Thursday, July 23, 2015

The sweet sense of things out of the way or underway; the sweet smell of a new septic tank.

At last the very slender and (in theory) uncomplicated volume I've been putting together for my brother is done, uploaded, sent to print... A lot of time taken for a very modest result I fear, and I can only hope he's not too disappointed after all the waiting. I don't mind too much if I never have to do with Blurb's new Bookright software again (and please, Blurb or rival operations, spare me the spammy comments, I'll only delete them), though of course now I've finally done with it I've pretty much got the hang of it, even appreciating its flexibility, though of course that then provides one with an embarrassment of choice which is the enemy of getting things done. I found it was useful to have some knitting to hand, to forestall me from doing violence to the hardware, while I was waiting for the little blue circle to go round and round, and the programme to tell me petulantly it was 'not responding', or to reload after crashing completely. It may be down to our big computer (my notebook can't download the software or store enough photos), which is getting slow and grouchy. Anyway, it's easier to blame that or the software than to take responsibility for not bothering to go through any of the 'getting started' guides or tutorials. And I tell Tom off for insisting that no physicist ever reads an instruction manual.

In addition to that sense of relief in accomplishment (which is perhaps too fine a word), I have also in the space of less than two days, put in train the replacing of our ageing septic tank. Long time readers with specialist interests (you may be few but I cherish you) may recall that this has been a moot matter for a long time now. Following the initial meeting of our commune on the matter, a nice young man (who's probably a nice middle-aged man by now) from the body in question, which I failed to note previously is called the SPANC*, an acronym which doesn't sound much better pronounced with a French accent, came and assessed our sanitary arrangements, advised us that they were not up to the normes but adequate for the time being, and not to do anything until the question of subsidies for the work had been sorted out, they'd let us know. We never heard from them again and the matter has drifted into l'oubli for about the last eight years. It would only really be a problem for us if we wanted to sell the house, except that the old tank is, well, old, and our washing machine discharges we know not where into the nature, which is not great from an environmental point of view.

Then just the other day I picked up a municipal bulletin with an article on the back which said the closing date for submitting a dossier to claim the 50% subsidy for the cost of replacing the tank was the end of November this year. Since we had never been told this subsidy was in place this was rather a surprise, but nothing focuses the mind like a deadline. I got on the 'phone, went to the local office, was taken through all the forms, given a list of soil analysts who conduct the first stage of the operation, made an appointment for one to come the week after next... and all this during the summer holidays too.

So, when I have finished cutting the grass this afternoon, and maybe picked the rest of the white currants before the blackbirds and thrushes completely beat me to it, I will have a very fine sense of achievement. The less onerous one's life is, it may be observed, the more onerous the few onerous things one has to do seem to be.

And here I am blogging again. Some photos, mostly from my Essex trip. We went for a long walk in the country, wheat fields and old houses with red roofs and half-timbering and gardens. Essex is really very pretty in places, and more spacious and better proportioned than much of south-east England. These picturesque corners ooze money, of course, but don't seem to labour under and be smothered by it as much as some places - sweet little Kent lapboard cottages almost entirely obscured by the enormous 4x4s parked outside them, for example.

My Aussie brother, looking like both my mum and my dad; my sister and her daughter, my Aussie niece B.

Photographing them photographing me photographing them.

This house had an beautiful lavender hedge lining its path, lavender seems to do well there,

filled with bees and butterflies.

Less charming were these very small beetles, which were everywhere but especially in yellow flowers. They didn't seem to be a deliberate nuisance though, keeping themselves to themselves.

Contentment: a very handsome cat in the sun on a red brick path.

And then last week Tom and I went to Lamballe market and bought lots of small ripe tomatoes from the Man from Finistère, who also sells pink onions, and Tom made chutney, with lots of garlic and ginger paste and spices. We put some of the stalks in because it makes it taste more tomatoey, a good tip for any cooked tomato dish, and you pay for the stalks, you might as well use them.

* service publique pour l'assainissement non collectif

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Looking in

Poor neglected blog, nearly a month gone by, time was I used to tell you everything. Then this morning a so kind e-mail from a dear old friend expressing concern for my absence here, which has brought home to me what I knew, that it really is important to keep up this practice, albeit not necessarily with the same intensity as I once did, and to stay connected with the people with whom blogging is still a useful and comforting form of contact.

I don't really have any good excuses at all for not posting, I have been away a couple of times, a trip to Kerbiriou in late June (where the goat was, above), and a south England trip from which I only just returned on Sunday, catching up with family members - brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew, some of whom I've not seen for a very long while, fortuitously gathered from far-flung corners of the Earth, which was lovely*, so you might say I'd been a bit busy, but in truth these occasions would at one time have provided good reasons to blog, not kept me away from it. The other thing is I've an editing project for a print-on-demand book/magazine on hand for my brother which I'm taking far longer about than I ought to be. The kind of thing I like to think I'd have dashed off enthusiastically in a jiffy at one time, it's required the use of new and unfamiliar software, which by all accounts is still really at the beta stage (I believe that's the term for using the unsuspecting public as guinea pigs on an unfinished product), which, combined with the slowness of the bigger computer which I have to use, means I'm making far more of a meal of it than I should. If I were doing it for myself I'd probably have abandoned it by now, if I were doing it for a for work or some other formal commitment I'd have knuckled down and got it sorted, but as it is my brother is apologetic and appreciative and anxious not to put pressure on me, and I have allowed myself to slide into a kind of ineffective limbo about it, getting computer-shy (another invalid excuse for not blogging) and when I do come to it sidling off into idle and treacherous surfing and drifting day-dreaming on Pinterest and Ravelry (while also not keeping up my project notes or useful discussions I've entered into there either).

In fact though, I see now I am in a fairly recognisable kind of seasonal malaise; it's that kind of tipping-point time of year, flowering and fruiting and going to seed and drying out all at once and mixed together, the days dwindle perceptibly and weeds grow up around things and obscure the view of them, and clearing them seems like dusty, uninviting, pointless work; projects lie unfinished though I'm pulling out bits and pieces to embark on abortive new ones, scribbling and doodling and swatching and scratching half-heartedly at things which will mostly come to nothing and just result in more mess; distraction and displacement and lassitude hold sway.

And summer dreamed sadly for she thought all was ended
In her fullness of wealth that might not be amended

Nothing for it but to turn to, make a list (with the first thing on it being something you've already done, and can therefore cross off straight away, that's always a good one), bargain with myself for the dubious rewards of distraction, pick the peas and beans and sniff the flowers, and just DO IT!

However, before going away, and while sorting pictures for my brother's stuff, I did get as far as editing and uploading a fair number of pictures from the last month or so, here are a few:

Elderflowers. Rather than the rather laborious manufacture of heavy cordial involving large quantities of sugar, citric acid and days of standing, resulting in a product whose main aim in life seems to be to ferment dangerously, I used a much simpler recipe which involved boiling the flowers with plenty of lemons, much less sugar and smaller quantities of everything except the flowers themselves which yielded just one bottle of much lighter, fresher more stable liquid which is quite enough to give a taste of the season.

The remaining flowers and lemon I put to macerate in a Parfait jar with a bottle of vodka and one of sweet white wine, some sugar and a bag of last years white currants from the freezer by way of an experiment. White currants are rather eerily pretty things, though they still remind me a bit of frogspawn, which is quite pretty too in its own way.

A nice red nasturtium. Climbing annuals from seed doing well in the containers this year.

Finistère souvenirs:

The seaside at Carantec (where there was also a good market in the town with that rare thing in France, a really comprehensive spice stall):

A married couple were having their photos taken there, as is the vogue. It sometimes seems a bit strange, the spots they choose for this, as while they may be beautiful places in themselves, wedding dresses and suites seem rather incongruous within them. This couple had to negotiate the causeway with the seaweed and the old chaps going fishing, but all was done with good cheer.

Other sunsetty, seashorey moments in the same neck of the woods:

and rustic stuff too:

The goats are two still very young kids Paul at Kerbiriou bought for next to nothing when they were newborns from a more serious goat-raising enterprise than theirs, where even the females don't get to spend any time with their mothers, since the milk yield is the thing. They do however have a chance of life if someone like him will take them on and bottle raise them, which he did, so they are quite imprinted on and devoted to him and very affectionate and friendly with everyone. Every morning he'd bring a nanny goat or two down the road for milking, and the babies would trot alongside loose to get the special feed they're still having. They were quite mischievous and often skittered off, making winsome little caprioles and dashing off to eat the roses, Tom had to round them up a couple of times.

We came away this year with a big bag of very fresh green beans, a handful of home grown cucumbers and, special treasure, a fresh goat's cheese. With the rest of some cherry tomatoes from the market at Carentec, those we hadn't eaten like sweets, warm with the sun on them, as we were going around, and the last of the saladini and endives and some fresh oregano from the garden when we got back, and store cupboard olives, made an excellent Greek-style salad, being rather more like a good feta than a typical smelly French chèvre.

Also plenty of broad beans in the garden, these pink ones amuse me,

you can pretend to mistake them for your fingers, if you're silly,

They're usually more resistant to black fly than most varieties, but this year it's been a struggle. They go ordinary broad bean colour when you cook them.

And this was an oddity:

A light helicopter, sweeping back and forth quite low, one morning trailing this very long apparatus below it. I searched the internet for information in vain, but then spoke to a neighbour later who said he's seen it in the paper beforehand, and it was a radio-sonic device which was able to analyse the soil from above for minerals and such like. Most curious.

So, dear blog, apologies for my silence, but it's nice to talk to you again. I'll make sure to post more often ( and get round other people's too).

* apart from one of my rather too frequent attacks apparent food poisoning, the source of which was a complete mystery as I had eaten absolutely nothing that everyone else hadn't eaten, but which necessitated the total and violent expulsion from my body of all matter hitherto taken into it followed by a day lying around feeling as if my skin was on inside out, only to awake and emerge on the morning of my departure more or less as bright and chipper as if nothing had happened. I had to cry off a trip into London to meet yet another long-lost nephew and his new wife, but in fact the day of reconstitution passed surprisingly pleasantly (other than the skin-inside-out thing), since I got to hang out with my Aussie brother and sister-in-law and Zig the cat, reading, chatting a bit, not-really-watching tennis, dozing and finally enjoying a dainty little supper prepared by my brother. I've rather come to the conclusion that seeing and catching up with people consists far more of such moments than the planned events, exciting experiences and meaningful conversations, and they are often the more memorable.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

20 minutes: 3 months of monthly collages

Just about the right length of time while the oven chips cook. Yes, I do. They are a convenience food guilty pleasure, and don't make the house smell of frying.

Anyway, I have in fact been keeping up with the monthly collages, but haven't got around to posting them, so start the clock:


  1. Primroses
  2. Winter scarves and hats in winter light
  3. Tête-à-tête
  4. Tom's broken toe
  5. A pot of jasmine
  6. Love of three lemons
  7. Gnostic angel shadow
  8. Early herb pots
  9. Lovely Lara (very sadly, Lara passed away a month or so after their visit, which we don't like to think about too much)
  10. Mirabelle blossom
  11. ditto
  12. Cut wood in the mirabelle field
  13. Camellia, nuccio's pearl
  14. Still having fires
  15. A mink yarn scarf and soap for my sister's birthday - the yarn really is spun from the combings of humanely reared mink.
  16. View from a plane.


  1. My sister's quilts
  2. Waltham Abbey church
  3. Ziggy
  4. Norwich cathedral glass
  5. View from the plane home
  6. One of two balloons in a clear blue sky. I'm told they're from the château at Bogard
  7. Bumble bees in willow
  8. The château at Bogard
  9. Bee on a dandelion
  10. Containers 
  11. Water drops on a red plant
  12. Morning garden view from the bedroom
  13. Mexican orange blossom, so abundant
  14. Forget-me-not
  15. Prunus amanagawa
  16. Spring light on early sycamore


  1. The Best of Times
  2. Gallerie Vero-Dodat, still meaning to do an arcades post
  3. Vélo la Violette
  4. Me on the Pont Neuf
  5. Tree peony and broom flowers
  6. Speedwell and oak
  7. Buttercups
  8. View over the garden hedge
  9. Barley in the green and sorrel 
  10. Stonechats, parent and young, a fact I didn't establish till after I'd taken the rather bad photos
  11. Ploumanac'h lighthouse
  12. Tom in a pink granite armchair

It all goes by so fast.

Monday, June 15, 2015

20 minutes (here and there): Boxes within boxes; stag beetles, broken biscuits and unmentionable soup.

Our friends are addicted to generosity. A most enormous parcel arrived, to sign for. A gift from G&A, the main item commissioned and acquired before they came to visit but then inadvertently left at home. It proved to be a magnificent plate, of the kind whose magnificence is underlined by its being called a charger, from a pottery in rural Pembrokeshore. Its main glaze that shade of ochre gold to be seen on some very old ware, but its striking feature is the motif of stag beetles of various sizes embossed on its surface.

Wishing to put it to use straight away, I put such fruit as I had on the table into it, which consisted of three rather specky bananas and a pile of Brazil nuts from the winter (I like Brazils better than most nuts, but find them almost impossible to get into). As it turned out these were rather a good match:

The effect was that the beetles were emerging from below to snatch at the fruit and nuts,

a scene which changed as one shook and stirred things around, a veritable drama going on in the middle of the table.

And this wasn't all. As well as a large box within a box of clever polystyrene construction which ensured its safe arrival, there were all manner of interesting comestibles used as additional packing, doubtless the work of A, who loves to feed people. These included an enormous box of broken biscuits: 

(pic taken on the webcam, as I forgot to photograph it). Tom's eyes lit up when he saw these, I think it's an austerity childhood thing. Though I must say they are rather wonderful, the act of dipping into them has something of the appeal of archaeology, careful sifting through for recognisable shards and fragments, a corner of a chocolate digestive here, half a Nice biscuit there, a partially defaced jammy dodger or mishapen choc chip cookie below... before carefully covering them over again.

Oh yes, and then there was this:


Saturday, June 13, 2015

20 minutes: dogs in the Palais Royale gardens.

Ah well, so much for every day, still, 36 rather than 24 hours will have to do.

So, twenty minutes before lunch, let me see...

Dogs of the Palais Royal gardens, from our early May trip:

A standars poodle, caniche royale, an unusual sight in the land of the poodle, I wondered if dog and owner went to the same hairdresser?

Some form of shih tzu type thing, sporting a Burberry check frock and Elizabethan collar, presumably under doctor's orders. The suave Parisian gent looks up from his magazine with an appraising eye (the dog wasn't his).

Shih tzus seem to predominate. The elderly lady who sat near us firmly told her piebald one it was not coming up on her lap, yet when the white dog, arriving with its owner, saw her from across the gardens it raced up and leapt straight into her arms, amid much laughter and general pleasure in greeting.

A while back I heard a dog specialist deploring the vogue for border collies as pets in London. True you might think, yet it seems to me a well-cared-for city dog's life can be busy and sociable and full of pattern, not bad for a border at all, when I think of the lonely, neglected, hungry lives, whether cooped-up or dangerously at liberty, some of them out here in the countryside lead. This pup seemed to be happy and well socialised, with some very posh friends.

Generally a good spot for people and dog watching.


Twenty minutes precisely!  

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Twenty minute post: gannets, puffins, shags, Seven Islands, more or less.

I keep putting off posting because I say to myself I've not got the time to do it properly, rather like flossing one's teeth. That I have too much material which then becomes long-winded then out of date.

Then it occurs to me that, I often have twenty minutes before the next highly important thing I have to do, mostly likely sitting down and watching telly with Tom and knitting (as now), or potting on the squash plants or thinking about when and how I'm going to use up the last of last year's white currants in the freezer before this year's come on stream if the blackbirds don't get them all or strangle themselves in the netting trying. So as there are photos already edited and on web albums, which makes it easier, I could for a bit decide to take those twenty minutes to put something short and sweet here, without worrying too much about polishing or putting in links or wittering on at length...

Well that's ten of those minutes gone already, so here are some gannets, puffins and shags. These we saw from the boat we caught at Trestraou where I took the last pictures. The photos are rubbish, since it was really quite difficult to get much of a shot with a compact camera on a boat that was being battered and tossed about by unseasonable wind and waves, or that's my excuse, but they give some impression perhaps

Les Sept Iles is the oldest nature reserve in France, bought by the newly founded LPO in the very early years of the last century, when it was noticed that the newly accessible by rail area of the Pink Granite coast was being descended on by doughty Parisian hunters chartering boats and sailing off to the small almost uninhabited archipelago and blowing all the puffins to kingdom come in order to have them stuffed and take them home as souvenirs.

The puffins are, as always, very sweet, though you only really get to see them here in the water. Best place for puffins is Staffa in the Hebrides, home of the Giant Fingal and his Cave, there the puffins all but invite you into their burrows,

but you get the picture. More impressive really are the gannets. You can see the island of Roizic from the chic resort of Perros Guirrec on the mainland, and you may notice an odd white edge to one end of it. 

Closer acquaintance proves this to be gannets. Or more especially, gannet poo.

Unlike puffins, whom you have to catch quite early to see them nearer to shore and in their full, cartoon-coloured, fig, gannets are at their nest site for much of the year, about February to November. Just now they're not doing their amazing headlong fishing dives into the sea, but are wheeling about and skimming and fetching seaweed for their nests, such as they are. They are still most impressive.

As the boat draws closer you realise quite how the rock teems with them, the noise is quite astonishing, as is the smell.

We also say the lesser cormorant or shag, which contrary to what Edward Lear may have said, does not keep its eggs in a paper bag, but lays them on rocks and such like places.

And some razorbills, a species of auk, as puffins are.

Well that was more like half an hour, and I've no time for labelling, and I shan't preview, though doubtless I'll regret it. Back tomorrow, perhaps.

Oh yes, there aren't really seven islands, it was a mistranslation from the Breton. I don't know how many there really are.