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.