Monday, July 28, 2014

Latest things happening; a soapstone shape; white arthropods; cone flowers; TMI Marcel?

Cooking chicken Kievs this evening, a nostalgic indulgence from the time when they were Marks and Spencers' signature dish, I found myself scraping the residue of milk, cornflour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs into a blob and throwing it in the pan to make a little fritter.  Molly's portion, as always. What else could I do?

I ate it myself, it really wasn't bad, she did all right.

We picked up her ashes today. Tom had been quite distressed and fretful about the limbo which we were in regarding them. I'd tried and probably better succeeded in telling myself it didn't matter too much, that her poor tired little body was all finished with anyway, and all would surely be being dealt with conscientiously and properly, even if it was the holidays and there were delays, that many a human cremation was delayed far longer. Nevertheless, I was surprised at the peace of mind and sense of resolution it brought, and also how nicely it was done; the paperwork which we had been too distraught to take any notice of at the time assured us that they understood it was a painful and difficult time, that by deciding on this course we wanted to do things decently and that they promised to do their part of it with all respect and kindness.  The certification and packaging looked lovely and used her name, and there was even a little piece of card with flower seeds pressed into it that we could plant for her in the place of our choice. OK, maybe it was all calculated marketing but we appreciated it and considered it well done. I don't remember anything so warm and personal with my parents' ashes, and it really wasn't an expensive service.

The vet and her husband asked rather shyly if we were going away this summer because if not they would very much like to invite us over, as friends, now we weren't customers...? That touched our hearts too.


We have Tom's daughter K, her husband and children coming for their summer visit tomorrow, and now we feel better able to cope with it, and enjoy their company.  I'm always slightly surprised how much it pleases me transforming my blue room into a cosy den for the kids, and stocking up on oven chips for the traditional moule frîtes fest, and Tom and K always benefit from a bit of time together.


Jantien has been back in Moncontour for the remainder of her residency there, and encouraged me to come for another sculpture class.  This isn't really serious sculpture as she does it, more like a simple session of soapstone polishing, but it is immensely satisfying, since whatever happens, at the end of the afternoon one has a beautiful piece of polished stone to show for it, as well as skin, hair and clothes covered in a layer of coloured talc which is curiously pleasurable.  I had a notion this time to make something to do with garlic, having been seduced into buying some very beautiful pink garlic imported from Argentina, a thing I would never normally do as, without being too sanctimonious about it, I do try to buy and eat as seasonally and locally as possible.  But these were so beautiful and reminded me so much of a sculpture, with their pink polished cloves pushing out through their chalky white husk.  

Jantien always says there are two ways to go with sculpture: you can have an idea what you want to make, find the right stone and shape it into it, or you can let the stone lead you to the sculpture.  In fact I suppose I took a path between the two, as there simply weren't any raw pieces which would have lent themselves to becoming a pink garlic bulb, so I let the idea go and picked up a piece of pinky brown soapstone with a flat base and some interesting speckles, and began to smooth it off, but the garlic idea persisted, along with another that came through.  When I'd told Jantien that I had an idea what I might do, she'd chuckled and said she didn't think she had a black piece of stone. In truth the notion of trying to make a Molly sculpture hadn't occurred to me; I'm afraid I do rather find the idea of making effigies and portraits of one's dead pets rather naff and anyway, I don't feel equal to representing Mol in such a way. Yet the shape that came about was about her; as well as being a garlic clove, 

it is also a tear drop.

Not great art or anything, but, as I say, deeply satisfying to make and to have.


A few more photos to season things. 

J'suis descendue dans mon jardin...  Going to pick some white Winchester Cathedral roses (for a friend and neighbour's 100th birthday, a rather strange event which I thought I might write about but am now out of time and probably your good graces to do so) I displaced a curious resident, a white spider, with a speck of pink, like a chameleon to the flower. 

Pray tell me arachnophobes ( which I am only quite mildly), is a spider less frightening coloured thus? Is it the darkness of them which disturbs?

Another white arthropod, a marbled white butterfly.

They are all over the place just now, won't be for long.

Some echinacea with and without bumble bees, just because.

and some poppy seed heads which Tom put to dry in the rough glazed bowl, even though the blasted things sow themselves all over the garden in all the wrong places without any encouragement anyway.

I don't think he meant it to be tasteful but I thought it was just so terribly much so.


And finally, for Robbie really but also anyone else who might be interested, proof it it were needed that Proust really was weird. Never mind every kind of snooping voyeurism from Françoise killing the chicken through Vinteuil's daughter's girlfriend spitting on his picture to the Baron de Charlus getting thrashed by a sailor, never mind locking your girlfriend in your flat in case she might be a lesbian, this is really perverse:

...but what fascinated me would be the asparagus, tinged with ultramarine and rosy pink which ran from their heads, finely stippled in mauve and azure, through a series of imperceptible changes to their white feet, still stained a little by the soil of their garden-bed: a rainbow-loveliness that was not of this world. I felt that these celestial hues indicated the presence of exquisite creatures who had been pleased to assume vegetable form, who, through the disguise which covered their firm and edible flesh, allowed me to discern in this radiance of earliest dawn, these hinted rainbows, these blue evening shades, that precious quality which I should recognise again when, all night long after a dinner at which I had partaken of them, they played (lyrical and coarse in their jesting as the fairies in Shakespeare’s Dream) at transforming my humble chamber pot into a bower of aromatic perfume.

There's a lot of asparagus in Swann's Way. I'm going back over it with audio book, picking up particular passages that interest and checking the text in the original and Moncrieff's translation as and when the fancy takes me, which having them on the Kindle makes easier.  The audio book is heavily abridged, of course. I loved the asparagus description but on checking found they had rather coyly left out the last bit about the chamber pot.  Wrongly I think, for any discussion about asparagus, as with Jerusalem artichokes, is not complete without a mention of the after effects, is it? No, what's weird is that what most people would be more inclined to liken to the miasma surrounding Bridgwater cellophane factory (go on, follow that link, you know you want to) he describes as 'a bower of aromatic perfume'. Now that is strange.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Molly passing; some links; alpaca

Thank you so much for all the truly wonderful, heartfelt and heart-warming support about dear Mol, here and at Tom's place, by e-mail and letter and in person. We really have been quite bowled over by how much affection, sympathy and kindness could be prompted by one small, rather eccentric, not very socialised dog and her, not always very socialised either, humans. People are marvellous sometimes, nearly as marvellous as dogs.

I find myself reluctant to post again, and let the photo of her slide down from the top of the blog. It seems like another of the many small lettings-go we are doing, each of which can feel like a relief and kindness or else a betrayal and abandonment. We are gradually rearranging and adjusting things,  having to think again and again as to which habits and routines we need to maintain and which were instituted because of, or indeed by, for she had us well-trained, Molly.  There is much to be caught up with in house and garden that was rather let slide in her last days, weeks, months even, so we do not as yet feel we have abundant time on our hands, though we are constantly aware of how much detail has gone from our life.  We are cleaning and clearing, keeping and discarding and re-purposing things, the last sometimes a positive and creative action; for example the purple fleece blanket we used to put on the bed so she could come up and join us for morning tea, still good but rather rough and worn and always, even when washed, with a residue of Molly hair, I shall sew inside the beautiful red cotton cover my sister brought over for us but which proved to be slightly the wrong size for our duvet, to make a new piece of bedding with the relic enshrined, as it were. Other items I will take to the local SPA dog refuge, but that's not a place I can face just yet.

Yesterday we went to settle up the final account with the vet, we'll get Mol's ashes back at a later date - much as she loved this garden we simply couldn't just dig a hole and put her in it, come in at night and leave her out there, nor could we simply ask for her body to be disposed of and that an end to it. It was a wobbly moment to call Emy (the vet) again and talk about it, but it did drive me to sort out all the medicaments, throw some out and return some, and in fact it was nice to see Emy and her husband Paul again. I shall miss them as friends, if not all the reasons for having to see them. They too were lovely, with just the right balance of brisk and stoical good cheer and gentle kindness.  I really don't know how vets do it.

I do wonder if people live longer these days because there are fewer deaths. I've had so few really to grieve in my life; I minded my parents passing but I was still young and they had been old by my standards then (I was born to them late); I bounced back and moved on into the life I'd yet to live, lightened and with a sense of freedom, I have to say, from worry and sadness and a little resentment at their decline and the demands it placed. Not a very worthy thing to admit but there it is. Yet I've found the losses that have hit me of late, even those which couldn't be called shocking or unexpected, have seemed to age and diminish me, physically, mentally and in spirit, as though some of my essential life stuff really has been taken away and may not, this time, be restored. The skin around my eyes seems more discoloured, thin and lined, my body more squashy and shapeless, my mind more weary and reluctant to address things, I am more ready to despair and abandon. It seems to me quite possible that mourning too much death could shorten your life.

Enough. I know I owe it to them to live better and not waste time, dogs especially do hate wasting time. I have had and still have so much love and beauty in my life. I am often joyful and always grateful. I shall keep coming back here, and Molly will appear here again, many times, you may be sure. I have been reading back through the Out with Mol blog , lately neglected but always maintained, with enjoyment as well as sadness, and may do something with some of it, we'll see.


Other stuff.  I hesitate to even hover round the edge of the matter here, but these articles I've found quite helpful.  Not that they particularly make one feel any less despairing, but they do, for me at least, shed a bit of light on things I either didn't know about, or have read or heard about over and over but still find it hard to get straight in my mind.

9 questions about the Israel-Palestine conflict you were too embarrassed to ask
11 crucial facts to understand the Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel's Gaza invasion is all about tunnels

I imagine this probably provokes eye-rolling in most quarters, since anyone who's remotely interested knows everything contained (and all the answers) and can't understand why I even need to read them, and anyone who isn't simply feels sickened, bored, hopeless, apathetic or whatever. But I found them clearly written and, as far as I can see, unexceptionable in their editorial line.


And to finish some photos of happy fluffy stuff, which is no more nor less inappropriate than happy fluffy stuff ever is. This is from an outing that we made a few weeks ago, while my sister was still here and Molly still able to set out for a ride in the car quite cheerfully.  Things closed in and I didn't get around to posting them at the time, but they merit showing, I think. A little while ago we saw some alpacas on the telly, and immediately felt we just had to meet some, and of course I love the fibre they make as well. A quick search revealed there were some just down the road (well, almost). Quelvehin Alpacas is on a straight road up a hill a few kilometres out of Pontivy, it's a beautiful place, made and run with real love and care by Steven and Jayne, who also run gîtes, which would be lovely to stay in, and courses on alpaca care and management. Jayne made us really welcome and gave us a load of her time and told us all kinds of things about these delightful creatures, a subject clearly dear to her heart.

Alpaca are South American camelids, like lamas and vicuna, related to camels but no humps. Other alpaca farms, there aren't nearly as many in France as the UK, tend to concentrate on breeding white ones because the fleece can be dyed, but lately there's more and more interest in the natural colours, and there's quite a range, through all kinds of browns and greys to quite a black black.

Alpacas are the most cartoonishly endearing animals imaginable, and the babies, known as cria, are endearing to the power of ten.

They were quite friendly and amenable to strokes,

though, Jayne chuckled, most of all when they aren't pregnant but would like to be, that makes them very affectionate.  This embarrassed Tom rather.

They seem quite affectionate with one another too.

Alpaca come in two types, huacaya, who have soft, woolly, curly fleece, and suri who have silky, straight hair


This lady was a suri (it had been raining). They are more delicate and difficult to raise. In fact alpaca are quite delicate anyway, they barely have enough milk for their young and are exacting about their diet.

We went on to visit the yearling young ones, who had struggled to survive in last year's wet winter, even with all kinds of extra care.

They all seem to get on well with the handsome resident Weimeraner.

In the final paddock were the boys.  Now, alpaca, unlike camels, won't spit at you.  But they do sometimes spit at each other, and it's mainly about sex.  If the girls think that the male on offer is too young and green and just doesn't take their fancy, they'll spit and kick at him and just not co-operate.  If, on the other hand, a fanciable more mature chap hoves into view, they will um... sit down.  This is what is required. 

Atlas, above, is one such comely fellow, and you have to admit he looks pretty cool.

We tended to think Solomon, above, didn't look too promising by comparison, but were assured he'd done all right for himself, with a few handsome cria among his progeny.

They were all in the field together and seemed to get along very equably.  However, we were told, when the males have been taken off to meet their designated date and then come back to the paddock, all the other boys spit at them and give them a good kicking, then everything calms down again.  Jealousy I suppose. 

Lovely creatures, lovely place, and I came home with 200 grms of the most heavenly alpaca yarn, handspun by Jayne, the colour of milk chocolate.

A few more photos on a web album here.

It's nice to be back, withal.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014


 7 April 2000 - 8 July 2014

Goodnight Mol.