Sunday, November 29, 2015

Wrong kind of chocolate and other gripes, and talking my miserable ingrate self out of them

Slightly irked in spite of myself about doing stuff for other people. I guess I must be fairly grudging about giving of myself and my time, or money come to that, and the less I have to do with other people the meaner I seem to get. Looking after Bram felt like a significant expenditure of time, energy and worry, and a saving of kennel fees for E (I don't think that was an option anyway, it was too late to book him in), and I find myself casting a rather critical eye at the remainder of the pretty average bottle of Côtes du Rhône and little box of chocolates we received for it.

A good choclatier, it's true, but one you can find in St Brieuc, not special to Paris, and more than half of them are dark. And that's another thing; I almost always know my friends' preferences like that, who likes milk and who likes dark*, what vegetables they will and won't eat, whether they like their cheese grilled or not, and generally what not to serve them. (I also tend to know their colours; I remember when J1 gave J2 a piece of jewellery with an amethyst in it, an over-extravagant gesture anyway, thinking that was a silly ignorant thing to do, J2 absolutely never wears anything purple, had even mentioned the fact before, and she later confirmed this to me unprompted and aside with regard to said gift.) Nobody, my darling, could call me a fussy woman, but I've had the what-kind-of-chocolate-do-you-prefer conversation with everyone I know, I think, often several times, yet when I get chocolates, there are always too many dark ones.

The there's the matter of searching for student accommodation for Simone and Jean-Felix's daughter, interpreting and translating and trying to explain to one side that the relevé d'identité bancaire  does not exist as such in the UK, or to the other that people in Brittany can't really just pop over to Golders Green on a quick trip to look at how well the bedside light works, trying to get a word in as everyone concerned talks digressively nineteen to the dozen, so important questions are forgotten to be asked or answered. And somehow I've ended up agreeing, well, OK, volunteering but being taken up rather more readily than I expected, to travel into London from Essex on the one full day I have in England, when it might have been nice to hang out with my sister looking at Indian textiles at the V&A , to check out the room on offer, turn euros into pounds and secure it for them.

This is awful I know, better not to do anything for anyone than volunteer then grouch about it, or about what I don't get in return; labour and not ask for any reward etc. Sod it, I'm no saint.

Just say no, what I'm always exhorting others, Jung and his day off and all that. But the fact is if you blank people from the start you really end up doing without people. I'm sure my grudging meanness wary reluctance about helping others, giving of myself and doing favours means I don't have as many friends as most people expect to have. And I repeat the cliché to myself, what goes around comes around, I just sometimes lack the faith in that kind of cosmic balance. I tend to dislike being beholden to other people at all, so their being indebted to me ought to suit me, but then I suppose I resent that they don't seem to be enough aware of it.

Which may or may not be true; E wrote us a heartfelt note to accompany the wine saying how sorry she was about the problems we'd had with Bram, and how she'd be happy to do anything she could in return. She's already agreed to be on standby for our airport run if existing arrangements fall through, and to be on the end of the phone in an emergency for G and A when they house sit.

Then there are all the ways in which it has come around already, which perhaps I am ignorant and unappreciative of. E has hosted our yoga mornings, providing coffee and space for more than ten years now. She is always upbeat and good company, living on her own with her dogs with rough-and-ready, plain Dutch, style and grace, she is a tonic, and I know she's poorer than we are financially. Simone, when she was our insurance agent, was a tower of strength and good advice when it came to scrapes and prangs and worse. That was her job, it's true, but she did it in a way that was very hands-on and human, and I know by the time she retired she was getting very fed up with being the broker, stuck in the middle, continually having to mediate and meet the demands and discontents of customers and company, and I'm generally admiring of people who undergo the stresses and strains of a working life that I don't have to.

And rather to my surprise, Tom agreed quite cheerfully to accompany me to Golders Green, a hitherto unknown area of London to explore a bit, there might even be a pie shop there, so we'll make the best of it.

Then there are the people in my life, too many to mention really, like my sister who will be cheerful and accommodating about putting us up between our dashing off to north London and Iceland, treating her house like a hotel, who is always thoughtful and tactful and knowing about other people's likes and needs and giving in the extreme, and like G and A who will come and house sit while we're away and overwhelm us with food and cooking and fuss and generosity, and who delight in sharing their lovely soppy dogs with us, dogs who are very ready to be adored.

And then there's everyone who comes here and reads all this stuff even when I'm posting every day,and listens to my petty whinges, and continues to amaze and gratify with kindness and good humour and friendship, on and off-line. It all comes around in abundance really.


PS - I'll knit for anyone at the drop of any hat, knitting, either on commission or off my own bat, I undertake completely without any sense of onus and it never counts amongst the things I resent doing.

*or professes to. Solipsism rules, and I don't believe that anyone genuinely prefers dark to milk, they just think it makes them more sophisticated to say so. Pace to those who truly do, I know you will protest your case, but I have found my conclusion has in the past been substantiated in cases when I have placed milk chocolate (often bought by myself) beside dark (sometimes bought by them) side by side in front of them and watched them scoff down the milk unhesitatingly and leave the dark.

Saturday, November 28, 2015


Faute de mieux,  or indeed faute de anything, here are three pairs of blue socks I have made in the last three months.

These were Tom's birthday socks. I knitted them over several evenings watching telly, and when I gave them to him he was genuinely surprised, having been completely unaware of their coming-into-beingness, or becomingness, or whatever. He assures me this kind of obliviousness is the product of a concentrated form of mindfulness, or perhaps mindlessness, conscious forgetfulness, willed nothingness, that refuses to spoil surprises for me in the giving. They are quite a dark blue with dull brown stripes, and knitted from the top down, with a heel flap, in the old fashioned way.

The problem with this method of construction is that you must calculate the amount of wool required and that which thou hast, and decide on the length beforehand. Even with good digital kitchen scales and doing lots of sums, one will inevitably either run out of wool (being English, I still find the word 'yarn' difficult) or have an annoying amount left over. Starting from the toe, however, as long as your know you have enough to complete the foot above the heel, after that you can go on as long as you wish, to the ankle and beyond. But this requires a satisfactory method of casting on the toe, and of turning the heel, which until recently I didn't have. Now, though, I have mastered the figure of eight for the former, and, having paid the princely  sum of $1 for the PDF, the fish lips kiss heel for the latter. The are both rather fun to execute, though I always seem to miscount somewhere on the heel on one sock and have to bodge it to adjust, but it doesn't seem to show too much. 

These were the first, which I decided were too rough and faulty to give away and kept for myself. We always get to keep the mistake/first attempt things, they mostly get quite a lot of wear. These are comfortable.

The socks below are more recent, made for one of my nieces. They are also finished off with a super-stretchy cast-off which looks a bit frilly and weird but really does avoid constrictingly-tight-sock-top misery. One ball each of merino blend fingering and a bit of another colour for the very top, which I'm rather taken with doing lately.

Most of the toe-up socks I've done have tended to be a bit long in the foot, even using the cardboard template trick that comes with the heel pattern; you really have to start the heel sooner than you think. Also, the heel isn't reinforced, as it is with a classic top-down pattern, so maybe they wear out sooner if they're worn in shoes especially.

There we are, so who knew there was so much involved in socks, other than just nipping into M&S or Carrefour or wherever and just buying a pack. At least I can link this post into my Ravelry notes anyway.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Happy reunion, Darwin's dog, hearth

Text conversation with E, Bram's mum, this morning:

E: ... All OK?'
Me: OK, bit tense at times. Tom still has his fingers.

I dislike texting, since, having only a twelve year old dumbphone, it has to be done the old-fashioned way, and, as I don't do it very often, I'm very slow at it. However, pride dictates that I don't ignore rules of orthography and grammar as a concession to my slowness, and insist on tapping out 'are you' instead of 'r u', for example, or searching the asterisk menu for the apostrophe, once I've worked out how to turn off the predictive text. And why did no one consider that 's' is one of the most commonly used letters in English, yet it's one of the few that requires as many as four clicks? I know these concerns must be almost entirely obsolete in most people's world, but I'm quaint like that, and while my old matt blue Nokia keeps going, I'm sticking with it, even if the battery does only last for one short phone call.

Anyway, she hastened back from the station, and Bram was very pleased to see her, dancing round and round her in the hall, farting merrily and adopting the demeanour I always think of as that of Darwin's dog:

A search reveals it was not in fact Darwin's own dog, but taken from the illustrations to his 1872 work, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals,   depicting a 'dog in a humble and affectionate frame of mind' and 'the same caressing his master'.

They were very happy to be reunited, as were we to see them so. She has lately e-mailed to inform me that he seems extremely tired and appears to be sleeping the sleep of the just. It's exhausting work guarding a poor hapless human female who will insist on consorting with the enemy. 

Later, we lit the first fire of the year, which must be one of the latest yet. Debris of the past seasons: old wine corks, nutshells, spent matches, twists of paper, prunings of laurel and sumac and buddleia, screwed up paper bags and cardboard egg boxes, all having had their moments, reasons for being, their stories, most already forgotten, up in smoke. I kneel at the hearth and poke and push at the fire as it burns, finding the right angles, the right shape and size of wood, how much to open the grill and the fire doors, all an excuse to linger with the clean dry heat on my face. The Vestal Virgins were opportunists, I reckon,claiming it was an altar, a mystery, tending the sacred hearth, they just wanted to be allowed to do this, but it's as good to worship as anything, and better than much. 

Winter's here.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Dog-imposed eremeticism, Freyfaxi, flowers

Skipped yesterday, I suppose you might say the strain is beginning to tell now. Partly that of daily posting, partly of dog hosting. Poor Bram, at just over a year old, after three homes and two refuges, he doesn't know he's only here for a few days, that his mum will come and get him on Friday, (or indeed what Friday means) and restore him to a two-dog household so all the onus of doggy responsibility is not on him, that no one means him any ill, that when Tom bends down to scratch his leg across the room he is not intending to do whatever nasty thing it was someone* used to do when they bent down, or that I am not the one and only resource he has left in the world so that I must be stuck to for dear life and guarded from all comers, or at least from Tom.

Poor us that we really can't find a way to communicate this to him firmly but comfortingly, and he's a big, young dog with impressive gnashers so we begin to fear that unpredictable reaction prompted by fear and misunderstandings could deteriorate into actual aggression, which we're not prepared to cope with. A single false move seems to undo days of apparent progress, and it would take months and experienced patience and even possibly the intervention of an expensive dog psychologist to properly remedy the situation, none of which we have, but in fact we've realised it wouldn't really be what we would want to spend precious time and money doing anyway. When E entrusted him to us, with typically robust optimism, she suggested that it might help to get us over our reluctance to get another dog, but I'm afraid it has had the opposite effect, and made us wonder whether we really want to take on such a thing again at all. It seems to me a terrible thing to rescue a dog from a refuge then find you simply can't integrate its peculiarities, problems and general hitherto unseen baggage into your life and so have to take it back again, but I can see how it happens. And this week has made us miss Mol more than ever, and appreciate how marvellously balanced the triangle of the relationship we had with her was, with never any sense of preference or jealousy or hierarchy needing to be expressed at all. Plus she never ate poo, or other disgusting things, or indeed farted so as to strip the paint from the walls (another downside of being the object of his devoted, closer-than-a-brother, attachment). But then she had awful health problems from overbreeding, so it seems like you can't win.

However, E is besotted with Bram, is not a worrier and has plenty of time and space to devote to bringing him round, and no man in her life nor any plan to have one, which is just as well, as I think Bram would put the kibosh on them if she had, and if it came to an 'it's me or the dog' ultimatum with E it would be the dog every time. He came to us as she had to go to Paris to fetch a passport, a plan already arranged and paid for before she got him, his big 'brother' Moos was already booked into the kennels with the dog of the friend she was going with, and she thought he'd be better at home with us. In fact though, if she goes away again after a while, I think he'd be OK in the kennels, which are a ruggedly female-run establishment owned by a terrifyingly competent and bossy British woman, he's not too bothered by the presence of other dogs and he loves his meals and walks which he would have there.

Anyway, deciding the best thing was to get a bit of space between Bram and himself, Tom decided to make a virtue out of expediency and pretend he was going into a monastery for the day, ensconcing himself upstairs in his study with books and computer and monastic sort of music**. Except of course he gets Bovril and tea and biscuits and wine and chocolate brought to him by his wife, whom he also gets to sleep with at the end of the day, so it wasn't very monastic at all really. Unless you believe the people who told Henry VIII why he should set about the Dissolution, which by and large I suppose I do. He rather enjoyed himself anyway, and still came down for meals, when he and Bram mostly managed to ignore each other very deliberately.

Iceland mostly all planned and bookings made, rather a hectic time for us, what with plunging into hot springs, chasing the aurora, slithering around the Golden Circle (diamond geysers!) and bouncing about on Icelandic horses which are not to be called ponies. One of the few sagas I read at university in its entirety in the original Old Norse was Hrafnkel's Saga, where the horse is the agent of much mischief, I recall. I rather wonder whether we shouldn't have stuck to mooching about Reykjavik, eating and drinking and looking at museums of archaeology which I'm sure could easily have taken up three days. Should we invest in ice walkers, I wonder? What are ice walkers, I wonder, and can one buy them in Decathlon? These questions and more will doubtless be answered.

Here are some spring flowers to brighten up these sad November days.

* presumably a man since I and any other woman he meets seem to be able to move as and how we will without a negative reaction.

** which only differs from how he spends his time normally by the upstairs element, and perhaps the Gregorian chant.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

After-sales; chitchat; pease

After a good start with Bram, things went a bit pear-shaped last night, and, disheartened and worried, we felt that the few days might be more to be endured than enjoyed for all of us. Tom decided to go to bed and read, only to find his still-quite-new shiny Kndle p@perwhite seemed to be broken, freezing weirdly or failing to come on altogether, then flashing up unhelpful messages. Assuming it would have to be sent back, I looked around for the very deluxe packaging and paperwork it came with, without success. I snarked at him about this, then e-mailed the relevant French limb of The Megacorporation from whence I had bought it. Within the hour we had a phone call from a very patient and polite young woman who calmly took me through the elaborate procedure of holding down the on-off button for forty seconds and waiting a few more, which miraculously resuscitated the device. If it did it again though, she said, let them know, as it might mean it really was faulty. No fuss about packaging and paperwork.


Bram's much better too, and the rain cleared by after lunchtime so we had another good walk. One of the things about having a dog to walk which gets you out on a regular basis is that even, or perhaps especially, in these quiet parts, you run into people, stop and talk, keep a bit up to date with things. Our former neighbour, who looks after our field, stopped his van, curious at seeing me with a dog again, and we chatted about dogs and exchanged information and thoughts about septic tanks, to our mutual benefit. When we got back, Tom said he'd go out alone on a provisioning foray. Bram seemed in fact quite bothered by his absence, and, while still quite reticent, genuinely pleased to see him and join in the rather deliberately exaggerated welcome home celebrations.


Less regular walking also means I'm more ignorant about what goes on in the fields round and about. When E came the other day, she pointed out (with a view to where it might not be a good idea to walk) a rather fine young silvery roan bull in one of the pastures. He was new to me, and I realised that the handsome gold coloured Limousin who used to be seen all over the place, a rather gentle seeming character, easily bossed around by the farm dogs and his harem of black and white cows, and who sometimes featured in my Molly walking blog, I hadn't seen for a long time. Scarcely earth shattering, you might say, but of no more nor less importance than many other things. When I did get out walking this year, back in the summer, I noticed a lot more fields of these pretty violet flowered peas:

sometimes on their own, sometime mixed with field beans, like small broad (fava) beans, and a cereal type plant:  

(there were some fields of just the beans, which I sometimes filled my pockets with and cooked, can't remember how)

I picked a bunch of the flowering peas and put them on the window sill, sometimes using the top shoots for salads and stir fries, but mostly just to admire.

What they were used for I don't know, they didn't seem to be there long so they clearly weren't harvested for the peas and beans, but whether they were made into silage or simply ploughed in as green manure I never saw, or spoke to anyone to learn. Pretty while they lasted anyway.

Monday, November 23, 2015

No toothache; melancholy cat; visiting dog (with photos)

Tom was fed up; just when he thought he had finished with the dentist for a while, he broke another tooth. Feeling I had been getting away too lightly, I began to suspect sensitivity and incipient toothache. When our shared appointment arrives, the dentist says that the broken part was where she'd already repaired earlier, and fixed it again without pain or problem, and my toothache having evaporated, any worries prove to be groundless save for a small amount of gum withdrawal (if that's the right expression), she blows the puffer round my teeth almost with impunity. We go home relieved.


I am in e-mail communication with the potential future landlady of Simone's and Jean-Felix's daughter (see previous), an Indian lady (I think) in Golders Green. She sounded nice, and very well-spoken, on the 'phone, her written English is slightly quirky. She says it's necessary to let them know, 'We have a quite cat as pet. Tabby is an old cat and does not purr a lot.'

Bram, who is staying with us now, is a noble and handsome dog:

though nervous of many things, goats, cows, tractors, Tom...

Also  unfortunately rather attracted to cow poo, though he takes to heart being told off for eating it,

'What me? Noooo!'

But it's good to have a dog to walk again, and to reacquaint myself with the beauty of our hilltop on a late afternoon in winter.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Silent Sunday

Well almost. Here's a picture of dinner, Yorkshire pudding, cropped to show as little as possible of our dirty oven,

and maybe to give non-Brits something else to google.

Have a nice Sunday night, or whatever it is where you are.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Giggling; pinny; raptors; marigold

I go to bed giggling, at a late comment from Glenn on this post telling me that 'we have learned' (how can one ever dispute something that begins thus?) that Nigella's programme is really all staged, her friends are actors and her perfect home is in fact a hired location. This leads me to this piece which suggests playing 'Nigella bingo', scoring whenever certain familiar Nigella tropes occur, such as: 'triple alliteration, eg “basking in bronze beauty”, “gorgeous golden globules” or “fruitful foraging in the fridge” ' or 'she licks something erotically from a spoon' or ' strolls around high-end London shop, picking out produce - even though in real life, she totally has someone to do her shopping for her'.  There is also the observation that a 'party of glamorous guests descend for candlelit supper. They look faintly important and influential, like you should know who they are, but you don’t', which may well substantiate Glenn's allegation. The comments are also often funny, especially the man who must be on a promise.


Simone and Jean-Felix were once our insurance agents, now they're retired and just sort-of friends. It's nice seeing people go from being soigné and professional and restrained to soft and scruffy and expansive on their retirement, I've observed it quite often. They ask me for help - translation, phone calls etc. - with finding short term student accommodation in London for their daughter, whom I've known since she was just a little thing and I used to help with her English sometimes. I feel a sense of weight and reluctance, but I do want to help. I worry for these children I've known, who touch my heart when I don't always want it touched, and if I worry how do their parents cope? It's good though, to sit and chat for much longer than I meant to, and Simone forgets to take her pinny off all the time I'm there.


On the way out to see them, there are two buzzards and a heron in our field. I slow down and have a good view of all three taking off and wheeling away in the chill wind. I've not quite forgiven the herons for persecuting our fish, but they are still magnificent.


Summer colour, why not?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Adjectival: between showers; cauli; and Toëno

A newcomer to Quess'quitricote, a petite woman perhaps my age, is fun and lively and bright, and not at all shy. She is wearing a skirt, quite short, made from vivid hued, densely patched crochet squares, and from her bag winks a multicoloured ball of glossy, flossy yarn.


E brings Bram round on a preliminary visit. The rain clears and we take a turn around the square of fields I used to take with Mol, along the ridge road. It is breezy and splashy with sunlight after rain, and Bram is brisk and alert and a fine dog to walk. E remarks on how very beautiful it is up on our hill, and I realise I had rather stopped appreciating it.


A good, medium sized cauliflower for just 65 eurocents. I roast half of it with olive oil and cumin seeds to go with a couple of mackerel fillets. 


The Ile de Toëno, or perhaps it's just a presqu'île: one of those funny sort of causewayed excrescences up on the Pink Granite Coast, with nothing much there but a menhir, a small boatyard, a place to buy oysters and other shellfish, and rather pleasant motel type hotel, where we spent a night back in early October, to attend a concert at the Lanvellec early music festival. The concert was a disappointing washout, which made us cross, but it doesn't seem to matter much now, and I spent a pleasant hour or so scrambling about on scrubby granite pavements and rocks and headlands enjoying the views and the sight and sound of the sea, which one can never have too much of.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Insurance; thankful; things on the table, and another goat.

I am having trouble looking forward to our coming trip to Iceland. We have never travelled much in winter, so many things can go wrong, and in the cold, short days it just seems more advisable to stay at home. Now, feelings of apprehension and impending doom, and a certain reluctance to focus on fun and frivolity, are casting a pall over it, and I find I'm avoiding making even necessary arrangements. I took out basic insurance with the first flight, but even finding something more comprehensive and suitable seems to be difficult for a couple of ageing expats. However, we talk it through, decide the extra cost is worth the peace of mind. I apply myself to a more thorough search and come up with something clear, appropriate and not ruinous, and now I find I can better enjoy making plans.


We watch a programme about the home life of the Georgians. It's lively and full of interesting detail you never knew about. We end up agreeing that, whatever the problems of the 21st century, for ourselves anyway, we're glad we live when, where and how we do.


I scan the things on the table, and though it's a bit messy and not-dealt-with, mostly I like what I see and how it reflects our life.  There is a book by Simon Schama about the Dutch Republic, a leaflet about a museum in Châtelaudren that wasn't open when I went to see it, catalogues for organic garden seeds and gifts in aid of the SPA, a pad of 2mm graph paper and one of ordinary squared, a to-do list from an indeterminate time ago, a printout from my brother of something he wrote about Green Man ornaments in a church in the Orne, the monthly free departmental magazine, scissors, matches, pens and pencils, reading glasses, the stalled septic tank project papers, vitamin pills, books about drawing and painting and meditation, a book of very difficult sudoku, two Kindles known to have at the top of their contents the accumulating works of Patrick O'Brian and CJ Samson, blood test results, a basket of walnuts and a large and handsome plate unusually containing a good selection of fresh fruit.

Some of these things really should be tidied away though.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Not too much yoga; fragment; fritters

E has a lot to do, and must walk her dogs afterwards, and yoga only lasts about half an hour, about the same as pre-yoga coffee. Her older dog Moos, having lately acquired an adopted younger brother, is expressing rather puppyish behaviour and pointedly steals one of her wellington boots to play with.


The corners of my blue room, it being at something of a dead end of the house, are beginning to smell slightly musty. I set about clearing them out a bit in the afternoon - my sister quoted once a much respected elderly lady, who had cleaned for other people for much of her working life, who said that if you take care of the corners of a room, the middle will take care of itself. Along with a number of boxes of things no longer under guarantee which can be thrown out, I displace my old tapestry frame. I'm loathe to get rid of this, Tom bought it for me during a fairly short phase when needlepoint was a hobby, before we even came here, and I feel it may one day acquire a new usefulness, even if not for needlepoint or not for me. I unrolled the stretchers and found the last thing I began on it, again before we came here.

A very large self-designed canvas of some hyacinths, along with the full sized background cartoon and the original design it was scaled up from (together with a short list of vegetables and some figures, which seem to me more possibly more interesting, being inexplicable).

I no longer, for now at least, have any time or motivation for activities whose outcome is purely decorative; I'm not sure or rigid about what might be included in this category*, but I think I can say needlepoint is, unless I suppose one was a mediaeval person with enough of it to hang on a wall as draught exclusion. I know you can make it into cushions, but that's about it, and they aren't particularly useful cushions. Anyway, the wool for this has long since mostly been knitted up into other, more useful, enjoyable and visible things. Needlepoint can be a pleasant and satisfying activity and can be extremely beautiful, but I'm not sure, looking at this, about trying to translate a style of visual art - those kind of closely observed, highly shaded still-life and botanical drawings I've been fond of doing in the past - into the medium of wool and canvas, though there are artists, like Kaffe Fassett, who have done it to good effect. 

The main problem with it though, is something that has been the bane of my life forever, starting something hugely ambitious, insisting on it being entirely original, and never finishing it. I have had too many beautiful, and even more not so beautiful, fragments of unfinished things lying around, making the corners musty. Yes, I guess I am talking figuratively as well. Taking stock though, I have think I have fewer than I used to. I embark on things I have no hope of completing less often, I think, and have the staying power (and the time, when I set about these kind of projects I was considerably more busy with working life etc) to finish more. On the other hand I suppose, if no time is wasted, process can count for something even if the product never happens, if one enjoyed it at the time.

Not quite sure what I'll do with it, I can't quite bring myself to throw it out yet, but that's what needs to be done in the end.


Not just spinach curry, but also rounds of aubergine dipped in egg and a mixture of breadcrumbs, polenta and seasonings and fried. Delicious.


* and I'm not imposing it as a rule for living on anyone else.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

3BT: Good intentions; sisterly; crunchy bits - and goats

Didn't post yesterday as I thought Sunday night's link would do, and was, I'm afraid, too confounded by heartache, anger and despair which I don't want to spill out, or indeed seem to be fishing for comfort for, here.

But I'll turn to and come back to the daily postings, if only not to give in. Maybe some 3BT for a bit would be helpful, and for pictures, if I don't take any, to have a trawl through the web albums and even the external hard drive, on which languish many thousands of old ones.

Here's yesterday's for today, a pattern I might follow.


Monday yoga being postponed, but needing to get out after the weekend anyway, I drive out to Lamballe to shop. On one of our frequent resolves for a dietary spruce up, I buy wholewheat loaves, unsliced, and cut them into doorsteps for freezing, and now the fruit and vegetable stocks are also satisfyingly, but realistically (we probably will be able to get through them), replenished. Better still, I persuade Tom to turn the 400 gram bag of spinach into a curry for tonight.


While I was out, the 'phone went, and rang and rang. Tom doesn't usually answer on the land line when I'm not here, as he can't understand the caller if they're speaking French or hear them anyway even if they're English, and he gets in a state trying. 'I wondered if it was Doreen.' he said. This is a bit odd, since his sister doesn't ring often and he's unlikely usually to think about a call being from her. She is a kind and courageous woman for whom I have always had a great deal of time, not least because she loves her brother with an open, generous, persistent affection despite his rather offhand gruffness with her. I do the redial and it is indeed her number, so I call her back.

'I've been so worried about you,' she says 'I know you're nowhere near, but still. And I've been reading what you wrote on that Facebook thing you do.'

I don't do Facebook.

'Huh? Oh the blog?'

I am surprised and touched. I gave them a link to a post about their beautiful dog Lara, now sadly passed away, which I wrote much earlier in the year after they'd visited, but didn't imagine they'd follow here after that. I tell her Tom had an inkling it was her, which pleases her, and we talk about her new adopted grandchildren, the brave, sometimes hard, but loving road their parents have taken. They are not to spoil them with toys at Christmas, she's been instructed, but rather give them games for sharing, perhaps tickets to a pantomime, and - here her daughter is going back on her initial refusal of hand knits - could she perhaps knit them a traditional Aran sweater, in natural wool to go with everything? We talk soothingly about wool and cables, then end the call easily. We, Tom and I, are both warmed and heartened.


As often we watch Nigella, not quite sure why we do; the food isn't really our kind of thing, and the lifestyle porn aspect and her awful friends get up our noses somewhat, but it kind of rounds off Monday evening telly after the quizzes, and we did like the her quoting of Terry Pratchett: something along the lines that chewy burned sticky crunchy bits were a separate food group.


Photo: Goats

A patch of scrubby woodland up the road was cleared a while back, perhaps as a future building plot, and sown with grass. These girls, there are up to half a dozen of them, are sometimes to be seen maintaining it. Though of course any goat worth its salt would rather have had the trees than pappy old grass. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

What I meant

This is what I meant.

Thanks Lesley.

Thoughts on being home, abroad

I wasn’t seeking any special claim to sorrow, shock or other feeling over the Paris massacres simply because I live in France. It’s a self-evident truism that the closer to one’s actual or original home something happens, the more it affects one, but we aren't French, we live in possibly the least French of French regions, far from the capital, and visit there rarely, simply as tourists. I know too, that anyone anywhere with a shred of decency is sharing the outrage and expressing sympathy, that much is clear, including many in strife-torn places for whom similar events are more frequent.

ShouldFishMore, new and welcome here, wrote in a kind comment on yesterday's post, ‘... a sad day in Paris. The city will endure, as will we. It endured everything from the invasions of the Vikings in the 9th cent, to the Germans in the 20th. It will endure this, and be the City of Light we know always.’

Yes, Paris is dear to many people in this way the world over; many of us have had good times there, been enchanted by its charm and beauty and beguiled by a sense of the nobility of its past. The ‘City of Light’ epithet expresses not only the twinkle of the shop windows and the floodlit Eiffel tower, but an aura of joy and freedom and all the greatness of the Enlightenment, the shedding of the light of reason on a benighted world, it cheers and encourages us. Me too, but part of the wonder has always been the knowledge of the bitter, brutal history beneath my feet there, and amazement that the place can still make you fall for it in spite of it. Not only the invasions visited on the city from outside that ShouldFishMore cited, but all the bloodshed and betrayal and horror that Paris has inflicted on itself: from the St Bartholemew’s day massacre through to the Revolution, from all the turmoil of the violent insurrections and their even harsher suppressions of the 19th century to the treacherous deportations under the Nazi occupation, even to the officially sanctioned then denied murders of still unnumbered Algerians in 1961, the year of my birth. I mind my history, and I am not, on the whole, romantic about much. Except now and then on a beautiful evening by the Seine.

Neither does the present politicians’ rhetoric, which raises more difficult questions than it answers (see Robbie’s excellent comment on the last post here), move or persuade me. Yet I’m not going to go down the road of ‘But look at the historical analysis, if you knew as much and were as clever as I am you’d be able to prove how they’ve really brought it on themselves by their ancestral, historical and current guilt’. I don’t have the head for it, but more, I don’t have the heart. Within my reaction to the events of yesterday was a kind of perverse and carrion comfort that at least this time some elements in the non-French world wouldn’t be able to respond in the fashion that (in my perception) they did after the Charlie Hebdo massacres in January, along the lines that:‘ Yes, of course, it’s terrible, but then if they hadn’t been so provocative/blasphemous/nasty to people of faith in general and muslims in particular/racist (that one quite unfair and inaccurate, IMO)/smartarse/just generally so infuriatingly, arrogantly French, well, it probably wouldn’t have happened, would it?’

I was rather surprised at how angry and defensive I felt about this.

We came here more than eighteen years ago now, very largely just because we could. I had more French than any other second language, but we weren’t particularly  great Francophiles,and if we had a honeymoon period here it wore off fairly quickly and easily. However,  the privileges afforded to us by the EU seemed a given (maybe a mistake now), property prices were cheap, we could set up without debt, build ourselves a home almost from scratch, use a second language, experience a foreign culture without going very far, have an adventure, live well for less. We were, in fact, kind of economic migrants, seeking a better life (or at least a different one), only not poor ones, so we assumed we’d be welcome. And pretty much without exception we have been; in addition, we’ve found excellent healthcare (which no one has ever begrudged us or questioned our right to), a fairly interesting working life for me, and a few friends. We’ve had to fall back on ourselves and each other in a way we never would if we’d stayed at home.

So this now is home, though it never quite can be either, for we find ourselves in the perennial and cliché expatriates’ no-man’s land.  My French is useable but still lame, I will never be able to express myself or understand others to the depth I can in English. We get our news mostly in English, don’t really follow or understand French politics well, can only ever have the most patchy, outsiders’ knowledge of how things work. We will always be strangers. We do our share of casual France-bashing, mostly  between ourselves; fortunately, I think, many of our non-French, English-speaking friends are not British but from other parts of the world, Dutch, German, American, Canadian or other colonial, many of them having led nomadic lives, so we don’t get into the rather tedious, repetitive round of complaint and comparison that more exclusively Brit circles do. Among my French friends, I sometimes grow rather tired of the recurring jokes and assumptions about how rubbish the English are at food and other matters of taste, especially since I consider that, personally, I have a rather better knowledge of food, wine and culture in general, including French literature, art and history, than many of them do, with their andouillette and ignorance of spices and Bastille Day nonsense, and rather better taste. The old Anglo-French rancour, where difference cannot be simply appreciated as such (and exhorted to live!) but must be seen as a matter of inferiority or superiority, sometimes still gives a low rumble.

Yet, oddly I find I rather like the tension of living in no-man’s land, the slight challenge it poses to the everyday, it is conducive to a certain kind of sharpened awareness. Hopping frequently from one side of the fence to the other affords an interesting exercise sometimes, and suits a certain contrariness in my character, perhaps, and what others might experience as isolation doesn’t bother me too much. And, somewhat to my surprise, I find now that not only do I live in France, but, just a bit, France has started to live in me. While I might never feel I entirely belong here, and there will always be much here I find incomprehensible, maddening, even repellent, nevertheless a fierce feeling of belonging, of loyalty and protectiveness, kicks in at times like this. In a way I don’t think they would have been if I didn’t live here, hurts felt here are my hurts too.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Saturday 14th

Woke up in the small hours, thirsty and dry after seafood and garlic and wine, I finally went and made some tea around four-ish, sat and chatted dozily, feeling happy and grateful, then went back to sleep.  Came down about eight and picked up the news.

This time it felt less immediate, harder to take in.  We've wandered and enjoyed some of those places ourselves of recent times. Finding we were short of toast bread, we changed plans, drove out to the bakers and added a couple of sugary things to the order to eat there and then. Watching the bright, friendly young men and women working, kissing each other's cheeks, giving bits of baguettes to the children, I suddenly found I had to bite back the tears. 

Please spare me the 'even worse things are happening all over the world' bit, I do know. But I live here.

Too much looking at screens, slept in the afternoon, a thing I hate doing. After, we both got up and went out into the windswept garden, without saying anything, Tom with a rake, mildly grumbling, as always, about the mess the blackbirds make of the leaf mulch, and I with the camera, set myself to take perhaps a dozen pictures and post them, straight from the card, with the minimum of editing. Many flowers still, in this strange, mild November, among the dead seed heads and the hedge cuttings.

Back indoors, we leave the curtains open till after dark, the sky has been impressive most evenings of late. Tonight, on the edge of the storms which are sweeping in, it was strange deep lavender grey, the photo doesn't really show it.

Through a glass darkly.

Friday, November 13, 2015


I don't know what these rough shelled clams are called in English, they're praires in French.

Once when I went to the fishmonger on a Friday, as I did this afternoon, there was a girl there, a beautiful tomboy in a dark sweater and yellow oilskin dungarees, who had a silver pendant which must have been cast from a real mussel, it was so finely detailed. She wasn't there today though.

Looking in briefly now, will answer comments on the last post anon.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Getting up, falling down; bio; good gloves

Hearing a car door at some very darkling hour of the morning (about 6.30, I think, the time I used habitually to get up, for work or blogging), and on jumping heaving myself out of bed and peering out of the landing window, perceiving headlights, I assumed the district nurse had taken me very literally in the message I'd left on the collective answering machine (you never know which one you're going to get, or quite when) when I said as early as possible. We really aren't good at hanging around in the morning à jeûn, with not even a cup of tea to sustain us. I plodded downstairs and opened the front door and squinted myopically into the fog, the car was next door's, and I think I discerned the elusive Steve, whom I've not seen since we conferred over hornets back in September, standing beside it and raising a tentative hand in my direction. I mumbled 'ça va' and went back to bed. Tom was thoroughly awake by this time and sceptical about my ability to not go back to sleep and to hear the coming of the nurse, so he got up, considerably more energetically than I had. I lay in bed for a while, feeling rather comfortable and thankful for my life, and got up at my leisure about half an hour later. I came down just as Tom, dressed and busy over the breakfast things, was letting in the very nice Martiniquan male nurse, Frederic. He took Tom's blood uneventfully while I poured orange juice and sorted out the money; I explained I needed to do everything in advance because afterwards I was going to fall over. He seemed rather concerned about this, while reassuring me 'c'est normal...'

He had rather a lot of forms to fill in this time, so much paperwork these days, he grumbled good-naturedly.

I'm hungry! I muttered under my breath.
Oh dear, should he do it straight away and do the papers after?
No, no, I apologised.
It's not so much hunger as fear about the blood test? he suggested.
No, I said, I'm not frightened, I'm just hungry, I'm English, I like my breakfast, it's my favourite meal.

In truth, I might have told him that the next meal is usually my favourite meal, but I am truly fond of breakfast. He looked puzzled. Finally he set me up very tidily - even offering to have me lie down while he took it, to which I demurred, I didn't want to be that much of a wimp - and inserted the needle so neatly I barely felt it, encouraged Tom to come over and talk to me to distract me, but after a moment or two the black curtain descended anyway. He drew out the requisite amount and then sent me off to the sofa while Tom brought me orange juice, uxoriously.

Somewhat embarrassing really; I've tried everything to stop it happening; I'm not bothered about the tiny sting of pain, or needles generally, I'm very good at the dentist, I don't mean to be a wuss but I just can't seem to help it. But what the hell, having not just one but two lovely men fussing over me is not something to which I am accustomed as a general rule, so I decided I might as well lie back and enjoy it. In fact forestalling the falling over bit by lying down immediately I was very quickly back to normal and able to see Frederic off and enjoy tea, more orange juice, coffee, toast, Marmite and marmalade. I am truly fond of breakfast.


Later we went out, partly to get out of the way of the hedge man, to the supermarket and DIY store, and decided to try the little lunchtime restaurant near to the bio* co-op shop. They offer a hot meat main dish and a vegetarian one, and a self-service bar for cold entrées and desserts; wholly vegetarian restaurants don't seem to exist here, or not beyond Paris anyway, and bio shops always have a meat counter and are light on the dried legumes compared to their British equivalents. We had the vegetarian option, a generous and crusty lentil loaf on a bed of carrots and cauli and that funny fractal broccoli in a creamy sauce, with a good green side salad with bright shreds of raw coloured carrot, and nice fruit and nut bread with an interesting sort of nutty veggy pâté instead of butter. Proper vegetarian food, in fact, unusual here: substantial, colourful and tasty, and very reasonably priced. Turned out the chap in charge was an old hippy Canadian, and the woman chef also seemed to be anglophone, but they clearly had a happy, mixed regular clientèle of local people, men in suits as well as beards, and young families with babies and smart women lunching alone.

There was a kind of urn with a ladle, and some cups beside it. I asked if it was soup. No, said the Canadian, it's just hot water, with sachets of tisane and sugar you can help yourself to. In the summer he does chilled water with slices of lemon and cucumber and other fruit, in the winter the hot drinks. The French mostly don't eat breakfast, he remarked, by late morning a lot of people come in here thirsty and tired and grateful for a hot sweet drink, and everyone likes something for free.


Our trip to the DIY store proved less successful; the new plug fitting for the kitchen sink turned out to be the wrong size. However, I did procure these microfibre dusting gloves:

Soft and fluffy and a very funky purple (there were other colours), one simply slips them on and runs them over all one's surfaces and treasured objets and bibelots, then go outside and clap your hands! I didn't know dusting could be such fun. These are the second pair of fit-for-purpose gloves I have lately acquired, the others are these gardening gloves, the best ever:

Not quite sure what they're made of, some kind of synthetic, reinforced rubbery coating over a knit textile base, but they're lighter and more supple than the softest leather and tougher than the thickest, withstanding even the berberis thorns within reason, and quite waterproof without being sweaty. 

Good innovation in design in small things is something to rejoice in.


Got the blood tests back from the pharmacy this evening, everything seems to be OK, except my cholesterol is slightly up, so perhaps I should eat nut pâté instead of butter more often.

 * that's short for biologique, the equivalent of 'organic', and just as semantically silly. Also pronounced like B.O., which I've just about stopped tittering and making puerile jokes about.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

11th November

The hedge man worked until late afternoon yesterday, and left his ladder in place.

In the twilight it looked a bit melancholy, with its broken bottom rung, and reminded me of The Draughtsman's Contract, which I hadn't thought about, or seen anything of, for many years, which seems odd since it was very popular when it came out, and the 17th and 18th centuries seem to be quite in vogue just now. In fact I rather wish I hadn't read the above-linked-to review, which contains spoilers, as it might be interesting to watch it again some time. One of the few things I do recall about it was the ladder was shaped like the one in the photo, rather elegantly splayed at the bottom, and I hadn't seen ladders like that, to my recollection, until we came to France, when I remember thinking they looked like the ladder in The Draughtsman's Contract. We have one too. It's a very practical design and safer than those which are parallel all the way, but I suppose they are more awkward for artisans to carry about with them on their vans and such like.

Today was a public holiday, Armistice, which was still, unconscionably, called Victoire 1918 when we first came to live here, when it was less than eighty years since the event and still within living memory for some of our neighbours.  The hedge man was keen to work for the morning, promising to start at the bottom of the garden so as not to disturb the rest of the village. When I came back from last night's concert* the new people next door appeared to be having a very quiet and decorous party with several cars parked around all carefully not blocking my way into our drive. So I was rather sorry to be the anti-social buggers with the noisy garden power tools going first thing in the morning disturbing everyone's day-off hangovers. But as Tom said, no one's permitted to object to hunter's guns blasting across the fields on Armistice Day, which we find ironically offensive. Didn't hear too many today though.

We got out after breakfast and raked and piled leaves and cuttings throughout the day, and now feel quite virtuously tired.

*remarkably, delightfully good, a very impressive foursome playing a string of short 19th century Russian pieces, including a couple of little known Rachmaninov string quartets and serenades, sarabandes, polkas and mazurkas by some other quite unheard of composers.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Firewood delivery, etc. In haste.

Arrived a bit after 11, 

stacked by lunchtime. Chicken and veg soup with dumplings. Then the hedge man came, then we had to fetch the car, then order the nurse for a routine blood test for Thursday (yes, we have district nurses here), now I'm off to see this concert. 

Quite a busy day really, unseasonably beautiful weather, no fires yet.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Feathered; Bram; Bette or Betty; no comparison

The birds are busy. Long-tailed tits bob among the coppiced chestnuts, greenfinches fly out of the top of the tulip tree, and by the farm, starlings murmur while pretending to be leaves in the now leafless poplars.

Dutch E's new dog Bram, who looks like he is wearing eye-liner, still barks at Tom when he comes in after our yoga session, but then slips round and licks his hand twice when he thinks no one's noticing, and later on a walk he lies down on the path to have him scratch his ribs. We're having him to stay later this month, so are trying to make friends, but he's easier with women than men.

Listening to Cousin Bette (or 'Cousin Betty' as it's called there) on Librivox. So far: the seedy, exploitative old perfumier, the threadbare curtains, the mention of Rastignac, and the bargain over the yellow cashmere shawl. Librivox is such a worthy idea and potentially great resource, but unfortunately many of the readers are so unskilled as to be almost impossible to listen to. Elizabeth Klett, who does all the Jane Austen canon and many more, is a professional and very good indeed, but sadly she's exceptional. Also, many of the foreign works translated have fairly dismal old versions, since the translation has to be out of copyright as well. The reading of Cousin Betty is OK.

First clementines of the winter.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

No time is wasted, though all time is lost. Maybe.

Ellena said in a comment a couple of posts ago, that 'nothing is pointless, not even wasting time', which made me think about temps perdu. In French one speaks of losing time, to mean wasting it. This made me think of Proust, and how that element of wordplay in the title is not something I've heard referred to (in my admittedly not very vast reading of the small number of the fifty million and one things ever written about Proust). And that in turn, made me think of Joe, and something he once said, and owing to the wonders of web-based e-mail, by recalling some keywords in the conversation, I was able find it:

'Time Regained is  almost my favourite part of A La Recherche. It explains one aspect of the work which doesn't seem to have been widely noted. That is that it is a book about someone who wants passionately to be a writer and becomes, at different stages, disillusioned with literature and convinced that he is not cut out to produce any. Until, that is, in a moment of epiphany (the uneven paving stones outside the Guermantes house which remind him of similar stones in Venice), he realizes that he carries the past within himself (something much more than memory) and the way in which he will write the work (the one which we have just read and nearly finished) becomes apparent and its realization a compelling need.'

Proust is always going to write, but not doing it, frittering his time in socialising, pursuing hopeless, dysfunctional relationships, or growing cynical and lackadaisical. But by a miracle (though possibly the result of a neurological weirdness most of us wouldn't be able to stimulate) the memories could be triggered in their entirety by sensation, and all the lost/wasted time, all the dialogue and observations of the awful, vapid, cruel people, every microcosmic detail of every seemingly empty moment, every vein on the asparagus, and every shifting mental state as he observed them, could be researched, mined, extracted and transmuted into text. Sometimes mind-bendingly difficult, infuriating, impenetrable text, often exaggerated, but also intensely real, exquisite, vivid, frequently laugh out-load funny.

There was someone on Amazon, whom I've not been able track down again, who wrote brief, funny spoof reviews of well-known books; on A la Recherche she said something along the lines of 'Blimey, he really did remember everything, didn't he? A bit of selective amnesia wouldn't have gone amiss.'  There's also this excellent New York Review of Books article I just found, which considers Proust as an 'accidental Buddhist', but also tells how its writer was 'worried that I might not live long enough to see him through to the end...a wise editor of mine had once written an article on why no one should read Proust before the age of forty'. The paradox is that it is only age and the growing sense that time is short which brings on a sense of timelessness: that it doesn't actually matter whether we complete the grand project which beckons and beguiles us, it's the embarking on it which matters.

So, I got distracted reading through old e-mail conversations with Joe, about Proust and which translation he favoured (Moncrieff), and about meeting Heather, who's also part of time past now, and who could look at a wall 'woolly with light' through a long morning with no sense of wasting time and who would frown at me for needing a translation of Proust at all, and about poems and long gone qarrtsiluni, and food of course. As always when allowing myself to be distracted I feared I was wasting time, but I don't think I was really. Much of it I didn't remember writing, or the events happening; fugitive stuff, life. Electronic media, e-mails and this blog, for example, can be made to recall some of it, but that's only really another way we tell ourselves what we remember; the actual experience still eludes us. Better than nothing, though, and there are things, and people, who represent and offer some continuity.

Ellena also picked up the link I left to the post and video I made just after my sister died, more than five years ago. Reading through that, with its intense protestations and pledging to honour her life by using mine well, I know it was real, sincere, but it begins to seem like somebody else writing already; that imperative has changed, diminished or grown into something else.

For in this world of ours where everything withers, everything perishes, there is a thing that decays, that crumbles into dust even more completely, leaving behind still fewer traces of itself, than beauty: namely, grief.
Proust, Time Regained.

I know not all griefs are so for everyone.

Saturday's, not eternity's, sunrise.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

The chimney sweep's dog...

... Joe Cocker, has grown a bit since last year, but is still as adorable,

those whiskers in front of his eyes are testimony that he needs a haircut - I was assured he was getting one on Monday.

He and the chimney sweep are still as besotted.

When his dad says gently to him 'à ta place!',

he duly drops down and settles into the driving seat.

We're sure to get our chimney swept every year now.