Sunday, September 14, 2014

Coéfficient 115

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and watched the sea advancing to our feet

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Tuesday, September 09, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My first two brothers came, 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Monday, September 08, 2014

A post of two halves: Tom at the helm, and donkeys and spaniels

I seem to have something of a number of things to post all of a sudden, which for various reasons I don't want to hang around on, so this is really two posts in one.  

Robbie asked in the comments of the last post if I had ever helmed a yacht. I haven't, only a Mirror dinghy on a gravel pit which isn't quite the same thing, but Tom has.  This was the vintage racing yacht Gymea that my niece B and her salty sea dog partner M used to live on in Avalon (yes, that really was the name of the place) north of Sydney.  This is B - she's the one I made the rainbow gloves for:

(with M's hand coming out of the inside of the boat)

and this is Tom when he was told he'd have to drive the boat:

But then M, that's him next to Tom, explained everything:

I'm not sure I've got a very good head for the physics of sailing, that's to say I do understand the principles but applying that in motion is another matter. However Tom got the hang of it, and used the little bits of fluttery string attached to the sail (don't know what the proper nautical term is for them) to judge all about wind and stuff like that, and we had ever such a lot of fun.

That was eight years ago now (I notice I had a lot less grey in my hair then, and my glasses look unfashionably large) and I don't know whether we'll get the chance to sail such a boat again. B and M no longer live on Gymea, but on a couple of other boats - they found they needed a bit more space than the cabin of a racing yacht - one of which they built themselves, but I rather doubt we'll get to visit them there again.

The other subject to cover is Sunday's Donkey Festival, which for the last couple of years has taken place just up the road from here in the fields (I posted about it once here), but whose success now means it has been promoted and this year it was held in the town of Moncontour itself, with much more promotion. We went along for the morning parade, which was mediaeval themed.  Moncontour has a rather well known mediaeval festival, which used to take place every year and in our first years here was good fun, you only had to go and sit around and all kinds of genuinely entertaining things, impromptu and interactive bits of theatre (and quite good food) went on around you, from scrofulous beggars, shamanic stilt walkers, and once a rather alluring witch who pinched some of what I was eating then pulled a set of male genitals out of the bag she was carrying. Now though, it's become a victim of its own success; the town council and the traders all fell out about contributing to it, it only takes place every two years, it's over-priced and overcrowded, there's nothing much worth seeing and you can't see anything anyway over all the heads. But the town did in the course of things amass a large collection of mediaeval costumes, and they encourage people to put them on as often as possible, so this year we had mediaeval donkeys.

We found ourselves right in the path of the parade, so I made another video! I'd not really thought much about filming things like this before, but it does save an awful lot of time editing photos, and when a video can convey something of the atmosphere of an event where still shots might be difficult to get.  Also, I find that once I've starting recording, I can look up and watch the event directly; I don't want to be one of those 21st century people who can only experience things through the screen of their e-device.

This time, too, unlike with the Belem, there's a musical sound track. Tom always rolls his eyes a bit about this kind of ambulant music here, and when it's Breton bagpipes I suppose that's understandable, but I'm often rather charmed by the naïve folksiness of it.  And there really are some kick-ass donkeys to be seen.

But the real wonder of the day was when we turned round and were confronted by this threesome of black cocker spaniels (and a terrier called Bob). 

We fell on them in a kind of swoon, and I was just about to explain in French about Molly when the man with them said, in English 'You like black cocker spaniels do you then?'.

I'm afraid we totally distracted the couple from their outing looking at mediaeval donkeys by engaging them in dog talk, nineteen to the dozen. The somewhat smaller cocker on the right of the picture was very much like Molly in looks and temperament, with a curlier coat and a smaller, tuftier head and ears than the others, but it was the other two, who were rather more perfect pedigree specimens, who were more attentive and affectionate to us.  The largest, a male, the one in the centre, we were assured, would be quite happy to come home with us, he really would prefer to be one dog on his own...

While his companions were getting so much love and attention lavished on them, and the Molly look-alike was giving the donkeys a bit of a telling off for being there, Bob decided he'd had enough of this malarkey and slipped his collar and went walkabout, so Tom had to round him up and give him some fuss too.

We went away with tears in our eyes, of course.  They were such clear-eyed, healthy, calm dogs, almost like they were Molly translated. Lovely creatures.

A good morning out.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

The Belem

We are having a boaty time lately.  Though this one's in fact a ship; nautical people get a bit funny when you say the one when you should say the other. Anyway, it was a very fine one.

The Belem is a very large, famous and beautiful sailing ship, built originally in 1896, now a sail training vessel. There's a Wiki entry or the English version of her own website, to tell you all about all the ups and downs of her long, glamorous, and romantic career.  She was in the harbour at le Legué, the port of St Brieuc for the weekend, and you could go on board for a tour for a fee, but the queues were long it seemed, and we opted to go up on the Monday morning to see her leaving for St Malo. We stationed ourselves a bit before the mouth of the harbour at the time recommended by the capitanerie (that's the harbour master's office to you and me, I think), and waited, looking up the river in hopeful expectation.

watching various smaller craft bobbing about,

enjoying the silky ripply wave patterns,

and other seashore things,

and watching other people gathering in different places.

After a time, a TV crew joined us,

fumbled about with their gear looking important, then put it all away again and drove off towards the Pointe de Roseliers, where we intended to go later to get a view of the ship in full sail. 

We waited and waited, then suddenly the ageing biker type next to us turned excitedly saying 'Il est là!', and we saw the three masts appearing at the bend in the river.

On she came, accompanied by smaller boats. 

At this point I rested the camera on the railing, and so was able to take a fairly steady video of her passing. This is about two and a half minutes and unless you're very interested in seeing a big boat chugging out of a river mouth in northern Brittany, I would recommend drying paint as an equally fascinating visual spectacle, but I did spend about two hours hogging the big computer and uploading it to Youtube (it's quite good definition) so I feel I want to get my money's worth out of it and am embedding it here. There are a number of motor bikes and other engines racketing away in the background, but the high point comes near the end when they hoist up some of the foresails and there's a riveting bit of dialogue which goes thus:

Tom: Do you want to go up to the point then? (In fact this is not really audible)
Me: Can do.
Me: Jib's going up.
Tom: What?
Me (louder and slightly impatient sounding): Sails are going up!

Then a rather sweet tiny Yorkshire terrier which had been held up with its paws on the railings catches sight of some huge great German Shepherd or similar and sets up a volley of let-me-at-him! type barking.

There, I've saved you the trouble of actually sitting through it.

In fact when we turned around, there was a traffic jam with cars bumper to bumper making their way up to the point already and rubbernecking as they went, so we decided against trying to get there, figuring also that with the wind direction it was unlikely she'd be in full sail till she was right out of the bay and out of sight anyway, but just before we left I glimpsed her beyond the little lighthouse and took a final picture with the zoom before she disappeared.

We love boats. And ships. And stuff like that.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

August collage

I have, as anyone who reads here and can remember, mixed feelings about August. 'The yellow Provençal August the English dream of', Iris Murdoch called it, and British school summer holidays being fairly short compared to much of the world, a great deal of hope and expectation has always been placed in what often felt like the disappointing scrag end of summer. This year both spring and summer have sometimes seemed sad and difficult, and I welcome the change in the season. We've had a man up on the roof to fix a potential source of weather worry for the winter, and are working on other areas of weatherproofing which will, we hope, make winter less of a source of trepidation, so autumn can bring it on, and I'll happily wave goodbye to August.

Yet it can be a rich, fruitful and colourful month, and I'm often surprised by my own appreciation of it. Here's some of it.
  1. Bee on an umbel.
  2. My red onion crop, grown from sets and not ever so large but really very good, sound and firm and shiny and very tasty. 
  3. Maize crop, and those scrawny thistles which come in a very pretty blue.
  4. Courgettes. I bought one plant only from the market rather than growing from seed this year, and that is enough really if one doesn't love them to distraction or want to fight the battle against marrowfication.
  5. in amongst the bearded barley... I somehow missed photographing the wheat and barley harvest, with the straw in big lush heaps, then in big rolled bales studding the fields, and then the tractors beetling about with their wagon trailers gathering them up. We find we still enjoy the sight of this.
  6. Landscape looking inland.
  7. Another umbel, hogweed seed head I think; you're supposed to be able to use these seeds as a seasoning/flavouring, and when crushed they do have a unique spicy aroma, but I don't quite have the foraging nerve to mess with umbelliferous plants, when they're good they're very good, when they're bad they're toxic.
  8. Tiger moth on flowering eucalyptus.
  9. Blackberries. A good year for these, as it seems to be for most fruit. I've not gone picking yet, and may not do so, we don't eat huge amounts of jam and jelly, and I still have crème de mûre from last year - we don't drink huge amounts of kir either - but they are good to munch on in passing.
  10. Knapweed, a very August thing. There are a lot of thistley things about at this time, I like their purples and blues.
  11. Cob nuts, we bought these in fact, though there are a fair number in the hedges too, but not so big.
  12. Pumpkin in flower and fruit. Again, I bought plants, a potimarron and a butternut, but they're very stingy and will probably yield no more than one fruit each. I really will plant more seeds next year. And blog more, and read more, and carry out many other good resolves.