Monday, December 12, 2016

Half a century and half a decade...

... which seems quite a lot of years. I am having a rather wonderful day, in fact.

My birthday treat was really to go to England last week, which was packed with activity and most enjoyable. I saw two siblings - lovely sister whom I stayed with and brother Phil too, and his Angela took the day off as well to come and meet us at the Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge (after a walk through the beautiful botanic garden), where we ate wild boar tortellini and cake in the café* and looked at the exhibition of medieval manuscripts, where I shadowed a very erudite lady who was commenting and explaining the exhibits to her companion in a most fascinating way, so I was moved to approach her before we left and thank her. I seem unable to stop myself speaking openly and probably inappropriately to complete strangers once in my native language; when I took my older French students to the south of England some years ago they kept asking if I was related to all the people we met as I seemed so familiar with them. We spent a day in London, had delicious vegetarian lunch at this restaurant, and took in more medievalia at the V&A along with a very absorbing exhibition on underwear since 1850. I also spent an evening with Tom's daughter K and her family, eating spag bol, being shown music videos and having the drop explained to me by my step-grandson, and I went food shopping in Lidl in Harlow which, bizarrely, provoked the strongest feeling of homesickness I experienced during the whole trip - I think it was brought on by the sausage rolls.

I took the camera but no photos whatsoever, even though I told lovely sister I'd photograph more of her quilts, I just forgot. But I did bring back these little fellows:

They are know as 'shelves', a portmanteau of shelf-elves, elves who sit on shelves. They are exquisitely made with felt hats and boots, knitting-Nancy (French knitting, tricotin) limbs and sheepskin beards, and filled with kiln-dried sand so their cone shaped bodies sit cosily and slightly mobile in the hand like Kelly men. No two are exactly alike. My sister has been creating so many lovely and immaculately made things and trying to sell them for a fraction of their worth for ages, and suddenly she's hit on something everyone wants. It seems there's a story book, though she didn't know about it, and a new custom that has grown from it, of parents moving the elf and hiding him in a different place round the house for the children to find every day in Advent. On account of this craze she has produced about 150 of them in about three weeks, and they are flying out of the small craft and gift outlets where she takes them. She still charges ridiculously little for them.

Anyway, despite having such a grand time, and despite Ryanair diverting the flight, because of fog which was nowhere to be seen on the ground at Dinard but was deemed by HQ in Dublin to be too severe to land there, so we had to wait around at Rennes for a couple of hours then be bussed back, it was lovely to get home. Elfie greeted me with equable but not overwhelming good humour, she'd had rather a nice time being spoiled by Tom and dragging him around the countryside, since he didn't dare let her off the lead he just followed her everywhere. She had a huge marrow bone to distract her the day I left (too much, she threw half of it up again but it didn't distress her), and was generally very good.

I haven't done anything special today, since there would be nothing open on a Monday in December and anyway, we had a firewood delivery. But Elfie and I had a lovely foggy morning walk, with a stripey partridge skittering away under her nose and getting her all excited, and two white egrets fishing in a puddle in the cow field below the house, who took flight and drifted off into the fog like spirits, and made the hair on the back of my neck rise. Our friend J rang and asked had I opened her present yet? She had said it was 'just a jokey one' which rather made my heart sink as J's jokey cards and presents are usually awful, and I'd put it away and forgotten about it. 'Unwrap it now!' she insisted on the 'phone.

In fact it was unexpectedly pleasing,

a pair of large, plain white mugs designed to look like Aran knitting. We had hot chocolate in them.

I made eight jars of white currant jelly so I'd have something to give people for Christmas, then had orzo (possibly my favourite pasta shape, what's yours?) with pesto and bacon for lunch, while Tom had an apple sandwich, which he prefers, then the wood came, which I'd ordered before I left.

For nearly twenty years we have had free fire wood from the farmer who farms our field. We negotiated a cord when we arrived, and he has faithfully delivered it every year, sometimes we've bought an extra one. As the cost of firewood rose and the value of land rental stagnated, this became a very good deal for us; the paterfamilias retired but still continued to honour the arrangement, but this year I felt he was avoiding the subject and us. I finally spoke to his wife on the phone, who prevaricated then said that in fact Pierre was no longer occupying himself with the wood, we'd need to talk to their son... We knew we'd as well talk to ourselves, cut our losses (which weren't losses anyway) and went and ordered supermarket wood. It is beautiful stuff,

clean and dry and fragrant, rounded at the corners from seasoning and turning. It came wrapped on pallets and took about an hour for both of us to unload and stack. I only wish it were cold enough to justify a fire, but it really isn't.

So now we are luxuriating in a comfortable level of fatigue, looking forward to a decadent convenience food supper of Fray Bentos steak puddings, tinned marrowfat peas and mash from the freezer, plenty of red wine, and a DVD of The Mill on the Floss. Bloody delightful.

Thanks for cards, e-mails and other treats. My cup runneth over, as always.

*where I also had a run-in with a nervy American girl who had used her backpack to reserve a table for four for herself alone while she went to queue. Seats were at a premium, the correct protocol was to queue, get food and then look for seats, as we had done. I moved her backpack and we all sat down together, and when she appeared claiming her 'reserved' seat I said, politely I thought, that I didn't think one could do that, we were four and needed seats and a bag on a seat was not a person. She went off, found a single seat then came back near to tears saying how rude I was, and I heard her bending the ears of the people she'd sat by about how ill-treated she'd been. Poor snowflake. I am such a meanie.


Catalyst said...

Lovely memoir of your trip to the U.K., Lucy. But I'm glad you're back home with Tom and Elfie, as I'm sure you are.

marja-leena said...

Belated Happy Birthday, Lucy! Sounds like you had lots of fun. May this coming year be full of blessings.

HKatz said...

Happy Birthday! Wishing you a warm and brilliant year.

I love the shelf-elves :)

And I know the kind of special American snowflake you've encountered... have had run-ins with them in class and at work. Oh well.

Avus said...

Seems like you had a delightful time, Lucy. I enjoyed the picture of Elfie, she has the look that says "I know you are photographing me, but I will pretend not to care", often seen on the faces of those who think they are (minor) celebrities.

Lucy said...

Thanks chaps. Nice to go, nice to come back.

I'm a little ambivalent about using the 'snowflake' insult; it tends to be lobbed from right to left often by the kind of people with the kind of views I wouldn't wish to be associated with. However, one picks these things up without necessarily analysing where they come from, but there may be a grain of truth in the idea. I generally feel that most youngsters have no more sense of unreasonable entitlement than I did at their age, quite likely less, and are no less clever, and if they are a bit more caring and sensitive, about others as well as themselves, that's perhaps not such a bad thing. I didn't enjoy upsetting the girl (who had an American accent but might have been from anywhere) but felt that she had assumed something she was doing (because, she said, she had 'no choice' when she was on her own) which was presuming on other people's tolerance and kindness had become an automatic right. There was no system for reserving, and as K said, you can't reserve a table for four for one person with a bag anyway; my millennial-generation-snowflake step-grandson said something far more dismissive and less gentle about it! (But he is a little oaf!)

Sabine said...

Belated happy birthday, how young you are!

I would have done the same with snowflake, regardless of age.

Zhoen said...

Sounds a lovely birthday. I like those elves, beats the mass produced ones all over the place. And the knitted mugs, very appealing.

As for the AMgirl, thank you for instructing her in rules about sharing and not assuming. Not that she'll learn, but maybe eventually she'll catch on.

Lynne said...

As an American who has travelled quite a bit and now lives in Norway, I have found rudeness not to be limited to a nationality. Perhaps it is more of an American courtesy to respect belongings left as a reservation, because we do actually do that. I am not young either, at 48. I can see how you found her actions irritating, but it made me sad to read this post and some of the comments. This is the kind of divisiveness I expect from our newly maybe President elect, and I am speaking up in hopes that maybe next time, there will be more understanding across borders and ages.

Lucy said...

Sabine - I remember with some of my older students practising the construction 'I wish I had...' and one said 'I wish I had always known how young I was!'. You're not so far ahead of me anyway.

Z - I hadn't seen the mass-produced ones, but then I suppose I don't go near that many shops, or maybe they've not caught on here. My sister based them on some she'd seen in Italy I think.

Ré the girl in the café, see my reply to Lynne, below.

Lucy said...

Lynne - thank you and welcome. I entirely agree that while customs and notions of polite conduct might vary from place to place, and perhaps between the age groups, rudeness is indeed not confined to any particular group. As I said in my previous comment, the girl had an American accent to my ears, but that means nothing; she could have been Canadian, any kind of American-educated European, whatever. I hadn't meant to generalise and correlate her behaviour with that nationality.

I'm not sure how acceptable moving belongings from empty seats is considered to be in the UK, or indeed here in France (but then self-service is rarer here so it doesn't arise much). From the slightly aghast laughter from other customers who over-heard my saying 'I think we should be very un-English and just move the bag off the seat', and from the slightly hesitant reaction of our families about it, that they supported me and were rather pleased I'd done it but weren't quite sure they would have done it themselves, I gather perhaps it is somewhat outré. I certainly would not have done it if there hadn't been a shortage of tables (though there were one or two smaller ones still available in less agreeable spots, she had chosen rather greedily, perhaps because she wanted space to spread her laptop and other affairs).

I am aware that if she had been a more assertive and threatening person (I didn't know she wasn't when I took the seat), the altercation would have been more difficult, and so I'm not proud of seeming to have pushed her around when she was clearly so fragile; however, having sometimes had to fight my corner in a second language with tougher cases than hers, I hope it wouldn't have made much difference to my attitude, which I still don't think was actually rude, maybe a bit brusque. And let's be clear, I didn't call her a snowflake, or anything else! (And I wouldn't.)

Anyway, I suppose I related the anecdote here to see what the reaction to it was, though in fact it is only a small part of the post, the rest of which I hope didn't sadden you too much! I don't know if you read here often, most of my commenters do and as such are my friends, and one's friends generally are inclined to support and affirm one's side of things, though I trust mine, here and elsewhere, also to reply with honesty and integrity.

One thing I will seriously protest about in your comment, however, on their behalf as well as my own, is 'this is the kind of divisiveness I expect from our newly maybe President elect'. I would hope if you do read here you would understand how wide of the mark that is, and if you knew anything at all about my friends who comment here you would know just how unjust that is to them. I don't think I'm being any kind of snowflake myself to object to it.

On the whole my blog is a fairly anodyne and non-committal one (rather more so than I am in person, I think!) and I am rarely called on anything here. I think it's happened about twice before that I can remember in 10+ years: once when someone berated me for giving permission for a tourist office to use a photograph for free because I was doing professionals out of a living (I was quite proud they wanted it, thought it courteous of them to ask and considered myself perfectly within my rights to grant the permission), and another time for allegedly claiming that the number zero originated with the Arabs (in fact I said no such thing, but he hadn't read the post properly and I had the impression the subtext of his comment was a reluctance to credit Arabs or Islam with anything of worth at all.) I am always a little bemused that I have these chance or lurking readers; on both occasions, the people had never commented before and have not since. I have no idea whether they tracked back and read my replies, probably not; likewise I rather doubt that this long and carefully thought-out reply will ever be read either, or if I will ever know!

Val said...

I am visiting your blog via a comment you left on Attic24's blog re an overheard conversation 'I am looking forward to a walk. Not straight away, or anywhere special, just to feel space around me again' which I found very pleasing...Thank you
It seems I have arrived in the middle of a conversation...and being British I should pretend I've not overheard ..but being about the same age as you I too seem to have lost my reticence somewhere and must compliment you on your reply.
I'm not really an elf on the shelf kind of person but your Sister's Shelves are rather appealing (and remind me of My Sister's Gonks of her childhood)and I think they look Scandinavian...I'm now wondering if we can make some ..and if we do whether the cats will let them
I would have loved the Manuscript exhibition provoked a google search so some shared enjoyment there. Anyway this is more than enough woffle from a stranger . Festive wishes Val

Lucy said...

Val - thank you for stopping by; not much of a conversation really as the previous commenter probably won't reply and everyone else has been and gone already! Never mind, it's lovely to have a new visitor, and from such a happy source! I see you are rather far away to get to the manuscripts exhibition, but I gather the on-line version is really detailed and good.

I shall come and visit you on your blog straight away...

Pam said...

I wouldn't have moved the stuff but just because I am a wimp. Instead I'd have done a lot of muttering.

Roderick Robinson said...

I purposely left myself time to think about your lebensraum situation and betimes found myself in Germany, where the word was invented and where now it's not only impossible to imagine it happening, but even for anyone to be tempted to let it happen. We found ourselves, as always, surrounded by people who were attentive, amusing... oh, you know the rest. And I more than ever convinced you were right with that shrewd bit of analysis you dispensed two or three years ago.

Am I too fanciful when I say I lay abed - admittedly newtlike - and concluded I'd been subjected to adult affection. No less.

I sympathise with Lynne's view and wish I could espouse it wholeheartedly. The trouble is not so much with Trump (whom it seems appropriate to dislike) as the reasons for Trump (with which I sympathise). Political intentions are rarely based on turning the other cheek, perhaps they should be.

Were you right to do what you did? In my book you were. It was a simple difference of opinion at the human level and it doesn't profit from being extrapolated. Unfairness rectified without the shedding of blood; are we no longer allowed this? That the meek shall inherit the earth only leaves me with uncontrolled thoughts about what sort of earth that would be. Music's always useful at moments like this. You could have told her to go away and listen to St Matthew Passion, not for spiritual uplift but because it's long.

Zhoen said...

I think that Lynne's rebuke is off the mark, hopefully just out of a more generalized anxiety we are suffering over here.

I had a troll, years ago, got into a minor flame war, got myself very upset. One of my readers suggested that if I got any comment that just didn't feel right, I didn't need a reason, I could just quietly delete it. Like not answering the door at my own house if I didn't want to deal with the person knocking. It was excellent advice, I don't get worked up over those with poor reading comprehension and an axe to grind, and they don't get a forum on my blog.

Please delete this comment as well, so as not to add fuel to the issue.

Lucy said...

Pam - made me smile. I generally limit myself to muttering too! But I really had so little time with my family, it was important to me we sat down to a nice lunch together.

Robbie - lovely to see you, I'm sorry I've not been over to read about Germany, I shall rectify that. Clearly the footnote episode concerning table rage is of far more interest to everyone than my having attained a fairly insignificant half-decade! But never mind. It was a grey area situation, perhaps typical of British mores and MOs, where things aren't made clear, people mutter but aren't precise then explode over last straws, whereas perhaps the French grumble and take issue sooner and more overtly and the Germans organise things to prevent the situations ariding. But it's a kind of minor Moral Maze type hypothesis which engages people, and in these days of sluggish blog take-up, who am I to complain? In the girl's position I might well have been disgruntled, though I rather doubt I'd ever have resorted to tears and accusation, in fact at her age I probably would have been embarrassingly stroppy, entitles and rude myself! On reflection, I think what I said to Pam, that I was eager to spend precious time with family I rarely see (which the girl wans't to know) and not to be split up on smaller tables, was really the matter which swung it; as you say, the human level decided it. Music - lovely Finnish children's choir on 'Christmas across Europe' on Radio 3 today, rather boring German organs after that, including Buxtehude...

Zhoen - oh I know, I probably should have been more dignified and deleted Lynne's comment straight away rather than paying her the compliment of rational opposition, as Jane Austen said. But because I know I can, does that mean I should? While I disagreed with aspects of it, it wasn't trolling or flaming as I see it; it was polite and not anonymous (and, though she barely blogs at all, she spins and dyes lovely wool which made me a bit better disposed toward her!). I know my reply was a bit OTT and looks as though I'm rattled and exaggerating, but in fact I didn't really mind being prodded to articulate my response. In fact, if my very limited experience of contentious commenters is anything to go by, she was just passing through, probably hasn't read the reply and won't appear again, but in the wake of the exchange, I have made a very nice new friend in Val (a Brit living in Alaska), whom I'm now chatting to on her blog and on Ravelry, and had amusing, supportive and friendly replies from old friends such as yourself. As I said to Robbie above, in these days of lackadaisical blogging, that's not to be sniffed at! I appreciate your support and advice, really, which I would not delete; I don't tend to make myself vulnerable here; a commenter disagreeing with me or being a bit pompous and opinionated is a very rare thing and really doesn't hurt me much, and I guess I have the time and energy to be bothered to engage on this occasion. But thanks, really, for your thoughts and kindness. It's a disturbing and difficult time in so many ways, we need to take care, of ourselves and each other.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Belated birthday wishes, Lucy, and I wish there had been time during your action-packed trip to drop in chez moi for cake and conversation. But I do realise it wouldn't have been possible. Another time perhaps, you and Tom and Elfie?

"I seem unable to stop myself speaking openly and probably inappropriately to complete strangers" I love this completely un-Englishness about you! My sister also has this talent and as a result has made lifelong friends after brief encounters on bus or train or coffee shop, or anywhere really.

Anonymous said...

Belated Happy Birthday Lucy. Sounds like you had a wonderful time in the UK, made me quite home sick!

Susan ( HHB )