and would, I think, have serious problems re-adjusting to driving on the left.  No, it's a question of my spatial awareness with regard to where I am in the car, which has never really come naturally to me; the danger that I will go too close to the right hand side of the road, forgetting how much more car there now is on that side of me, and scuff curbs, scrape parked cars, slide into ditches or whatever, and that it still feels scarily close to oncoming traffic to be hanging out there near the centre of the road, especially after the accident.  I know it's not a problem for most people, but there we are, mea stulta.  

Anyway, I've booked a driving lesson with the school I mentioned before to try to address some of the possible problems.  


On a quite different topic, I think I'm going to have to do something about comment spam.  I turned off the word verification because it is annoying, I know, though I never really mind doing it myself at other people's blogs, I suppose it does discourage me from commenting as much as I might.  I turned on moderation for posts beyond a certain age, and with Blugger's own spam filter that stopped most of them from ever becoming visible.  However, they still clog up my e-mail inbox, and it's grown more and more annoying to have to keep deleting them from there, and now more of them seem to be slipping through the filter and actually turning up on the blog.  

Most of them are anonymous.  I've never wanted to block anonymous comments because I've got at least one proper regular reader who comments as anonymous then signs herself off in the comment, and occasionally I get a really interesting anonymous comments from people, non-bloggers, on old posts and I'd regret cutting them out.  But I think I'd rather block anonymous comments than turn on the odious WV.  It should still be possible to comment by entering just your name, or Open ID if you're on Wordpress or whatever, so I'm not forcing anyone unwillingly to take Google's shilling or anything. I'll leave a message above the comment box to that effect.  Let me know what you think.

Afterword:There doesn't seem to be any option for non-anonymous comments that doesn't involve signing in with Goggle or another blogging platform, which is just as exclusive. You can't just sign in with a plain name any more, it seems. So I'm afraid I've switched to word verification after all, and reinstated the anonymous option.  Sorry if this is irksome, I know some people get very righteous about being made to do it and say they won't bother any more, but I'm fed up with the spam so it's the lesser of two evils.  If the WV is difficult to read, you can refresh it till you get an easier one...


And just a picture to close: trying to capture the strange, gamboge colour sky that of a sudden surrounded us and suffused everything for a few short moments between the endless rain showers and the fall of dark the other day. The camera's guesswork completely failed, with boring anodyne optimism it said it looked like this:

and my fairly ignorant fiddling around with the controls could make little difference. However, with the wonders of photo-editing, I can tell you, with very little exaggeration, that in fact it looked much more like this:


Friday, November 30, 2012

Last day of November

Probably a title I've used before, since most years I have made this strangely binding commitment, to myself and the outside online world,m whatever my state of relations with the blogging medium, to do this every day, and, as with most years, I don't mind that I've done so. Having an rendezvous here every evening has indeed been quite helpful this year, when I've found myself somewhat beset with perturbations and not altogether pleasant distractions. It's been good to be obliged to post something, without fretting too much as to whether it's likely to be worthwhile, or whether I've got anything to show or tell, and even when I've been quite sure I haven't, I've found I have after all, worthwhile or not. If that makes sense.

Thanks to all of you who've looked in and left comments. I think I feel a little more reconnected with blogs and blogging again, and hope I'll be more often moved to post more often and more unselfconsciously again. I look forward now to being able to get around to visiting all of you and yours, apologies for neglecting to do so, and to the recent newer visitors I've not paid return calls to yet. I thought I might try to make the final post one of answering the comments I didn't get around to replying to at the time, like Catalyst's question as to why I left the scanner lid open when I scanned the liquidambar leaves (I hoped it might give a darker ground and a more 3D effect), but I've rather run out of time to comb through, and you've probably forgotten what you might have said by now anyway and not to worry.

Now needing to bend myself to sorting through the dazzling array of submissions for the Alphabet Soup exhibition at Clive's, ( I've linked to it plenty, if you don't know what I'm talking about by now...) with the excellent back-up that I have this will surely be only a pleasure - I'll keep posted with progress for that here as well.

So a quick pic of some cockles put to soak.  Sho Shellfish.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

29 things for the 29th

 Dried liquidambar

 Red green and blue baking dishes
 Our 10% off day at the DIY store
Oily brown wood-pulp firelighters in an old tea caddy with Notre Dame on it
The odd word 'caddy'


Deciding not to order bathroom tiles even though it's our 10% off day
Glad to have finished A Place of Greater Safety
I like the flat lid shells of scallops better than the dish-shaped bottom shells
Mind my car
Molly munching pea pods
Sun through the red plastic funnel like a red balloon
Big bags for garden clearing


Rubi the labrador is thirteen, and rather overweight.  He lay down too much and got bedsores, but now he's much better
Vermeer's Lady at a Virginal; she looks a bit drippy
Black leggings under purple yoga pants.  Bug-rug-snug
Where did the hills stop and the clouds begin?
Garlic mushrooms good, baked beans better *

Little boat: best (non-edible) thing ever in an ice cream

Yellow glints of sallow leaves
Two packs of chestnut wood floorboards


Thinking about birthday lunch
Thinking about Christmas dinner
Soft foxtail larch tops against the hill
Just one more thing...

Bwha- ha-ha-ha!

* with baked potatoes

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tipping points and other matter(s).

Hard to say what the feeling about the tipping point is.  Not exactly the imminence of death, as I suppose Anne was talking about in her comment, though doubltless related.  More perhaps the sense that the capacity to grow and benefit from vicissitudes and reverses seems to wane, that overall the balance seems to be towards lessening, that experiences cease to augment one's stock and substance, and tend to diminish them.  But such metaphors are probably flawed; what stock, what substance? I suppose I assumed that the gaps left by losses would always be filled by something else, now I'm not sure.  But the tendency to look on the bleak side is at least in part a function of one's nature as much as one's age and stage, which doesn't mean you shouldn't try to curb it.



We really must eat more baked potatoes.


The bank manager rang.  I am easily confused on the phone about who people are.  He reminded me he was Sophie's and Stephanie's dad and then I placed him, but instantly assumed there was a problem.  Well, he did say he was concerned about our account.  I ran upstairs, 'phone in hand, to consult Tom:

'He says we've only got X euros in there!'
'Well, that's more than usual...'

After a bit, and after I'd spluttered apologetically about having to move some money over from the UK, paying the gardener and getting another car, but how we'd managed to scrape up the funds for that in liquide by other means, he went on to say that if we didn't need it all there he recommended we move some of it over to the savings account. He was not reproving us for inadequate funds but the opposite. It was our instant reaction, though, to an authority figure to assume we must be in trouble, even if he is Sophie and Stephanie's dad.  

Though why bother, we wondered, it's not as though we'd get anything on it anyway, interest on savings being a nice idea but not to be dreamed of again in our lifetime.  We speculated that perhaps in response to the increased Greek bail-out, all the bank managers of France had been issued with instructions to move as much money to more usable places.  Yes, that must be it, we are doing our bit to help with the Eurozone-in-crisis.

I promised him we'd move some over, and sent kisses to Sophie and Stephanie.


'Phone in hand.  Yes, we have a cordless 'phone at last,  I finally faced the fact that my fear and loathing of the telephone, which has made me stubbornly refuse to have any more to do with it than I had to and so not to modernise in any way, was cutting my nose off to spite my face.  It was even worse to be pinned in the corner by it and not even able to move around and do anything else. Still no answering machine, though, that would be going to far in conceding to the Watson-come-here-please-I-want-you tyranny.


Touching wood, crossing fingers, and performing all manner of other superstitious contortions one can think of, the plumbing leak seems to be fixed on the second attempt.  


Tom likes the new car.  It's nippy and fun, and he likes the change.  I still don't really want much to do with it.  Tom refuses to even acknowledge the possibility of a tipping point.


Looking through old pics to find one of interest, I came across this one of the emptying of the septic tank, which, it turns out, took place about eighteen months ago (so we don't need to think about having that done again just yet, photos and blogging are so useful for keeping informal records).

Fear not, nothing too detailed is revealed of this necessary but always to my rather prissy English bourgeois sensibilities, slightly embarrassing operation.  At least not to you.  However, as may be seen, Victor and his sister Hélène couldn't get close enough.  They are both over ninety, and we don't see all that much of them these days, but no sooner had the septic tank emptying truck arrived than they both got wind of it, so to speak, and turned up to chew the fat while peering down the hole at our bodily waste products and their evacuation.  They greeted us only perfunctorily, it seems it was our poo they were primarily interested in. Bless them.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Manitou and little Mol

RRobinson expressed a familiarity with the brand of French heavy building plant 'Manitou'.  Our Jean-Paul was very proud of his Manitou, which he brought along when he re-aligned our lintels and smartened up our chimney.  He was very keen we should pose in the shovel of it at some height from the ground, so here am I,

and here's Tom - blimey, he still wears that shirt: 

Those were taken probably fourteen years ago, long pre-digital, scans of old film snaps I've looked out.  The changes in the landscape, how trees and garden have grown up since, is noticeable to me in the first picture.  Looking into the old photo album is quite unsettling, possibly salutary.  In many ways it feels as though life didn't really begin until we came here to live, and since then that time has stood still; I can't quite believe it's been well over fifteen years, that I was still in my mid-thirties, Tom not yet into his sixties when we came.  Yet looking over those old pictures, it's apparent that we have covered quite a bit of ground, and indeed aged.  I'd pick out more to scan and show here, but it makes me feel rather sad and shaky to look too much at them.  I find myself wondering if we haven't reached the tipping point.  I'm afraid I do think there might be a tipping point.

Those days were also pre-Molly, and later pages show her puppy years, which also makes me feel a bit  wobbly inside.  But it's been good, and worth everything. I'd be a coward to say otherwise.

Molly, in her first year.