Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Smitten, as ever was.

On the last day of the year.

It's been a quiet Christmas here, which is fine.  We had good food and drink, mopped up the water that the quite exceptional wind and storms before Christmas drove in, had a modest and manageable amount of social contact, perhaps the best bit of which for me was meeting Iso in Lamballe a week or so before to give her the pullover I'd made her - she'd chosen the wool much earlier in the year but only on-line, and hadn't seen it - and also the scarf and hat which I'd quickly also done for her Pascal and Princeling respectively.  I asked her what she fancied doing; normally tireless, a walk, some window shopping, browsing in the bookshop might have been on the cards, but she just said that in fact she was rather knackered and could we just go and sit in the salon de thé? So we did, for over two hours just drinking hot chocolate and café crème and nattering, and a couple of times our husbands rang, mine to ask advice on making hot lime pickle and hers as to whether she might like and be available to come and see a show with him in Rennes in January. I'd wrapped the knitwear up and made her promise they wouldn't open it till Christmas day, and in the evening of the 25th I got phone pictures of them all posing festively in their garments, looking fairly merry, including this one of Princeling in his striped ear-flap hat with matching cracker:

Way too big, like his jumper which he's now just about emerging from, with the sleeves turned up, poor little waif. I put some matching candy canes in with the hat anyway.  I think that's just water in his glass.

I managed to complete a fair amount of knitting for presents, in fact: at the last count, one pullover, one scarf, two hats (plus one for myself),two pairs of slipper socks, three cowls and four pairs of gloves.  Lest I become one of those sad and tiresome archetypal females of a certain age who embarrass their unfortunate family and acquaintances with ugly and unwanted items of needlework which they then have to go through the misery of wearing so as not to hurt feelings, I enclosed a 'knitted gift pledge and returns policy' in each parcel which read thus:

While I make every effort to observe and remember which styles and colours people like (or perhaps more importantly, don't like), making presents for others is a hit or miss affair.  However, unless requested to do so, I would not generally make you anything which I would not be happy to keep for myself.  So, if you find that you could or would not ever wear or want to keep anything I've made you, you are free to return it to me within an unlimited period, and no umbrage will be taken. Alternatively, feel free to swap it or otherwise pass it on to anyone who likes it better, regardless of whether I might see them in it or not, and likewise, no offence will ensue. You'll just get a jar of jam next year.

The returns policy does not, of course, apply to kids' stuff, since I can't usually wear that and Molly won't either, but as most people with kids know other people with kids then just give it away.

Most of the yarn I knit with is fairly easy care and should wash well on gentle cycle, though some darker colours may run a bit, and drying flat and pulling back into shape while damp is efficacious. But you already knew that.

Hope you like it anyway!

So far no one's taken me up on it; Dutch E and B the German Doctor were both to be seen wearing their cowls (joined-up scarves) on Boxing Day; E e-mailed me more than once to tell me she was wearing hers at that moment and seemed genuinely enthusiastic, B was still wearing hers the next day when I ran into her by chance in Ecomarché when she didn't expect to be seeing me, so that was a good sign.  And since they're Dutch and German they're pretty rubbish at dissembling so I think they must really have been pleased. The Quiet American said his gloves were all right but I didn't seem to have finished them. Ha ha, very funny. They were of course (currently very trendy) fingerless gloves which you can use for reading maps or anything in a chilly environment, using camera or phone, drinking coffee on outside terraces etc.  My stroppy teenage step-grandson Benj, to whom I also sent a pair, didn't get the returns policy but I put in a note saying if he didn't like them not to worry, give them to someone else, but if he did please wear them for anything and everything, they weren't precious or to be saved but used.  This was all the encouragement he needed to wear them throughout Christmas dinner, quoting the permission slip at his sister when she told him to take them off or he'd get food on them.

Other than that, we haven't gone much on presents; we generally don't but some years we order ourselves things and hand them over to the other one as they arrive to exchange on the day, but we didn't much this year. However, I did remember to order a CD I've been meaning to get hold of for a little while.  This is Contratopia's Smitten.

I have no idea whether this group is well known in the US, I'd not heard of them until a while ago when I was googling myself, as you do, in the context of this blog, and I came across a reference to a track on their first album called Lucy's Stroll / Box Elder Stomp.  This was nothing whatever to do with me, the album had been released well before I ever started here.  I chose the name of this blog rather haphazardly; I grew up under a box elder tree, a fairly unusual species to find in a small town garden in the English Home Counties (we didn't even know what it was and simply called it the maple tree) and a fairly large specimen at that, and I was fond of it. In the film Patience: After Sebald I saw recently, based on a work in which connective elements of coincidence and serendipity/synchronicity are fundamental to the structure and content, one of the contributors remarked that one's own coincidences are rather like one's own dreams: meaningful and fascinating to oneself and boring and insignificant to anyone else.* So I don't really expect anyone else to find this event as magical and remarkable as I do, but I had to act on it. I listened to the sample snippets (as you can on the cdbaby website in the link above) and thought it sounded pleasant, and now I have the full album, I quite love it.

Contratopia (their website) are a contra dance band from the Midwest. Contra dance comes from the French contredanse, a kind of dance where two lines of people danced opposite (contre) each other, a false etymology derived from the English 'country dance'.  It went from England to France and back, then to America, then nearly died out... It's a most interesting story and subject and the link wiki link will tell you more. The music, from fiddle, mandolin, piano, oboe and others, is melodious, rich and varied, its repetitions contain swirls and flourishes and grace notes and key changes and all kinds of things I know nothing about and am not sure I'm using the correct terms for but which please me anyway, and it's instrumental so there are no distracting words to worry about. Lucy's Stroll / Box Elder Stomp is a quirky swing number, I'd be happy enough to have it as a theme tune, and there are jigs and reels and airs and waltzes, tunes that make me smile and my feet tap, that make me want to get up and dance (and sometimes I do), and others that are lyrical and poignant and bring tears.  There are tunes you could imagine Emma and Mr Knightly and little Harriet and the obnoxious Eltons dancing to at the ball at the Crown Inn, and others that sound wild and Celtic and mysterious. There are tunes that take you to places in the back hills of America, and others that take you somewhere else entirely.

And not least I love the title, Smitten. Because I realise that I always have been and still am.  Sometimes it's just a passing thing, sometimes, happily, it's for the long haul, but I realise that for better or worse, I've always been smitten by something or someone, and I hope I always will be.

So those are some of the things that have been making me glad at this turn of the year.  There is worry and sadness too, as of course there always is somewhere, but it has come closer; losses and fears are felt keenly, whether our own or others', if one can even clearly make that distinction.

But at this moment, the latest lot of wind and rain has blown over and the sun is shining for a time.

The photos in the video slideshow below were taken earlier this month, the morning of the first real frost of the winter, in the Mayenne.  My brother had been in hospital going stir-crazy, we were about to come home.  He suggested a walk with the camera around the fishing lakes up the road, which their seasonal English neighbours had lately bought, drained and refilled, the same ones where Belle had shown her swimming skills back in the summer.  We left our loved ones, animal and human, at home, and he and I made a long leisurely circuit, with much stopping and looking and chat, ending with some scrambling over chain link fences and sluice gates and concrete ledges where the path ran out.  It was ever my brother's calling to lead his kid sisters clambering in somewhat precipitous places; we had a lovely morning. When we drove home later in low, bright winter light, there were still many autumn leaves on the trees, and they shone as if they'd been burnished. Within a week or so of sudden winter - for this is a year when all such changes have been sudden and surprising, the seasons shocked and hurried into readiness - most of them were gone, but they were lovely while they lasted.

The music is the title track on the Contratopia album, Smitten. (The full set of photos is on a web album here)

Happy New Year.

* unless transmuted into something worthwhile as art, was the coda.

Thursday, December 26, 2013


The moths came just before Christmas: 
dust-crumbling parchment specks
blowing in through opened doors 
glowing on the television screen
flecks of life against the dark and light. 
Then the storm took them.

I carry your sorrow through this time
in the cupped hands of my thoughts,
in spite of knowing that I can't
release it, whole, uncrushed, into the night,
or take even a moth's wing's weight of it away
from you.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Late marigolds at Christmas

Last from the summer wildflower patch, scarce, scruffy and storm-battered, but I'm too lazy/softhearted/busy-with-other-things/fairweather-a-gardener to mow them.

The wind and weather finally blew out the internet, and the phone, last night, and they've not that long been back.  Now the lull between storms, and we dry out and try not to worry about what the next lot might bring. But we are so blessed, really, and have so much.

So love and best wishes my dears, hugs and hands outstretched to the friends I make and have made here, thank you for coming, for coming back, for all the things you have brought me; I wish you the very best of Christmases, and peace, love and hope for the coming year.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Three beautiful things for a cold-stricken time

Wasabi peanuts, from a special Christmas stall at the supermarket, with all kinds of odd dried and glacé things. I love wasabi, in a unique, slightly masochistic way, and I like the way these Japanese snacks incorporating it are sweet and savoury and dry and pungent all at once, and just now especially I like how they send a kind of delayed explosive charge through the soft palate, into the sinuses and tear ducts, finishing up somewhere in the vicinity of the Eustachian tube.  I also like the colour.


Librivox. Why didn't I know about this before?  The audiobook equivalent of Project Gutenberg: aiming to make every book in the public domain available free as an audio book. It's easy to access and you don't have to download the podcasts.  Scratching the surface of it would get me through several lifetimes and an awful lot of knitting.  I've just finished Emma; the reader was good, her American accent very quickly ceased to bother me (sorry, US friends, for this show of prejudice) and in fact her British accent and range of voices for the dialogue was impressive, I thought Emma's voice in particular was spot-on.


Something that made me rather tearful*, not because it's sad, quite the contrary, but because it's so touching and lovely: the astonishingly talented Colin and Li Yi's latest Christmas video.  I've yet to meet these two in person, they live in England and are good friends of my niece and sparkly nephew-out-law, but I've posted their previous ones twice, here and here, so I reckon three times constitutes a tradition. A little while ago I recommended Erin Morgernstern's book The Night Circus to my sister, who then thrust it on her daughter who then lent it to Colin and Li Yi.  When they returned the book, my niece opened it and there was a handmade thank you card in the shape of a pop-up model of the Night Circus.  In fact I think perhaps they belong in the Night Circus... 

Though they are clearly technically very savvy, much of the work is done with pencil and paper, the paper shapes cut out meticulously with scalpels, very hands-on (there's a page of stills about the making of this video here), and it takes a long time.  And though this kind of design is their profession, the videos are really made simply out of love, generosity and and overflowing creative spirit; one commenter here before said seeing them made her feel quite hopeful for the future. Enjoy, and thanks and happy Christmas to Colin and Li Yi.


*since, as Simone de Beauvoir (I think) said, no matter what tears you shed, you always end up blowing your nose. Which is one reason why it's good for a cold, the other is that cheering and beautiful things make you feel better anyway.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Comment response guilt, and 52

Natalie just posted on the matter of infrequent blogger's guilt.  I am not afflicted by this in terms of the (in)frequency of my own blogging, since that's no better or worse than it's been for a while, and I tend to think over-frequent posting might be as much of an imposition as the lack of it might be neglect, but I do worry a bit about my neglect of my friends' blogs, and also about my slackness about responding to comments; Tom was quite shocked to learn, as was I to reflect on it, that I haven't replied to a single comment in the threads of the last three posts.  This is a funny one, since it seems to me people who are very conscientious about regularly replying to their comments get a lot of people tracking back and conversations growing up, and other people never reply to comments and no one expects them to so everything's clear, but  with people like me who sometimes do and sometimes don't, it's not quite certain what should be done.  A couple of times over the years, when replying at great and thoughtful length to several people in one of my own threads, I've asked if anyone's actually reading and tracking these responses and answer came there none, but I know there are some who are very assiduous about returning, and a few good chats have taken place in my comments. I do try to reply if anyone asks a direct question.

Whatever, I just wanted to thank everyone for the nice comments I've had, they are always treasures and my non-response is not down to  any lack of appreciation!

Today is my fifty-second birthday.  Not a particularly significant number as far as I know.  We had plans for going out somewhere, either up the coast to Erquy to look at the sea and eat oysters or over to Dinan to mooch and eat curry, but I have developed the mother of colds since getting back from Mayenne, the same cold that my brother picked up from a nurse in the hospital who really should not have come in to work and breathed over already sick people.  So I don't feel very outgoing and eating out would surely be wasted on me, as nothing much tastes right anyway.  But I have various small but hopefully satisfying plans for the day, which may or may not include putting my supplies of knitting wool into the lovely seagrass hampers that I had for a present, and will fairly certainly involve watching Patience (After Sebald) which Film4 has kindly laid on today, and which seems the perfect thing, melancholy and wintry and reflective, a sad tale's best for winter, and a birthday and a cold are sure enough excuse to sit and watch an afternoon film, a thing I can't usually comfortably do. And Tom says he cook me a nice hot potato curry which should help clear the tubes.

I am wearing clothes I like although they are quaint and unflattering and I probably wouldn't wear them far outside the house; I have had a couple of phone calls, a couple of treasurable e-mails, lots of nice cards and a fab book from J called Knit Your Own Zoo.

My brother described my current mode of life as 'Gnitting for Stay-at-Gnomes' which I thought would be a good title for a knitting blog (which I'm not going to set up), though I think I would make it 'Gnitting for Gnostic Stay-at-Gnomes'.  I found this which I thought would make a good header:

She's not, of course, staying at home, but that could be figurative.

I also rather like this chap:

The sofa and a film awaits, thanks for being around.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Belle, the cat from Mayenne

We've lately been at my brother's and sister-in-law's place in the Mayenne, a hundred miles or so east of here. This departure from our general practice of not stirring our stumps to travel and stay anywhere during the winter months was brought about by matters health and hospital related for them, which I hope we've been some help with, so it wasn't a pleasure jaunt.  We were very lucky with the weather, however, which was quite cold but dry and often bright, and the lack of frosts until now has meant that there's still a lot of very beautiful autumn colour about, enhanced by lower and more dramatic wintry light than one normally gets to see it in, so the driving we had to do through the countryside was often a pleasure despite the somewhat anxious reasons for doing it. We're back in Brittany now for the moment.

Another unexpected source of joy and amusement was their latest cat companion. Some years ago my brother wrote a piece which I begged from him as a guest post here, following the decease of the last of the cats they had at that time.  For a long time that post had more page views by far than any other on this blog; I wasn't quite sure what the traffic sources were but it certainly deserved the attention.  As predicted, they didn't stay catless for long: now, as well as three plump tabbies and tortoiseshells and the obligatory skulking tom-cat on the periphery, they have been joined by this enchanting little wisp of smoke:

They call her Belle but she goes by many names, according to who's talking to her.

One of these was Sirène, which was given her by the children of the family up the road who she first presented herself to, because, when she was still quite a small kitten back in the summer, they were messing about in a boat on the fishing lake next to their house when she appeared on the bank, calling plaintively, then jumped into the water and swam out to them.  They would have happily kept her but are only seasonal visitors, so when they had to go back to England she very quickly fetched up at my brother and s-i-l's place. They certainly weren't looking for yet another cat, but she is such a special one, and I think has been a valuable source of company, comfort and amusement to them both at a difficult time. Despite the frequent problems experienced with introducing female cats in particular to one another, she has quite easily found her way to the top of the hierarchy, largely because her nature is almost entirely cheeky, playful and affectionate: everything is a source of potential fun to her, the occasional cuffs which she mostly dishes out to, rather than reeives from, the bigger cats are more of a claws-in game than any serious hostility, and she can run rings round them anyway.

She regarded Molly in a similar light, an opportunity to react melodramatically sometimes,

but really nothing to worry about, and possible a source of more fun and games.

Mol has always been quite fond of cats, having been largely raised by them, but in the past if a fluffy feline high-tailed it away from her she would often give chase.  Now she's really rather too old, deaf and blind to bother, but she enjoys endlessly following cat trails around the site and eating up cat biscuits at every opportunity.  Belle countered by eating her dog croquettes, which made her sick, unless that was the mouse she had for dessert. From time to time, if Mol was sitting with us, her head in Tom's or my s-i-l's lap, the cat would scamper up the arm and along the back of the sofa, onto their shoulders and hop-skip-and-a-jump over the top of the the dog's head before Mol knew what was happening. A couple of times Belle raised her paw and hissed a warning, and Mol seemed foggily to be aware that she should back off; only once was there an aggrieved yelp over the food bowl, but no visibly scratched nose.

When I suggested to her one afternoon of low sun and dancing gnats, golden leave and red berries, that she and I should take a walk around the grounds with a camera, she greeted the idea with enthusiasm, and pranced, posed and struck attitudes with the aplomb of an experienced model on a location shoot.

(yes, she can get through that fence easily)

 One cool cat, I reckon.

Monday, November 25, 2013


A couple of weeks ago now, Princeling, his mum and I decided we should thumb our noses at the wind and rain and general signs of coming winter, and arranged to go to the beach.  It was a Sunday and by good fortune a window of quite nice weather opened briefly for us. Nevertheless, Tom and Molly weren't really up for slightly chilly messing about on the beach activity, so they stayed snuggled down on the sofa for a cosy Sunday afternoon, which is pretty much just how I found them a few hours later.

It was quite a little walk to get to the beach, but the boy didn't make too many bones about it, only mildly demurring that the beach might be 'trop windy' (anyone who says bilingual children don't mix up their languages has clearly not met the ones I've known). He's a good walker but as often with little kids it's the boredom factor that can be the problem, but once the sea was in sight he was off ahead down the steps,

'Hurry up!'

'How to amuse them today?'

There was long jump,

which his mum joined in.  I just took the photos.

Then there was timed running: see how long it takes you to get to that rock and back (the equivalent with an athletic six-year-old of throwing a stick for a big energetic dog)

On your marks...

get set...


Which rock?

Some other people had a real big energetic dog, who was enjoying playing with seaweed,

we didn't try this with Princeling, though he picked up quite a lot of it, along with bits of driftwood, reed heads and other items of vegetation. Iso objected to the idea of bringing smelly seaside stuff back in the car, but we negotiated, held onto the driftwood ('que le bois?') but left the seaweed in the car park.

We scrambled on some rocks, for which I needed my hands free so didn't take any pictures, and we made seagull noises. A sand angel was made,

and there were smiles all round. We agreed we should try to do it more often, as you always do.


*Yes, I know it's glaringly obvious from the footwear clues that these photos were not really taken in sequence.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Tom's hot stuff

Well, I finally finished Tom's red Lang sock wool scarf.  It just went on and on; sometimes I was knitting with it wrapped round both our necks, and from time to time asked 'are we there yet?'  But he just kept replying 'no, make it longer!'.  I felt like Rex Harrison's pope Julius to Charlton Heston's Michelangelo, amended to

'When can I make an end?'
'When it is finished!'

At last I came to the final section of grey on the second skein (I love that word, wool and geese, two of the loveliest things the world has to offer), and if it were to end as it began that had to be it.  I washed and blocked it, hoping that would widen the rib a bit, which it did slightly but not very much, though it made it more supple and amenable to being stretched and opened out anyway. There was enough left to make a fringe, which took quite a while too.

then it had to be trimmed. After that, I wetted the fringe and tried Elizabeth Zimmerman's trick of whacking it very hard while wet on the edge of the sink.  This had the interesting effect of making all the separate fine strands curl and cling together into chunkier cords, probably in terror at such violence.

It really is absurdly long, but he seems pleased with it,

 the extra length, he says,

can always be wrapped around twice.

Anyway, while I knit, or put on tassels, he cooks.  Inspired by Rick Stein, it must be said, he is coming over all Indian flavoured.  This one was a great success, in my opinion:

I love curry, and I love mussels.  What could be better then, than curried mussels?

I'm not talking about the pathetic teaspoonful of curry powder the moules frîtes places stick in the poaching liquor and charge an extra euro for, which generally passes for curry and therefore daringly exotic in French terms (and often all shoved under the blanket heading of créole, whether from the French West Indies, Pondicherry or Africa), but a really well blended light curry sauce, with onion, garlic, chopped fresh tomatoes and ginger as well as a good dose of chilli and other freshly, and quite coarsely, ground spices, reduced and brought to high heat, then the mussels cooked in it.  Bloody delightful; some wedges of lime and slices of cucumber to freshen it up and some naan bread which I buy and freeze on the rare occasions I see them.  And beer, of course.

This one wasn't quite so photogenic, but tasted pretty good too.  Chicken, pullao rice and Bombay spiced potato (with mango chutney on the side).  He is also making proper ghee by clarifying, simmering and straining unsalted butter; this meal used rather a lot of it.  If we go on like this we'll both be needing great big scarves to cover our great big tummies.

In fact, studying more authentic cookbooks, it becomes apparent that a lot of real Indian food is in fact quite dry, as this was (though the ghee helped offset that...). Coming as we do from the land which (allegedly) invented chicken tikka massala, we find we rather like a bit of extra gravy.  There was just enough for me to have as leftovers for lunch the following day, and I took the liberty of adding some tomato passata and a drop of light cream, which worked very well, though I didn't tell him I'd done it till later.

Life is sweet.  And savoury.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Seven years, one thousand posts.

Well, here it is: today is the seventh anniversary of my first ever post here, and this is my one thousandth post.  It's been good.

I shall continue here, much as ever, though it must be said things have changed a bit.  In essence, blogging is still an important part of my life, but not quite as important as it has been.  It's easy to lament the changing times, blame Facebook, regret one's lost readership - or waning commentariat, in fact my stats and followers are still pretty much as good as ever they were - or apologise for one's own lack of motivation.   I know full well I simply don't put the effort into reading and commenting on other people's blogs or even replying to comments on mine; I've become a rather less sociable blogger, so I really can't grumble about anyone else's levels of attentiveness. Often I do still read, reflect on, am charmed, interested, (mildly)annoyed and generally enriched by what others have to say, but I don't end up responding to them in comments.  I don't know why I've lost the will to do so, I am sorry about that.  The corollary of this is that I'm really not so disappointed or depressed when I receive less response myself, which is surely no bad thing; I'm not sure one should be too reliant on strokes from others for one's moral and spiritual well-being - though be assured I always like the strokes very much!

I'm not sure that the Facebook explanation works as an explanation for a decline in blogging activity really.  When FB did their floatation thingy a year or two back I seem to remember a few pundits saying that it was in fact too late already: the fascination with sharing all of one's life on-line through that particular conduit was already in decline.  Many of my fellow bloggers, I know, largely eschew FB.  I do wonder, based purely on my own experience, if many of us just find that we've more or less shared and told most of what we want to share and tell and are now returning to our ordinary 'meat-world' (anyone remember that rather gross and dualistic expression?) lives, albeit enriched, enlightened and grateful for the people and things we've gained here.

Conversations are still clearly going on though, but perhaps I'm just not feeling so much like talking any more. And perhaps the knitting, in my case, expresses something of a need to return to something more concrete for a while. I do that reading back over one's own stuff thing quite a lot (bet you all do too!) and often get a touch of Jonathan Swift's 'Oh what a genius was on my when I wrote that!' feeling, which is a mixed pleasure, but it's still all there anyway.

For me, the discovery and sharing of photography was always one of the most important things about blogging, and I've really enjoyed that.  But while I'm sure I'll continue to take photos sometimes, of particular things or when I feel inclined, I no longer automatically pick up the camera anywhere and everywhere.  Occasionally I regret this, when something unexpected and serendipitous presents itself, but often I've a sense of being liberated from the necessity to document and make art of anything and everything, and of the time spent reviewing and editing images - though of course when I was more involved and interested in taking the photos, that wasn't a chore but an eagerly anticipated pleasure, nevertheless it was time consuming and difficult to keep up with.  Also, and seriously this is not fishing for compliments or self-pity, there is so much really excellent photography, from people with skills and equipment far beyond what I can acquire, that the excitement that came in with digital cameras initially, whereby everyone could produce quality images with little outlay or training, has inevitably faded somewhat; the world is awash with beautiful photos, it grows harder to add anything significant to that.

Yet, even early on, it occurred to me that one day I might find I was doing it without the camera, framing and seeing and appreciating the visual beauty everywhere without the need of a pictorial record, as I didn't before, and I think perhaps that is what has happened, to a point.  Likewise, I am seeing and appreciating the world generally better for the experience of blogging, without necessarily having to impose the demands, on myself or on others, of actually blogging about it.

However, as I said, I'm not stopping.  I think we all have to go on, or not, as we see fit.  The best blogs, to my mind, and many of them have been going quite a bit longer than I have, do so very largely for the blogger's own benefit, to record and reflect on the things which are important to them, without undue concern as to whether they are becoming repetitious or trivial, whether they're as good as they used to be, or even whether anyone else is paying attention.  I flatter myself in believing that some of my posts are quite useful or informative: there's still a kind of sporadic conversation going on on a four year old post between commenters, usually anonymous, who sailed on the Aztec Lady in their youth: every now and then someone is relieved to know they didn't imagine the existence of a chocolate spread called Nutch; lately a chap on holiday in this area told me he'd found  the post on the painted church at Morieux helpful, and the stats on the one about chestnuts indicate that I may still be forestalling people from eating conkers, or at least providing some diverting illustrations to Hopkins.  I try to describe the place where I live, and those I visit, in (English language) terms which I hope are appealing without being bland and rose-tinted.  I was gratified to see in the on-line visitors' book at Kerbiriou the names of a couple who I know had, by chance, used some of my blog as a guide to this area when they were staying at our friends' gîte a few years ago, which may have been coincidence but they may have followed a link from here.  I hope I can go on doing this kind of thing from time to time, and if the occasional poem still comes to me, I'll still post that as well. and who knows, things wax and wane in importance in life, I may find a renewed purpose here yet.

So, with much appreciation for all the friendship, kindness and encouragement, here's to the next seven.  I'll try to get round you all soon, and leave some comments!  I shan't be doing daily posting this November, as I've been posting pretty frequently lately anyway and have quite a bit of knitting to get done by Christmas.

Here are a few odd photos from the last Morlaix trip, which didn't quite fit anywhere else, just to finish on.

See you all soon.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Fire, rescue with quinces, Mashrou'Leila

1: The radiators are barely coming on yet but we feel chilly and damp.  The beginning of November justifies the first fire of the winter, and our day and our mood lift enormously.

2: B the German Doctor discreetly hints by e-mail that the Quiet American might like an excuse to take a breather from family responsibilities. An hour or two later he is on our doorstep with a box of quinces, and needs very little persuasion to sit by our fire for a little and talk about Indian food.  Grandchild worship is wearing a little thin, it seems; our house is quieter.  I don't quite know what I'm going to do with the quinces, but they are making the back extension smell very nice.

3: My recent, limited, forays into Arab indie music have also yielded Mashrou3Leila.  Lebanese, sometime students of the American University of Beirut, some boys and a girl, an openly gay lead singer, I don't understand what they're singing about, and it may be deceptively political and serious, but it seems fun and lively, and as a lover of aubergines, I couldn't but respond to this:


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hamburg parsley, epistemological exoticism, and a thousand colours

1: Hamburg parsley: a very poor germination of the seeds means I only have four plants to show for it, but I pulled one today and roasted it with some carrots and leek and an undersized and barely ripe butternut squash.  I've never eaten it before; it does indeed resemble, as Jane Grigson described it, 'an underprivileged parsnip', but the flavour and texture are not much like, and certainly more delicate.

2: My big brother Phil gave me a book he'd written when we met earlier in the month.  It's a GURPS role-playing game supplement on the subject of Atlantis. GURPS stands for Generic Universal Role Playing System, and in fact what big bro is best known for in this line is his collaboration with Terry Pratchett in creating the GURPS series for the Discworld books.  I am only a little the wiser as the the arcane nature of these activities, but I am already absorbed in the book, which is full of fascinating information on every possible aspect of the Lost City, from Plato through Madam Blavatsky and Jules Verne to modern submariners.  It's meticulously researched and delightfully, accessibly written, and it serves to remind me of  how we spent so much of our childhood, with Look and Learn comics and Jackdaw folders and wall charts and maps and bickering over knowing most about obscure things, and generally being pretty horrid little bookish know-it-alls, and how marvellously enriched our lives have been by it, even though neither of us, he by choice and I by aptitude or the lack of it, has ended up as conventional academics.

3: More knitting! The Lang Mille Colori I mentioned before, which Iso bought for me as a present when we had our knitting day out , I started making into a fairly narrow single rib scarf, along the lines of the famous Noro striped scarf as written down by the mighty Brooklyn Tweed.  However, and this wasn't my original idea but I can't remember whose it was so I can't credit it, instead of using two different self-striping yarns, I used two different ends of one colourway, so that instead of one end of the wool being at the start of the knitting and the other still embedded in the ball, both are left at the beginning and one runs out in a loop instead of an end, a topologically interesting proposition. Thus the broad fuzzy bands of colour are broken up into narrower stripes but only by other colours of the same wool.  I've no idea if this makes any sense at all, but this is the result:

(In fact at this point I'm using opposite ends of two different balls, but anyway, the principle is the same.) I've lately picked it up again since putting it aside in favour of other projects for other people with deadlines. I must say that knitting seems to be one of the only things I've ever taken up where I'm finishing things some time before the deadlines, which must be a good sign, though how long this situation will continue before I overreach myself I don't know.

Yarns and knitting are extraordinary for provoking memories and associations, particularly the colours involved.  The chalky hues in this wool put me in mind of a couple of ceramic items I came upon at a particular time in my life: a fragment of mediaeval floor tile preserved at Muchelney Abbey in Somerset, and a small pottery pendant in the shape of a leaping salmon, small and simply shaped but with a glaze of remarkable complexity, which I bought from a young woman on the street in Killarney.  I may one day revisit Muchelney, and even perhaps Killarney, I hope so, but the little fish pendant I left behind somewhere and won't see again.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Dinan, in search of lost glasses, bag wash.

Deadline cleaving as ever, though this one is entirely self-imposed so no one but I will give a monkey's if I make it or not anyway.  In order to reach exactly one thousand published posts in exactly seven years of blogging, I must now produce one a day for the next four days as of today.  So it's really a question of making myself sit down for a short time and come up with something, just like I did when I first started, only I think I can safely say I I will not be getting up at six in the morning, plugging in the dial-up connection, making tea, going for a walk round the block, reading the first volume of À la recherche du temps perdu etc before the connection was made and Blogger Dashboard, in its dear old chunky black and blue format appeared... ah, those were the days.

So, when daily blogging calls, and inspiration falters, what else is there to do but the time-honoured and always handy Three Beautiful Things! In my preferred format of two written items and an illustration.

1:  Tom is stir crazy from resting his Rabbits' Revenge twisted leg, and decides it's better enough to drive to Dinan and eat Indian.  The New Delhi is fairly new, and the menu is good enough to assuage our yearnings. The nan breads are especially good, the right balance of puffy and light yet still chewy and substantial, and they bring us a vindaloo strength sauce, savoury and tomato-ey, in a separate dish, so we can add it judiciously to taste.  I beg a stop at Fil de Lune, get an extra ball of one I've already got on the needles to be sure, and some sea-green bouclé on clearance which I'm not 100% sure about but think I can do something nice with. It's a glorious sunny day.

2: On the way we are passing through Moncontour to go to the bank and a large elderly man in a wheelchair is stuck in the middle of the road on a very steep hill, holding up the traffic.  We pull over, Tom goes to the bank, I join in the effort to push the man out of the road into a safe parking place in the sunshine until his carers can come and get him.  Much later, in Dinan, I realise I've lost my nice new reading glasses which were hanging round my neck in a case on a string.  Did they get caught up in the wheelchair?  Who knows.  I retrace as many steps as possible, including the site of the wheelchair episode, but without success.  I call in at the retraite where the man comes from.  The woman at the reception is so kind: 'Oh he's a pain,' she grumbles about the old man,' he's always going into town and he knows her can't get up the hill again.  And you were trying to help and now you've lost your glasses!' I add that I don't know for sure that it happened then.  She promises to ring me if they do show up, but I trail home drearily and without much hope.  Tom urges me not to wait around feeling rotten about it, ring the opticians in England now, get them replaced.  All the paperwork is still together, and I find a voucher with it for 50% off if I buy an extra pair.  A quick 'phone call to the always lovely, cheerful, helpful people at Specsavers in Bishops Stortford and the request is underway and an identical pair will be in the post shortly, for not much more than the cost of the Indian lunch. Till then, I've got the older ones, which are still OK.

3: Molly is smelling rather sousty.  'Put her in the bag wash!' says Tom.  The what?  But he can't really say what it was, it's an elusive childhood memory, his mother putting a bag of dirty clothes in an old push chair and it coming back all wet and crumpled, perhaps having been washed still in the bag.  Hooray for the internet! Not only was it confirmed that such things did take place, but there is a photographic work in the Tate Gallery collection about it:

It's by Nigel Henderson, there's more about it here.  But we won't send Molly off to the bag wash really.