Thursday, September 22, 2016

Bonfire of the Vanities - books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 12, 2016

Hénon reprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We saw the Bogard balloons a number of times.

And some sheep safely grazing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

I googled macrame...

... and found this

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

Also these

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

Internet mon amour, how I have missed you.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Easing back in.

Look, no lead.

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


Our accommodation situation having resolved itself fairly satisfactorily, on the whole, we now no longer have to move into the studio flat with no garden, plate glass windows and little ventilation, for which, given the current heat wave, we are mighty glad. We are now in the second home of friends of a friend until the end of August, and will go back into the nice gîte in Plémy for the month of September.

Our current abode is very agreeable, cool, spacious, well appointed, with tv, but no internet, and for this we must make other arrangements, using friends' or a local library (the admirable 'cybercommunes' networks), and given that this is limited access, and e-mails, often official to do with resolving post-fire matters, taking priority, I fear I must put blogging on hold for the next six weeks or so. I'll try to look in at other people's blogs, perhaps get back into the habit of carrying a camera and scribbling by hand, whatever, it won't be so bad.

Interesting times. Bye for now.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Aftermath moments

The assessor looked at our stocks of good wine, in polystyrene racks at the back of the cupboard where the fire started, and shook his head. When the cleaning team, Natalie and a young chap called, rather delightfully, Valerian, started emptying that cupboard and lining the bottles up outside, they looked remarkably unscathed, as indeed was the polystyrene around them, which must have protected them from the heat and smoke, most of which went up, and the soot which came down. The thought of our little caches of Pouilly-Fumé and St Emilion, the couple of egregrious New Zealand Semillons found by chance, the vieilles vignes Alsace Gewurztraminers, the little slim bottle of Tokaji, the odd ones of Savennières, Loupiac and Cremant de Limoux, all disappearing, literally, down the drain, breaks my heart, even if we did get the monetary value of them back, and we decide we can but try. A quick wipe across the top of the capsule with one of Natalie's magic sponges, and we are happily able to establish later that they are indeed none the worst, at a belated 4th July barbecue (our hosts were hesitant about this form of cooking for us, and lit it quite a way off, but in fact it was fine). Now the bottles seem to us like like lost sinners that repenteth, to be welcomed back with an extravagance that outweighs their apparent worth, or like the images of saints or other holy things which are fêted and worshipped for their miraculous emergence out of earthquake, fire and flood. We celebrate their survival, and ours, by giving them away like there's no tomorrow, which there might not have been.

Natural materials, except for cotton which absorbs everything, seem to shrug off the smoke and soot and general pollution much better, so our leather shoes which were right by the fire are surprisingly untainted, wooden, wicker and and even sea grass items are easy to put to rights, and my knitting, of wool and alpaca, once hung on the line in the sun and air, is none the worse. Natural things are still breathing, says Natalie.

Elfie starts shaking her head. I feel guilty about the rather wild and over-excited walks we've been having in barley fields and such like, and call Emmy the vet, who says we shouldn't delay, so we leave Natalie and Valerian to it and drive over to her. Emmy fears a grass seed and knocks Elfie out, only to find nothing but a bit of inflammation and a stray hair or two. The three of us cosy down in a clean cage, periodically annoyed by Gina and Mimine and a tortoiseshell Persian cat, while Elfie comes round. In the spirit of the truism, if you want something done, ask a busy person, I take this, and the subsequent flat battery in my car, pretty much in my stride. Elfie acts a bit drunk for the evening but is fine next day, and very easy going about having her ear squirted, though I must say it was something I was hoping not to have to do with a dog again.

'Make yourself at home, Elfie' says the Quiet American, as she gulps down their cat's milk on the way through the kitchen, before even looking at the meat and biscuits. 'It's got no lactose' the German Doctor, 'it's better for them'. We never knew she liked milk, and while she's getting anaesthetised Tom goes shopping and buys a couple of bottles of the lactose-free stuff with Emmy's approval. Now she has a measure of it with both breakfast and dinner, and will eagerly leave her meat and biscuits to lap it up, which pleases us very much, especially as I feel she doesn't really drink enough generally.

We like the sound of the church clock, and the sight of the steeple. Plémy church has never seemed very picturesque, its body being too big for its roof, but from here its proportions seem better. We also like the swifts, a feature of urban life, and I quite like meeting with a happy crowd spilling out of the tiny bar during the France-Germany match on our evening stroll, and being able to walk just round the corner to the garage to get the car battery sorted out.

We sometimes feel like ghosts. Partly because of that weird inkling, beloved of writers of ghost stories, that perhaps we really did die and didn't know it, and are continuing in a kind of parallel existence which will dwindle into evanescence, but also because the episode has jolted us into a next stage, so we have essentially moved on in our minds, yet are hanging around the periphery of our former life and its locations without quite being there.

Monday, July 04, 2016

And I thought Brexit was an 'oh shit' moment.

Here goes. I can't swear to the order of events, we both remember it somewhat differently, and some things we can't really remember at all. It's making me a bit shaky and sweaty still to even start retelling it in writing here, though we've both been over and over it, in English and French, many times since.

Just under a week ago, at about two in the morning. I woke up, aware Elfie was at the bedroom door, and Tom was suddenly wide awake beside me too. A strange smell. 'Diesel?!' said Tom, we opened the door and I remember him shouting 'Oh God it's fire!'

I ran out, shut the door behind me, established it was coming from the electrical fuse box under the stairs, that it was too advanced to smother, that the stairs were beginning to burn, made a futile shout from the landing window, got back, grabbed Elfie who sleeps without a collar on, and threw her over my shoulder, and we all got down the stairs and out the front door coughing and retching. I grabbed a lead for Elfie and tied her to the gate, got a coat, bag and mobile from the hall, and while Tom doused the fire with water, despite my protestations that it was electrical, since he maintained quite rightly that otherwise we'd lose the whole house. I tried to ring for help a couple of times but there was no mobile coverage.

I left them there and went to our neighbour Josette's house. Her dog woke her up when I knocked, and I rang the pompiers. I seem to recall my French came surprisingly readily and clearly. I went back and unhitched Elfie, at some point I must have grabbed her downstairs dog cushion because she and I spent much of the remaining hour or so snuggled up together on it, covered in some more coats from the hall. Later I noticed she had chewed halfway through the sturdy nylon lead while she was tied to the gate. The pompiers arrived in a full sized engine, it seemed like ages but probably wasn't, they come from a couple of miles away and have to scramble a crew. They fetched Tom a chair, forbade us to re-enter, and did various things like taking our blood pressure and cutting the cables from the main meter box.

Monsieur le Maire (mayor) of the commune arrived hot on their heels. They told us we had to go to hospital for smoke inhalation. We are not leaving our dog, we told them, many times, while they did everything to compel and cajole us into the ambulance. M le Maire will look after her, they said, he is a hunter, he has many dogs. We are absolutely not leaving our dog with M le Maire, we asserted.

You really must get into the ambulance, they argued, so we can give you oxygen...

Not without the dog. Point.

We do not transport dogs to the hospital...

Finally I said I would be prepared to leave her with Josette or her sister Helene, but only if I see her go with them. A sweet young female pompier promised she would hold her by the door of the ambulance so we could see each other until M le Maire fetched our neighbour. Helene appeared in pyjamas, kissed and stroked and reassured us and promised to look after her. Elfie's anxious little face looking round at us in masks then seeing her pulling back, looking over her shoulder as she was led away will haunt me to the end of my days, though I trusted Helene completely.

Four hours later we emerged from the urgences, still blackened and somewhat bruised. The quiet American, who gets up early and whose number was the only one I could remember without mobile (can't remember where I left that) or address book, came out and found us standing on the hospital's roundabout, Tom in his dressing gown and shabbiest slippers, me in short pyjamas, winter jacket, hospital gown and crocs.

'This is Brexit in action;'  I was able to quip.

He suggested we come back for breakfast and shower but we needed to find our dog. She trotted out to meet us quite calmly, having suffered nothing worse than wriggling out of her harness and having a stand-off with Helene's cat. Josette came by with an enormous tin of Pedigree Chum, they gave us coffee and biscuits and Josette phoned her electrician friend at about 8 o'clock (the pompiers told us an electrician should be our first call) who said he'd be around that afternoon.

We trailed back to the house, and very shortly afterwards M le Maire drove up again and proposed we go and stay in the chalet park owned by the municipality, and arranged it on his mobile. At this point I remembered that my brother who lives in the Mayenne was supposed to be arriving to stay with us later that day on a cycling tour of the region, and though I was able to contact his wife and daughter at home he proved unreachable, so when we came back for the electrician he was sitting on the doorstep eating cheese sandwiches.

'You seem to have had a disaster' he observed, typically laconic.

He came back to the chalet with us and stayed the night, since he didn't really have anywhere else to go, and in fact it was helpful to have him around, he's an undemanding person who doesn't fuss or get embarrassed, which is what you need when suffering nervous exhaustion, residual smoke inhalation and post-traumatic flashbacks.

In the meantime, I had gathered up all Elfie's bedding and driven out to the big laundromat in Quessoy to put it through a long hot wash and the big beast tumble dryer so there was no residual smoke smell in it. Along with emptying the freezer the following day and distributing its contents around various freezers in the locality, this was one of the things I was very glad I found the will to do in the aftermath. Although our insurance agent, the kind and redoubtable Nellie, shrugged and said the latter action wasn't really necessary, we could just claim on it, a freezer full of dripping and festering food until the professionals came to do the clear up, would have been demoralising in the extreme.

The chalet personnel, including an English manager who's been here for a long time, were wonderful. Nellie from the insurance, who badgered the expert (assessor?) to get round straight away, was wonderful. The expert, who spent two compassionate hours in the evening with us, extra to his normal day's work, explaining, reassuring us and forensically examining the carbonised remains of the electrical installation to confirm exactly what had started the fire (a certain kind of switch), and that he's seen it often before and that it was certainly not our fault in any way, he was wonderful too. He then badgered the clean-up people, whose agent turned up the following morning (and was wonderful), and the dry cleaning people, who contacted me back and agreed a time to come.

The expert told us it will be a three month job before we can move back in, so furnished accommodation would be a priority; the insurance will pay up to the rentable value of the house, which amount sounded good but doesn't actually go very far in Brittany in the holiday season. We had to get out of the chalet by the weekend, so I rang around B&B places as an emergency measure. The one in Plémy where I left a message before provisionally booking another called back and said they had a gîte available for a fortnight, dog no problem, and that's where we are now. The couple who run it are wonderful, and the gîte itself feels like the most wonderful place on earth.  Here's the view from our door:

and here are Tom and Elfie being cosy on the chaise longue (Elfie has her own quilt to keep her hair off the furniture, she's almost all on it):

After that, our friend J has contacted her friends from Guernsey who have a second home here, and they have kindly said we can stay there a fortnight, dog no problem. And it turned out the electrician (who's been wonderful) has a furnished studio flat coming free from the beginning of August. It'll be a tight squeeze and no garden for Elfie, but we won't be choosy beggars.

So, just about everyone has been wonderful: our friends and neighbours of diverse nationalities who have picked us up, taken in our food and washing and dog, offered us shelter, fed us and looked after us (albeit with a note on the door 'food for the homeless' when we arrived at the Quiet American's and German Doctor's house on Saturday night), and  the strangers and professionals who have extended great kindness and help above and beyond (and we'll forget anyone who wasn't wonderful). And Tom and Elfie have been wonderful too, though that goes without saying.

Indeed, this is a wonderful place to live in so many ways, and I shall always be grateful and glad to have been given the freedom to come, live and work here, and not to have been seen as the unwelcome, unwanted, begrudged foreigner, not now, not ever. And come what may, we're bloody staying.

Friday, June 24, 2016

24 June 2016

Oh shit.

I have a tag on here for relief, I hoped I'd be using it today. I've another for disappointment, but that really doesn't cover it.

That's all.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

The good, the bad and the ugly; living in a boarding kennel

That's my excuse for my dilatoriness around here. When we saw, fell in love with, and took home Elfie, it completely slipped my mind that I had already agreed to look after Bunty and Pepette. I had never been exactly overwhelmed with enthusiasm for the idea, but their owners, neighbours two fields away and nice enough people, whom I've known as nodding and dog-conversational acquaintances for ever, had been offered the gift of a trip to Corsica, and we being dogless thought, 'why not?' when they asked us the favour.

So now we find ourselves stranded in a boarding kennel with the good:

the bad:

and the ugly:

Pèpette, the miniature Yorkie weighs in at just over a kilo, with an ego the size of a city-state, and never bloody keeps still.

She can't see a human, any human, without jumping up its legs like a demented hairy shrimp on speed. She needs to be combed fairly frequently - her fur reminds me of my grandmother's hair

which rather creeps me out - and her top-knot re-fastened. When she came it had a little pink bow hair-slide in it, but that soon came off. I pretended to put it on Elfie's head and she tried to eat it.

So far she hasn't tried to eat Pèpette.

Indeed, she is patience and saintliness itself with her, rolling over placidly and allowing her to molest her, and generally accepting the invasion of her personal space and appropriation of her own humans with perfect grace, but the little monster really does provoke her sometimes, and I take nothing for granted. Apart from the difference between Elfie's 18 kilos and Pèpette's 1200 grammes, which causes me to fear that a well-meant play-bow or enthusiastic bound might end in injury, Elfie still has her wild-child, once-a-hunting-dog-always-a-hunting-dog tendencies (the vole she pulled out of a tuft of grass, its little pink legs sticking quaintly out of each corner of her mouth, was finished stone dead in an instant, then deposited meekly at my feet), and what I like to think of as her St Julian the Hospitaller moments (never without a twinge of missing Joe for a shared allusion). A little learning of dog behaviourism has made me (perhaps) dangerously fearful of the phenomenon of predatory drift, and Elfie can be a bit mouthy when she's excited.

The ugly one is Bunty. He's a boy. His owner told us he was often surnommé Boubou, but we feel even sillier calling him that, and as he really doesn't seem to respond to any call or command anyway it doesn't much matter, so we just call him Fatty (Pèpette being Ratty), or the Ewok.

((Now don't give me that po-faced, genre-snobbery, 'of course I've never seen it' stuff, I'm a post-modern gal and it's not all about the lesser known fiction of Flaubert you know.)

The good thing about saying horrible things to dogs is as long as you do so nicely they won't grow up psychologically damaged, bitter and twisted by it. Unless that's what's happened to Bunty already; he's about twelve and decidedly eccentric, but in fact he's not really much trouble; 

Elfie accepts him with what I anthropomorphically interpret as amused tolerance,

and he is polite enough to her, and apart from sometimes barking at passing cars and other noises and guarding his food (there's quite a bit of disordered controlling behaviour around food that goes on with both of them, and I won't be having it), deformed jaw, bad breath and noisy panting, he's not a bad chap.

The owners are giving us some money for it but however much it is it's not enough, or so we keep saying, firm in our resolve to be clear that we will not do it again other than in the direst of emergencies. In truth though, we are rather enjoying ourselves; it's helped that Jantien, who is endlessly cheerful and energetic and often up for an evening walk or an occasional dog-sit, has been staying again.

It's a bind, it's true, we can't really go out much or think of having people around, Elfie's training is going rather by the board (we were mightily relieved when her trainer cancelled because the training room was flooded after the recent  storm, despite being sorry for her misfortune, since we really hadn't done enough homework) and the round of walks, feeds, separating, supervision, socialising and cleaning up seems to take a huge amount of time and leave little for much else, for we are exceptionally conscientious and hard-working dog-minders, I think. It's certainly clarified for us that we only intend to ever be a one-dog household.

However, we really are laughing a lot, at the sheer ridiculousness of the two visitors and at the humour we can find in the situations arising: Tom in a state of hilarity at the window the first time watching me go out with the three of them ('You looked like Ben Hur'),

or the improvised play-pen in the living room which he had quickly and deftly set up with garden fencing to keep the Yorkie out of Elfie's face, and ours.

And while I still think it's very wrong to breed dogs to physical extremes of size, skull deformity etc for human vanity and whimsy, so a dog like Pèpette really can't live safely and comfortably with the doggy impulses and behaviours she retains, and others like Bunty are rendered brain-damaged and breathless, we do, in spite of ourselves, find we're enjoying their characters, admiring her pluck and amused by his quaintness. We end up picking her up and keeping her on her laps to keep tabs on her and settle her down, since it seems hard to pen her up all the time, and I frequently hear indulgent noises and spluttering laughter coming from Tom's end of the room as she makes much of him. She is bright and attentive, and can walk tirelessly, still racing around the place after a long walk which leaves the others stretched-out and panting.

They are also also making us very appreciative of Elfie, of her beauty and naturalness, her good character and quietness, even her moments of wild and dangerous grace, and we very much look forward to being back to just the three of us again and the things we can do together. Although, Jantien having driven off for Cherbourg and England this morning we feel strangely bereft, we've grown very used to having her around, few visitors fit in with so little effort on all sides. She assures us she will be back, which will be nice.

Meanwhile, just ten more days of pack life to go; I think they're having rather a good holiday, at the end of it we'll need one.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Other beasts at Kerbiriou

This shrew showed itself the first day we arrived, running across the path. Later I saw it trotting sedately down the outside steps towards the door to our room.

 It climbed up the wall and pottered along the windowsill, then investigated the groove in the frame where the outside shutter ran,

and began to climb up it - apologies for the out of focus picture, but it was the only one I was able to take before it slipped down again, not being able to get much purchase on the pvc of the frame.

I thought it must be ill to be so slow moving and careless, but I mentioned it to Paul, our host, and he was quite familiar with it, and we saw it several times more, it seemed quite healthy, just tame. Elfie was curious but not especially obsessive or predatory about it. One afternoon, we were sitting with the room door open, and it came wandering down the steps and ran along the terrace. 'Don't go in the bedroom' I said to it, and it went into the bedroom.

Tom followed it in, and I heard various noises and things being moved. I continued to drink my wine, deciding this was a moment when I would abnegate responsibility for a mildly tricky situation, even though I didn't particularly want to find it on my pillow later or have to take its corpse out of Elfie's mouth in the middle of the night. After a few minutes Tom came out with his hand clenched as though holding something. 

'Have you got it?'
'I don't know yet.'

In fact he was holding his sleeve end close to his wrist; he carefully peeled off his jacket and turned the sleeve inside out, and the shrew tumbled harmlessly out and pottered off into the grass. It had made the tour of the room then gone into the bathroom, he had tried to catch it in a carrier bag but it had run up his sleeve instead.

When we were kids, we used to take our two cats on family caravan holidays. When we arrived they tended to disappear for a day and then find their way back, even on quite crowded sites, then keep to a very regular schedule of exploring and hunting all day and coming back at night. Once we had to move the 'van because there had been a flood in the site which was some kind of old quarry. Ginger came back at his allotted supper time and sat in the middle of a large puddle mewling pitifully, we were only a few dozen yards away and kept calling him, but he had programmed it into his brain that that was the spot to meet us, and we had to go over and fetch him so he could readjust his settings. They weren't great huntng cats normally, but in holiday mode they would bring back all kinds of small furred game for our inspection; once a vole caught in Herefordshire travelled many miles in the caravan unbeknownst to us and was released in mid-Wales, we wondered if it would encounter linguistic difficulties. Shrews were a favourite to be brought home to us, trembling and traumatised but still alive, since, it seems, they don't taste nice. Which may account for this one being unmolested by Kerbiriou's resident cat.

He's lived there all the time we've been going, six years now. I've photographed him before. Some kind of Russian blue type, friendly enough but always on his terms of course, and very confident and assertive. One night quite late, Elfie was having her last perambulation of the day and we encountered him sauntering very nonchalantly down the middle of the road. Before anyone knew what was happening they were nose to nose, and the cat was totally non-fazed, spending several moments eyeballing her coolly before going on his way without batting an eyelid. Elfie seemed simply astonished and non-plussed, though she did just mutter quick snap-snap with her jaws as he left. Cats are a problem area with her, she tends to freeze and stalk when she sees one, which is the worst reaction a dog can have to a cat, they say. More exposure to the Kerbiriou cat might sort her out a bit. Here he is as Lord of All He Surveys on the barn roof,

which is really very high:

Lastly, another formidable boss creature. The last house in the lane has this fellow as a lawn mower:

He's a Ouessant ram. Ouessant is Ushant in English, as in 'from Ushant to Scillies is thirty-five leagues'. For sheep enthusiasts, this is a most interesting breed, considered probably one of the most direct descendants of the earliest domesticated sheep breeds, kept pure and unmodified over millennia in such a westerly outpost. There are enthusiasts for keeping them and spinning their wool, but those who do so admit their fleeces to be often short, rough and brittle. I seem to remember hearing that some shipwrecked Spanish sheep introduced a better strain for wool, and that one of the clothes labels who make all the cliché stripey Breton sweaters and such like that Parisians and other tourists take home from their holidays had bought up all the viable wool from the island's flock, but I'm not sure if either of these things is true.

When I asked about this one, Paul answered ruefully that he was a very bad character indeed, and we should look out for him. But he was rather handsome, I thought.