Thursday, September 29, 2016

Bonfire of the vanities, the blog roll - and some have detachment thrust upon them.

It would appear the cosmos is seeking to teach me yet more lessons in detachment. I logged on this morning to find that my sidebar blog list feed thingy, which had served me well in keeping up with almost all of my blogging friends and acquaintances for many a long year, had completely disappeared. I was thrown into a flat spin, quite discombobulated - or should that be discomblogulated?

An odd thing about this was that just yesterday I was indulging in a characteristically whimsical exchange in a comment thread with Robbie (Roderick Robinson) about visiting defunct blogs, of friends and contacts who have disappeared either from actual life or from the blogosphere, and how poignant it was scanning the list to the bottom - I had it set to display the most recent twenty-five blogs to post, but the 'view all' function showed over sixty, many of which had not been updated for several years. I said:

And that's only a sample of all the 'trépassés' whose blogs languish there. At one time I might have cleared them out as link-rot but now I can't quite bring myself to, it feels like a kind of betrayal. There are also many who update quite regularly but I seldom visit them any more, again, it would seem disloyal to delete, and I like to know they're still there. 

Despite the fact I should really be concentrating on getting on with our final move back into our own house which we are just now undertaking and other things, I could not rest until I had  gone onto Blogger help, where I received the very inexpert 'expert reply', did I mean the blog archive? And that I could always add it again. Of course I could, but the information, the URLs of all the blogs on the list, was lost, and just relying on my 'meat' memory to recall what was on it would not really be adequate. Oh, and they told me to back up from time to time, horses and stable doors and all that.

After a bit, however, a more helpful non-expert (this has happened to a number of people and seems to be something to do with an 'it-ain't-broke-but-we'll-bugger-about-pretending-to-fix-it-anyway' change to the search box widget which has spilled over into the links list) suggested searching out a cached copy of the blog and getting the html from there. I had no idea how to do this but found out about the first bit and quickly copied all the URLs into a notepad thingy, so I've saved the data if Blogger can't fix it.

But this would leave me with the question, what do I keep on the roll and what do I let go? While the redundant links were just sitting there, I could just leave them and not make any decision. If it came to putting them all back, do I just shunt them over, or should I have a cull and a clean out? In digital microcosm, it's the same as the stuff in the house really. How much should sentiment stop you from getting rid of the unnecessary?


As I say (do I use that collocation too much?), it's not as though I don't have other things to be doing. We are officially out of here - the gite - tomorrow. The electrician took it to the wire (!) and finished the wiring and putting all the stuff he'd bashed up back together this afternoon, I had thought we might sleep there tonight but I've bottled out, though I have made the bed up. Tom's been working flat out to get all sorts of jobs finished there and being upbeat and brave and energetic and I know I'm in danger of giving into being fearful and difficult and tedious. Getting back and getting on with it has simply got to be done and at least there's plenty of clear and present work to be busy with; it won't be so bad once we've been there a day or two, the gite has been getting a bit cramped and boring really, though we've appreciate much about being here, and in Hénon. And the house really is beginning to look very fine, especially the new light oak staircase, the beauty of which we can just stand and gaze at. Even the new fuse box is rather lovely in its well-labelled order, and the rest of the repairs and re-painting should be done in the next month or so, ready for it to be put on the market and for us to leave it for good, as is the plan.

Then Tom yesterday started getting weird black floaters and the odd flash in his eyes, which have been giving him some trouble with blurring and tiredness all summer, so that was my cue finally to get on to the clinic where he had his cataract ops done pronto; the ophthalmologist there had a look and said he was not in fact suffering a detached retina (more detachment!) but would need some minor corrective laser surgery next week. 

(Turns out he's just posted about this, he wasn't just doing on-line sudoku after all,  and we've both employed the same lame pun. Not altogether surprising).

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Bonfire of the Vanities - books

Avus's recent post about discarding books, and his daughter hhb's helping with some of the difficulties of this by re-homing them on beautiful new bookshelves, and how e-book reading has come to fill a different role in his reading life, and encouraged him to explore different writers, struck some chords. We've got rid of a great number of books this summer; it hasn't always been easy, but it has been thought-provoking and generally fairly liberating. Detachment again.

I've come to the conclusion there's rather a lot of precious nonsense talked about Books. I've probably talked quite a bit of it myself at one time or another, and may well be about to again.

Dale said lately one of the things he's had to let go of is his own idea of himself as a well-read person. I too used to consider myself so, and enjoyed the epithet as a compliment sometimes, but lately I've come to mistrust it. I'm aware also that, what with blogging at one time, and browsing around on the internet generally, or knitting, or walking the dog, or watching fairly lightweight telly for the sake of companionship with Tom (and more knitting time) or whatever other interest I might currently be following, and also with my own loss, with age, of patience and staying power for reading matter, I'm no longer a great reader. I have a reasonable catalogue of stuff read and remembered, and I'm glad of it, but it's not such an essential part of who I am now.

I've also come to see that owning and having read a large number of books does not, in itself, make you a serious and cultured person anyway, any more than travel necessarily broadens the mind. I have one older acquaintance, who hauls her battered old library around with her from one move to the next, sometimes adding haphazardly to it, priding herself on never throwing one out and cramming them into smaller and smaller accommodation so her living space is so cluttered you want to scream (she has a hoarding problem anyway). She is, frankly, shallow, casually prejudiced and not very clever (with friends like me...), in spite of how well-read she appears to be, and in spite of the pretentious way in which she says 'Oh but I couldn't be without my books!' or expresses disdain for e-readers because 'There is simply nothing like turning the pages of a real book!' On the other hand, our young sculptor friend, for example, who has too much energy and need to be doing to bother much with reading, is no less deep-minded and cultured for all that, far from it.

E-readers can be cover for those who don't want to give away the less than edifying nature of their reading tastes (50 shades etc) but they are also a good antidote to books as vanity. It's gratifying to be seen to have a lot of books, showing off your taste in reading, books do furnish a room, look at me, I'm a reading person! etc etc. But who knows what you've got on your Kindle, could be Proust, could be Mills and Boon, a slim grey electronic device can't brag or pose - despite the ridiculously overambitious stuff most of us collect on them, because hey, it's out of copyright and free! (Or nearly) Edmund Burke anyone? The Complete Henry James for just two quid? Michelet, in French? What's your bit of pretentious Kindle vanity? But at least your only mostly pretending to yourself.

There are many things, though, I'm really pleased to have on Kindle, and which, like Avus, it's encouraged me to read when I might not otherwise have done, since I don't have to find shelf room for them; the Patrick O'Brian canon, which I'm working my way through in fits and starts - I know it's time to get the next one when I find myself struggling with something else and thinking 'why am I reading this when I could be reading about Aubrey and Maturin? - are so much nicer to have stored electronically, always to hand, than taking up a whole great shelf of physical space in a bookcase. I weakened with one, baulking at paying the e-book price when I could get a second hand copy for a penny plus postage - and now I regret it, the lone scruffy paperback - even with the beautiful Geoff Hunt cover painting - floating about when it should be in the set with the others on the device.

It is true that some types of book don't really work on the e-reader: poetry isn't great (line lengths etc), though I do read some there, or a lot of non-fiction or reference, anything with pictures, obviously, anything in fact you need to dip into, move back and forth in, get your fingers in amongst the pages of, browse randomly. Indeed, it's best for more traditional fiction with a fairly linear narrative, I find, even some modern novels with unconventional structures which you need to shuffle about in can be better in good old codex form, though the search function on the e-reader can be handy too, and the built in dictionaries are great, even help me to read a bit of French there.

Yet to make too much on the whole cult of the 'real' book as object is only a short step from the vulgarity (far be it from me to be judgemental...) of Reader's Digest, and their upmarket doppelganger the Folio Society*, 'luxury' 'collectable' 'sumptuously bound and presented' editions, all tooled and hefty, supposedly there to look good and decorate one's shelves, to satisfy, again, some kind of vanity,. It should be the text itself that counts, not the vehicle for it.

Mistake me not, I do recognise the beauty of a truly well-made book, and many old books are lovely objects, I'm as much of an admirer as the next person of sturdy cloth bindings, good creamy paper that doesn't yellow, nice old fonts and printer's flowers and all that. Even a good quality paperback can be a very pleasant thing, but books aren't treasures any more, they are cheap, disposable and don't last. Nothing wrong with that, but dragging them round as a badge of our superiority, or like a trail of scruffy, lame old wrinkled retainers who've seen better days but there's some perceived sense of mutual obligation between them and us is, I think, a mistake. I looked at my old paperback novels I've kept from as far back as the seventies and eighties, and saw that they are simply no longer of any real practical use; the spines threaten to crack and lose pages, the paper is yellowed and brittle, the print looks cramped and uninviting. In the generally unlikely event of my wanting to revisit and reread them, I'd be far better off getting them as e-books, which mostly should be possible.

For that's another thing. Books that were deeply, life-changingly important to me in my twenties, say, simply no longer are. Sorry, but Doris Lessing seems more and more to me a profoundly humourless, self-important writer, whose take on feminism was downbeat and discouraging to say the least, her attitudes to sex depressingly heteronormative (I got that from our grand-daughter, good eh?) to the point of Lawrentian, and to mental illness surely often unhelpful, and whose later vision of the destiny and purpose of humankind was almost laughably wrong and a little too close for comfort to Erich von Daniken. To the dechetterie with her!

Even the shelf of chunky out-of-copyright Wordsworth Classics, which Tom got me the Christmas before we came to France, and which I worked through in the first hard, hard early days here - Vanity Fair, Great Expectations, Villette, The Riddle of the Sands, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc fond though I am of the memory, can go. They are easier to read as e-books, available for free, and the memories are not dependent on their physical presence, which goes, of course, for so much of the stuff to which we shackle ourselves for sentimental reasons.

That said, there are many books I've not been able to part with. I was barely able to get rid of any of the poetry, even the ones I don't much care for I find I have a mawkish attachment to, almost a sense of responsibility - who will take them in, no one will want them, where will they shelter oh where will they sleep? It doesn't help that there's nowhere really to send second hand books with any certainty they could be found and appreciated by anyone; Emmaus does have an English language section, and a lot went there, but they're overwhelmed with books anyway, I gather. The dechetterie has started a book drop, from which they are distributed to schools and libraries, and they said they accepted English language too. But this concern for their afterlife, as Tom pointed out, is a distraction, we need to simply leave them at on the doorstep and forget them. Still, there are those whose connections with people,times and places are simply too important to let them go; detachment's one thing, ripping your heart out is not required.

A Paris food blogger I follow, living in very restricted space so frequent decluttering is essential, photographs her books for the memory or the record when she turns them out. We considered this but didn't do it, it threatened to hamper the action, and we didn't really see the point. One of my knitting buddies told of how her son-in-law has used old books as insulation in his roof, visible, I think, but not really accessible. Tom says that's one way to have very erudite mice.

* here I must plead guilty to having fallen for the Folio Society con once,a long time ago, long before the internet, when we were actually quite starved of reading matter in English, a state which seems incredible now. They were offering some good reference books as bait, a Brewer's Phrase and Fable I still have and like to keep in book form, and some other things. But the overpriced and overweight 'Stones of Venice'  in its stupid box has gone and good riddance.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Hénon reprise

I've posted about Hénon before. We stayed there for half of July and all of August in the end, at the holiday home of J & B, some friends of a friend. We didn't know them really at all, met them just once before, but when I rang up and asked point blank if we could have it for six weeks instead of two, they very quickly agreed with good cheer and friendliness; I did suggest they ring me back so they could discuss it; we'd perceived they were a couple who liked to check with each other before agreeing to things of mutual concern, which is something we like to see, having fairly strict rules within our own marriage about it.*

Anyway, B rang back withing a couple of minutes and said of course, that's fine (we and our insurance between us had agreed to pay them a decent rent), so we stretched ourselves into their reclining armchairs and heaved a sigh of relief. And very largely, that's what we spent quite a lot of the six weeks doing, when we weren't communicating at length with the expert's office, trying to pin down artisans, or having the mother of all bonfires of the vanities, Emmaus and the dechetterie grew fat on our discarded worldlies. 

The other thing we did was walk a lot, getting to know pretty much every track and lane around the place; there were many safe and pleasant paths where Elfie was able to take her first off-leash walks in safety, and many other well-socialised dogs and cats, and even an African grey parrot at one house that used to whistle and chat as we went by. People round here who don't live there often pull a face when you mention Hénon, it's an unglamourous little commune that has nothing special about it, except for a massive 19th century Gothic church which serves as a landmark and makes the place easy to get back to when you get lost walking its environs, as we did a couple of times, and of course the celebrated dechetterie; it only has quite minor roads to it and isn't on the way to anywhere much else. Like many such bourgs - commune centres where the mairie is to be found - it is expanding to a surprising degree, with many lotissements and other new-build houses spreading further and further out, while in the village centre is rather dying, the dingy and poky old stone houses with hardly any gardens can scarcely be given away and stand empty and decaying; Tom likened the place to a mint plant. J & B, who live in Guernsey but come over often, said that when they first bought the house about twenty-five years ago there were three shops and five bars, not all of them open at the same time, now there is one bar, and the last general shop has recently closed down, though there is a bakers and Gaetan at the bar keeps a few shelves of groceries. Gaetan's other half, Fred, runs a cosy little hairdressing salon opposite the church and gave me the best and most enjoyable haircut I'd had in a long time; I would say more than the mairie their establishments are at the heart of the community.

J and B's is one of the older village houses, but a bit away from the centre, where the original buildings merge into the newer developments, and quite a popular residential area for young families, it seems. Our stay coinciding with the hottest and most relaxed period of the long summer holidays, we were kept awake by very noisy all night parties a couple of times. Despite this, however, and despite the horrible experience of finding the body of the young family next door's cat (who had earlier launched herself at Elfie with a savagery only a nursing mother cat can show), strangled in the opening of a slippery pvc window in the act of trying to get back in to her kittens when her owners went out leaving them separated and no easier way in (Tom reached up and unhitched her,  I wrapped her up and left them a note, so at least their kids didn't see), we generally quite enjoyed our stay, the old house was cool and the walking was good.

It was indeed hot, so evenings were the best times to walk.

As I said, you can see the church from the fields all around,

and all its fancy Gothic nooks and crannies serve as roosts for a huge variety of birds: swallows and house martins and swifts, jackdaws and pigeons and doves, yet it didn't seem to be plagued and eroded by bird droppings, which can be a problem in other churches I've seen.

Something else I never knew, country church clocks here strike the hour twice, Plemy's does it too. This, it seems, was so that those working in the fields, like in the Angelus, or otherwise at a distance, who heard the clock strike but perhaps missed the start of it, could straighten up, wait a few moments then count the second lot properly.

I think Hénon must have been quite devout, lots of houses of all different periods have a niche above the door for an statue of Jesus or the BVM or other saint.

We saw the Bogard balloons a number of times.

And some sheep safely grazing.

There are a few quaint things to be seen here, this bizarre, oversized and completely architecturally anomalous thatched cottage, with naff replicas of classical sculptures - a midget Michelangelo's David, a nymph or two and a rather manky Renaissance lion - in the garden:

and this miniature Alpine chalet in a front yard which I've often wondered about as I drove past.

It turns out it is a cold-frame on wheels. The people at the house were funny and friendly too.

Our friend J was just down the road, we were able to use her internet sometimes, including by squatting down on the pavement at her windowsill before she was up in the mornings and picking up the wi-fi through the window, which the good citizens of Hénon found quite amusing.

Really not a bad place to pass a month or two, but we don't mind being on our way either.

Sometimes when I called Elfie at this point, just before a field where some hares lived, she would bound towards me all silhouetted with light and looked like a spirit dog.

* for example, the number of women who cheerfully volunteer their menfolk, without asking, for jobs involving DIY, car mechanics and heavy lifting is deplorable. Ask them how they'd feel if their husbands offered to lend them out to other people to come and clean for them and they'd look a bit surprised.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

I googled macrame...

... and found this

in this article. Pretty weird stuff and religiose, but not just owls and plant holders. I always wanted a macrame hammock myself.

Also these

via Pinterest, though I can't find an original source. And a lot of owls and plant holders.

Internet mon amour, how I have missed you.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Easing back in.

Look, no lead.

A step forward which has really only just taken place in the last couple of weeks. The progress has very largely been on my part, letting go of the fear and the need for control, trusting her. I've a few photos showing this state of affairs, most of them not very clear because of the rapid movement of the subject, but it's cheering to note that in all of them she's coming towards me. Not that that's always the case; fairly often I'm having to keep myself calm, steady and fairly quiet, only calling out an occasional 'Elfie, this way', while continuing on my own path, rather than shouting pointless recall commands and chasing after her, while she disappears into the depths of a maize field or bramble thicket or describes a wild, wide arc across an acre of open stubble or round a herd of cows, telling myself that she knows where I am and will of course return to me in a few moments with a puffing grin and an expectation of a click and a treat, which she does.

One of many exercises in detachment I've been practising, though I think perhaps some of it is more a case of having detachment thrust upon one than of purposely achieving it. We've done a tremendous amount of shedding.

Back in the gîte in Plémy again where we were in July, until the end of September, with internet and a dishwasher (the latter a joy hitherto unknown to us, believe it or not), and happy to be here. The final expert's report has gone through but the house won't be finished when we have to move back in; the painters and decorators can't do their job till the staircase carpenter has done his, and he can't start till the electrician has finished, and he's only just started... In spite of this, everyone wants deposits and the insurance company, though they have really been very good, still haven't sent us the cheque to cover these. We're OK, but it would be harder for someone who had lost more and had less of a financial cushion than we have. But still, all will be well, the cheque is in the post (as they say) and we count our blessings as always. A few minutes of sheer terror, a few hours of misery, worry and discomfort, a few days of shock, and then really rather a good summer, rootlessness and lightness of being, reflection and recouping, not bad at all. We'll be able to camp out comfortably enough, we've know worse.

I'll leave it at that for the moment, but this is one thing I don't want to shed, though snail mail letters and brown paper packages have their charms! Back soon, with more of Elfie if nothing else.

Freedom of the Garden. Tom's doing; I went out leaving strict instructions not to let her our etc etc which he ignored and she's been enjoying freedom with responsibility ever since.