Sunday, September 28, 2014

A splendid afternoon at Quessquitricote

Well, the rest of the holiday pictures are still unedited, it may yet be that they end up in reserve for Nablopomo, and then I had such a wonderful afternoon at Quessquitricote that I feel I must mention that first.

Firstly, Lyse had casually mentioned she'd got a bit of spare wool if anyone was interested. She proceeded to empty three large bags of the stuff in the middle of the floor.

Those are my hands to the left, matching up the brown and russet - Sonia's (youngest and blogless of us) hand is to the right, sporting a funky bracelet of the kind she makes from scrap packaging foil and other pretty junk. Soize took the picture.

We all whooped and fell on it with immoderate glee, it didn't quite end in a fight.  Soize's cherub twins wandered through, and looked with serene indulgence at their mother, when she told them, with the glittering-eyed febrility of the addict, 'It's Christmas!'.

We calmed down a bit after the division of the spoils, and waited for the greyhound (see below).  In the meantime, BN showed us her finished Ouessant curtain. Ouessant is one of the more easily accessible of my list of Places I Must Visit, and a Breton island I don't yet have in my collection. It's also the only one to have its own name in English: Ushant, and as such is familiar from the line in the sea shanty Spanish Ladies'from Ushant to Scillies is thirty-five leagues' * It is the setting for the film 'L'équipier', which despite rather unlikeable characters and unimpressive plot is still one of my favourites because the island and its lighthouses are really the stars; it has been the site of numerous shipwrecks and naval battles, is home to some rather wonderful shaggy sheep, and contains many tiny, thick walled cottages with small windows against the elements. On these windows it is traditional to hang crochet lace curtains, and these are often made using a complex circular motif peculiar to the island. Patterns for this are hard to come by and BN was very pleased to obtain one; she's been making some curtains on commission for someone in a very fine white cotton, and I've been casting admiring looks at them.  To me, any crochet beyond the most basic seems like a magic art; I can't imagine how people can do something so clever, but these Ouessant motifs seem to me especially charmed: flowers and ships' wheels and Celtic sun symbols all rolled into one. As well as the fine white ones she'd made a beautiful heavier écru version with round pendants on picot strings, and quite without any warning, she suddenly bundled it up and shoved it into my knitting bag, 'For you.'

I am quite bouleversée at such an exquisite gift, which I know involves hours and hours of tendon straining work, even for the ones she sells she can't possibly ask any price that reasonably reflects this.  We don't in fact have a window suitable, and though it might have gone on the door, that's frosted glass so it wouldn't be shown to best advantage, and also the spiders are rather fond of spinning round there.  So I have pinned it up in my blue room on the internal door to the bathroom, which contains all kinds of shells and pebbles from beach combing and various islands, and prints of Mathurin Méheut pictures of fisherman and boats and seaweed gatherers, and other fancy stuff, so as BN said, I can imagine I'm going to Ushant when I go through the door.

Bit of a mess, as always, but it's a working room, or at least a making and listening and generally messing about one; my sister, who likes to sleep in it, calls it Lucy's Bazaar. It's full of frippery and treasure, some enduring and inherited, much of it gifted or ephemeral, little of it of great monetary worth, and a lot of it could evaporate if I did and no one would have to worry. But it is precious to me, and it makes me happy.

Then the greyhound arrived.  She is called Irène and is nine years old and very beautiful. 

At Straw Hat Sunday, which I didn't go to this year, there was a stand for a greyhound rescue society. Soize, who loves dogs, quickly made for it and made friends with the people, and she suggested we should do something to support the refuge, help the dogs and raise awareness about it.  It's called Lévriers Libres, and for many of us there's a limit to how much we want our awareness raised about such things, so I've not given a link to the harrowing video about it, it's on the site elsewhere.  These are not ex-racing dogs as rescued greyhounds tend to be in the UK, whose fate is often sad and deplorable enough, but mostly former hunting dogs from Spain.  Suffice to say, when they are judged to be failures or too old for this, (and most of them are no more than three when they're rescued), they are, sometimes at least, not only considered disposable but 'dishonoured', and can be not only discarded but punished. Similar to the way, within some cultures, girls and women who are perceived to have become dishonoured are treated, often with the same methods: the vulnerable and voiceless, considered to be property, punished with a sadistic cruelty which should be the preserve of anomalous psychopaths rather than justified, ritualised and enshrined within culture or tradition. Not an aspect of the human condition I care to think about too much.

But there are those who try to make things better, to rescue and help. Irène came from a Lévriers Libre refuge further west in Brittany, and her owners have had her for six years. As well as funds and adoption, they welcome blankets, coats and other means of keeping the dogs warm in the refuges, so to do our bit, and mostly really to promote the cause, we co-opted Irène into modelling some greyhound cowls, about which she was very gracious. I had managed to make one of these, in a rather nice jewel purple colour (it looks bluer in the photo),

Soize, however, who, despite having four children, a lively young boxer dog, a hand in the family crêpe business, a vintage 2CV she takes on rallies and road trips, various on-line ventures as well as her blog, all of which she runs and maintains with grace and aplomb, seems to manage to knit two or three sweaters in the time it takes me to finish a scarf, produced a dazzling array of amazing greyhound neckwear and headgear, of which these are just a couple of examples.

There are also some marvellous pictures of her boxer, Gaufrette, modelling one of them here.

She took one or two pictures with me in as well, and unusually I don't mind them; most photos of myself still cause me to run screaming, be depressed for days or swear I'll never leave the house again. I really should get over myself, as my acerbic brother-in-law once said, 'Well that's what you look like, what do you think it's like for the rest of us, we have to see you all the time!' These make me look rather like I've often felt of late: my age and a bit more, a little sad and tired, but I can cope with them.

'So are you going to get one then?' asked Lyse, watching me with Irène.
'Don't say it.' I replied.

We all left very cheerful. Our lovely librarian, who is as welcoming and encouraging as can be, looked a bit shattered.  We had, she cautioned us, been rather dissipées, today, what with rolling around in ball parks of knitting wool and bringing dogs into the library. 'She's not a dog,' answered Soize, 'she's a model.'

I called goodbye, but was called over to Lyse's car, 'You're not getting away that easily!' chuckled Sonya


Every fortnight for the last three meetings Lyse has brought a car boot full of the most sumptuous, plump and delicious tomatoes to share. Once she had to cry off coming for the whole afternoon because she was up to her elbows bottling them in quantity, but still they come.  We have all dined on tomato salads, tomatoes fried and grilled, baked tomatoes with eggs (Sonya's recipe, and I bet her kids eat it too, French kids on the whole do eat their veggies, I don't know how they programme them differently but it seems to work), cream of tomato soup... and we all have freezers full of sauce and ragout and ratatouille to take us through the winter.  

We're not complaining, though Tom did remark this evening after pot roasted chicken with some tomatoes in the sauce that he thought perhaps he was turning a bit red and shiny...

A splendid afternoon, a time of gifts. Hooray for the autumn and la rentrée, for knitting and friends and dogs and tomatoes!


*casually searching for a recording of this song on Youtube was a revelation though not of the pleasantest kind, since it caused me to stumble into something resembling a UKIP fanzine forum; apparently embracing one's English culture not only involves a burning desire to wave red and white flags on 23rd April in honour of a first millennium Palestinian, but also a need to rant and roar about Napoleonic era clew garnets, shank painters etc. Who knew?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Finistère mises-en-abymes

Not sure about how the plural works for that. Anyway, we are returned from a truly marvellous, wonderful and lovely trip, with many many experiences to reflect on and photos to edit, but just for the moment here are three separate instances of mise-en-abyme I found on three separate days out.  In fact they are only really just mise-en-abyme, since it seems to me that to create the true sense of mirrors reflecting mirrors and fractals disappearing into themselves ad infinitum they need to be to the power of three at least (an image within an image within an image), whereas these only really repeat once, but they were, as it were, naturally occurring, and once I'd found one I was looking out for others, and was happy to find a trio, so the infinitely repeating and dwindling pattern must be left to the imagination.

  • On a door in a wall as we walked the perimeter of the Kernéléhen peninsula, straight from the door at Kerbiriou,

  • and finally, and perhaps my favourite, a mail box replica of the house it belonged to on the beautiful Île de Batz just off the port of Roscoff, though if it had been mine I would have had to make a replica of the replica out of a matchbox or something.

I must find away to bring more mise-en-abyme into my life...

More anon.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Coéfficient 115

As I mentioned before, we have lately become aware of the occurrences of especially high tidal ranges in the Bay of St Brieuc.  This month's, last Wednesday, presumably coinciding with the harvest moon, was one of the highest/lowest of the year, with a coefficient (look, I told you already, I don't have a clue what it means, OK?) of 115, which is not far short of the Bay of Fundy. It was to reach its highest point at about nine in the evening, and as it's still quite light at that time here, we took a blanket and a couple of bananas, left soup in a pan for later, and headed to Morieux to see it.

This is what the beach there usually looks like when we go for our walks on it:

I chose that one, from about eighteen months ago, because it had darling Molly in it, but here's another wider and longer shot:

And this is what it looked like when we arrived the other night:

As you can see, there were fishermen out on the rocks, which are usually part of the landscape rather than the seascape, taking advantage of fish brought in from greater depths. The following day, no doubt, the rocks and sands along the coast would be busy with pêcheurs a pied, searching for the delicate and delicious shrimps known here as bouquets, among other things. My classes of retirees were always much down in numbers the mornings after the grandes marées.

Many people were leaving already as we arrived a little after eight, I don't remember meeting with so many other vehicles on the steep road up from the shore, even so a good number of people were still there. There was a smidgen of sand still at that point, and a group of swimmers in the sunlit water.

'Is that a dog?' asked Tom, of one of the bobbing heads, and indeed, it was, a Newfoundland of course, doing his lifeguard patrol and circling his shoal of humans. 

We reached out to touch his oily, sea-spangled coat as he passed us. 'Watch out for the shower!' said his owner.

We settled ourselves on the top of the concrete wall round the no-longer-existent beach, 

and watched the sea advancing to our feet

(and sometimes felt it too when it got splashy).

The atmosphere was quite magical; we have been having days and days of glorious, hazy, September sunshine, Morieux faces west, toward St Brieuc then headland after headland up the peninsula all the way the the island of Bréhat; even without the tidal phenomenon the sunset would have been worth the trip. A long time ago when I was green in blogging and photography, a blogger I admire expressed the view that sunset photos were boring (which wasn't to say they thought sunsets themselves were, of course), and I rather took this on board and desisted from taking many. It's true that they can be a bit samey, of course, and orange light on waves looks pretty much the same anywhere, but I do think that watching a damn good sunset over the water takes some beating. As I said at the time, this is better than watching another repeat of Midsomer Murders

And I wasn't loathe to snap away at it either, and have enjoyed looking at the pictures too, if only to remind myself of the specialness of the moment.

Gulls and terns wheeled over the water calling, as did a flock of waders, who, unlike the gulls, aren't able to swim and bob like ducks on the surface of the water and seemed disconsolate at at having no sand to rest on, (the birds of the air, they sorrow and weep/ oh where shall we shelter, where shall we sleep?)

In the end, there was just us and a German family left at the edge of the waves, exchanging looks and laughing when we were splashed.  Sand hopping creatures, finding themselves homeless, tried to jumped up onto the steps and the grass to escape the encroaching waters, and the young girls of the family, with tender amusement, tried to catch and rescue them.

At about 8.45, it seemed to us that it would rise little higher. We turned to find the others had already gone, and we were the last remaining. We took up our blanket, walked to the top of the cliff took a final look and point of the camera, and went home to our soup. I feel so lucky to live somewhere where such experiences and such beauty can be enjoyed for the cost of a short car ride and the will to go and find them.


And indeed I took a few videos of it too, and these two are by way of an experiment, because I have found we have a video editor on the big computer, I never knew! So I can crop sections out of them and also shrink them so they don't take hours to upload.  The first one - which if I had the know-how I would make into one of those non-stop gif things - is shrunk to about the size of a postcard but is still uploaded via Youtube, the second is reduced to very small 'suitable for e-mail' dimensions, so that if you try to view it full-screen it pixellates, but I was able to put it straight onto the blog. The visual quality doesn't actually matter, because it's only a grainy view of the seagulls roosting on the water, but one can hear Tom, who didn't know I was taking it, giving his verdict on the state of the tide, which I rather like. Indeed, the visual quality of any of these little videos is hardly great, as Bob Marley didn't quite say, my knees is my only tripod, but I'm rather enjoying taking them as little moving and audio snapshots of moments.

Off to the End-of-the-Earth again for a few days shortly, so probably no more posting for a little while. Bye for now. 

Tuesday, September 09, 2014


My mum, Marjory Masters, née Cutmore, would have been 100 years old today.

I seem to have become custodian of the photograph albums. Most of them were put together in timely and heroic fashion by my twin nieces when Mum moved after my dad died, but there is one, stiff taupe coloured board pages, tied with cord, torn and falling apart, black and white and sepia photographs, which I imagine Mum made in the early years of her marriage, the war years; there are some wedding photos and a few pictures of the first of us children. Mostly it is of her and her siblings from an early age, and many of her nursing years and friends, and some cats and dogs. There are few dates, but captions in her still familiar handwriting.

I took scans of some, and some later ones, including the one above, and these of her playing on a boat on Brighton beach with her brothers and sister. Always recognisable by the shock of blond hair, impossibly abundant and shapeless, except when, as it usually was when I was a child, it was pruned and tortured into submission with curlers and helmet dryers and other arcana of the old-fashioned hairdresser.

She barely seems to have ever been a child, from these old pictures,

her younger sister Joan, posing in the pulled down cloche hat, was always cute, chubby and soft-faced, affectionate, she became a GI bride and an American. Mum, serious and responsible here in her beret, looked for so much of her youth like an old lady. They were hard years, for many in the world and for her in her family, though she had good memories of hiking the South Downs, a beautiful lavender coloured bike which she only came into because of an uncollected order at her father's cycle shop, and which nearly killed her when she caught the front wheel in the Brighton tram lines.

Hard times, family prejudice, curtailed her education and she went to be a nurse. She had a whole medical dictionary, textbook of anatomy and pharmacopoeia in her head, being ill was rarely a worry in our family. Though she stopped nursing when she married, the only time, apart from when there was death or illness in the family, that she left us overnight was to go to her nurses' reunion in Hastings, it was a given, a right she claimed. Again, hard times, backbreaking work, awful hours, tyrannical matrons, but good and worthwhile all the same, learning something, being useful, making firm friends in shared hardship.

The photos of those days are largely mysterious, names of people and places that mean little to me, except her friend Phil, my Aunty Phil whom I didn't really know, since she moved to what was then Rhodesia before I was born, and later to Australia where she lived out her old age in a simple beach house and her son became an Australian soap actor.

I think the misty face above hers in the above photo is her mum, my gran,

but it is Phil who leans cheekily into her in the boughs of the cherry tree, who probably induced her to climb it in the first place, despite their demure summer frocks, and perhaps who took the photo of her paddling beyond her knees in the sea, dress hitched up, rare moments of relaxed sensuality.

So often seeming old beyond her years, often tired and anxious, always a little strange looking, with that hair and those thick glasses round rather extraordinary coloured eyes, which Phil described as 'navy blue'.  Yet she was a slender woman; when she and my dad married in the early war years of worry and scarcity, he said he could get his hands around her waist. They would never tell any of us quite how and where they met. There was nothing fancy about their December wedding, no professional photos, not very many photos at all, only a peacock blue coat with a black collar which Joan made from a remnant, 

and someone must have told them to take their glasses off, in one or two pictures they still had them on. 

My first two brothers came, 

then my sister, and with childbearing and disordered wartime eating, so did the excess weight that plagued her for the rest of her life.

My second sister, my nearest brother and I arrived over the years, I guess I was squeezed in just before the menopause. Despite everything she was active and energetic, preferred camping and caravanning holidays to any luxury hotels (just as well as that was what we could afford), would spread pea gravel all over the garden in a day or so, a task I find crippling over our small driveway, and on a whim get me out of bed at the crack of dawn, from the age of about ten, to go on ten mile walks or take a train to Sussex to explore her old stomping grounds.

My uncle Jack took this one of my parents when I was about nine, I think, there are some of my brother and I from the same batch. 

Weight and worry and weariness, high blood pressure and diabetes took their toll in her later years, but she still loved her dogs and to walk, and that shock of frizzy white hair didn't diminish much. Her old age was sad and difficult, though.


When it was our dad's centenary about seven years ago - he had died a little less than twenty years before, seven years before Mum did, there was seven years between then and they died at about the same age - we had a kind of on-line party, a shared family blog, (that was pre-Facebook, this blog was quite new and my eldest brother in particular was enthusiastic about the concept) where we all shared reminiscences about the Old Man and other often tangential chat.  The tone of it was generally cheerful, affectionate and celebratory. Nothing of the kind has been mooted for Mum, we've not exchanged even a passing mention of her centenary year.  There is a sense that we have all moved on perhaps from there, other losses, principally that of my sister Alison, have occurred in the interim, and other concerns press on us, maybe a feeling that now at least some of the dead must be left to bury their dead. It isn't only that though, the matter of Mum is more complicated, less straightforward than it was with Dad; our feelings about her more painful and difficult, things that it is hard to touch on here: the old, old maternal story of unrequited love and mutual sadness and guilt, of reproach and self-reproach, disappointment, bitterness and misunderstanding, of old unhappy far-off things and battles long ago. It may well be I exaggerate this, belittling the joy, warmth and generosity, the creative originality, all those aspects of love that I was fortunate enough to grow up with. But if so it is perhaps because I have inherited from her a tendency to hold the half-empty glass up to the light too much.

Yet I am still, and lately, beset by those dreams of the kind Proust described having about his grandmother, where she didn't really die, it was a mistake, but by the time it was discovered I had gone on, moved to France, no one thought tell me, or worse I should have known but never asked, remaining wilfully ignorant and selfishly inclined to abandon her; she has moved back to our childhood home, everything is in hand, I'm not really needed, but it really is time I went to see her... Writing this is perhaps an attempt to do so. I'm not doing it for the rest of my family, I don't speak for them, if they see it so be it. We have never fallen out amongst ourselves, there has always been a kind of unspoken solidarity and delicacy between us, of shared defence, and we wouldn't fall out about her now, I know, but it is a question of taste and embarrassment, and letting people, the dead and the living, rest in peace. What I will do, more positively, as a commemorative gesture, is continue to scan the photographs, not only of Mum but all of them, and put them on web albums for everyone. 

The photo below was one of the few I found where she and I are together, though it is in fact cropped from a larger group snap, in the garden at Brighton, on the occasion of my dad's eightieth birthday, so she would have been 73, I was 25. Typically I am turning away from her; I still harbour a fear that the price I'll pay for that may be to turn into her, even though I know that can't happen, for good or ill.