Sunday, November 29, 2015

Wrong kind of chocolate and other gripes, and talking my miserable ingrate self out of them

Slightly irked in spite of myself about doing stuff for other people. I guess I must be fairly grudging about giving of myself and my time, or money come to that, and the less I have to do with other people the meaner I seem to get. Looking after Bram felt like a significant expenditure of time, energy and worry, and a saving of kennel fees for E (I don't think that was an option anyway, it was too late to book him in), and I find myself casting a rather critical eye at the remainder of the pretty average bottle of Côtes du Rhône and little box of chocolates we received for it.

A good choclatier, it's true, but one you can find in St Brieuc, not special to Paris, and more than half of them are dark. And that's another thing; I almost always know my friends' preferences like that, who likes milk and who likes dark*, what vegetables they will and won't eat, whether they like their cheese grilled or not, and generally what not to serve them. (I also tend to know their colours; I remember when J1 gave J2 a piece of jewellery with an amethyst in it, an over-extravagant gesture anyway, thinking that was a silly ignorant thing to do, J2 absolutely never wears anything purple, had even mentioned the fact before, and she later confirmed this to me unprompted and aside with regard to said gift.) Nobody, my darling, could call me a fussy woman, but I've had the what-kind-of-chocolate-do-you-prefer conversation with everyone I know, I think, often several times, yet when I get chocolates, there are always too many dark ones.

The there's the matter of searching for student accommodation for Simone and Jean-Felix's daughter, interpreting and translating and trying to explain to one side that the relevé d'identité bancaire  does not exist as such in the UK, or to the other that people in Brittany can't really just pop over to Golders Green on a quick trip to look at how well the bedside light works, trying to get a word in as everyone concerned talks digressively nineteen to the dozen, so important questions are forgotten to be asked or answered. And somehow I've ended up agreeing, well, OK, volunteering but being taken up rather more readily than I expected, to travel into London from Essex on the one full day I have in England, when it might have been nice to hang out with my sister looking at Indian textiles at the V&A , to check out the room on offer, turn euros into pounds and secure it for them.

This is awful I know, better not to do anything for anyone than volunteer then grouch about it, or about what I don't get in return; labour and not ask for any reward etc. Sod it, I'm no saint.

Just say no, what I'm always exhorting others, Jung and his day off and all that. But the fact is if you blank people from the start you really end up doing without people. I'm sure my grudging meanness wary reluctance about helping others, giving of myself and doing favours means I don't have as many friends as most people expect to have. And I repeat the cliché to myself, what goes around comes around, I just sometimes lack the faith in that kind of cosmic balance. I tend to dislike being beholden to other people at all, so their being indebted to me ought to suit me, but then I suppose I resent that they don't seem to be enough aware of it.

Which may or may not be true; E wrote us a heartfelt note to accompany the wine saying how sorry she was about the problems we'd had with Bram, and how she'd be happy to do anything she could in return. She's already agreed to be on standby for our airport run if existing arrangements fall through, and to be on the end of the phone in an emergency for G and A when they house sit.

Then there are all the ways in which it has come around already, which perhaps I am ignorant and unappreciative of. E has hosted our yoga mornings, providing coffee and space for more than ten years now. She is always upbeat and good company, living on her own with her dogs with rough-and-ready, plain Dutch, style and grace, she is a tonic, and I know she's poorer than we are financially. Simone, when she was our insurance agent, was a tower of strength and good advice when it came to scrapes and prangs and worse. That was her job, it's true, but she did it in a way that was very hands-on and human, and I know by the time she retired she was getting very fed up with being the broker, stuck in the middle, continually having to mediate and meet the demands and discontents of customers and company, and I'm generally admiring of people who undergo the stresses and strains of a working life that I don't have to.

And rather to my surprise, Tom agreed quite cheerfully to accompany me to Golders Green, a hitherto unknown area of London to explore a bit, there might even be a pie shop there, so we'll make the best of it.

Then there are the people in my life, too many to mention really, like my sister who will be cheerful and accommodating about putting us up between our dashing off to north London and Iceland, treating her house like a hotel, who is always thoughtful and tactful and knowing about other people's likes and needs and giving in the extreme, and like G and A who will come and house sit while we're away and overwhelm us with food and cooking and fuss and generosity, and who delight in sharing their lovely soppy dogs with us, dogs who are very ready to be adored.

And then there's everyone who comes here and reads all this stuff even when I'm posting every day,and listens to my petty whinges, and continues to amaze and gratify with kindness and good humour and friendship, on and off-line. It all comes around in abundance really.


PS - I'll knit for anyone at the drop of any hat, knitting, either on commission or off my own bat, I undertake completely without any sense of onus and it never counts amongst the things I resent doing.

*or professes to. Solipsism rules, and I don't believe that anyone genuinely prefers dark to milk, they just think it makes them more sophisticated to say so. Pace to those who truly do, I know you will protest your case, but I have found my conclusion has in the past been substantiated in cases when I have placed milk chocolate (often bought by myself) beside dark (sometimes bought by them) side by side in front of them and watched them scoff down the milk unhesitatingly and leave the dark.

Saturday, November 28, 2015


Faute de mieux,  or indeed faute de anything, here are three pairs of blue socks I have made in the last three months.

These were Tom's birthday socks. I knitted them over several evenings watching telly, and when I gave them to him he was genuinely surprised, having been completely unaware of their coming-into-beingness, or becomingness, or whatever. He assures me this kind of obliviousness is the product of a concentrated form of mindfulness, or perhaps mindlessness, conscious forgetfulness, willed nothingness, that refuses to spoil surprises for me in the giving. They are quite a dark blue with dull brown stripes, and knitted from the top down, with a heel flap, in the old fashioned way.

The problem with this method of construction is that you must calculate the amount of wool required and that which thou hast, and decide on the length beforehand. Even with good digital kitchen scales and doing lots of sums, one will inevitably either run out of wool (being English, I still find the word 'yarn' difficult) or have an annoying amount left over. Starting from the toe, however, as long as your know you have enough to complete the foot above the heel, after that you can go on as long as you wish, to the ankle and beyond. But this requires a satisfactory method of casting on the toe, and of turning the heel, which until recently I didn't have. Now, though, I have mastered the figure of eight for the former, and, having paid the princely  sum of $1 for the PDF, the fish lips kiss heel for the latter. The are both rather fun to execute, though I always seem to miscount somewhere on the heel on one sock and have to bodge it to adjust, but it doesn't seem to show too much. 

These were the first, which I decided were too rough and faulty to give away and kept for myself. We always get to keep the mistake/first attempt things, they mostly get quite a lot of wear. These are comfortable.

The socks below are more recent, made for one of my niece's. They are also finished off with a super-stretchy cast-off which looks a bit frilly and weird but really does avoid constrictingly-tight-sock-top misery. One ball each of merino blend fingering and a bit of another colour for the very top, which I'm rather taken with doing lately.

Most of the toe-up socks I've done have tended to be a bit long in the foot, even using the cardboard template trick that comes with the heel pattern; you really have to start the heel sooner than you think. Also, the heel isn't reinforced, as it is with a classic top-down pattern, so maybe they wear out sooner if they're worn in shoes especially.

There we are, so who knew there was so much involved in socks, other than just nipping into M&S or Carrefour or wherever and just buying a pack. At least I can link this post into my Ravelry notes anyway.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Happy reunion, Darwin's dog, hearth

Text conversation with E, Bram's mum, this morning:

E: ... All OK?'
Me: OK, bit tense at times. Tom still has his fingers.

I dislike texting, since, having only a twelve year old dumbphone, it has to be done the old-fashioned way, and, as I don't do it very often, I'm very slow at it. However, pride dictates that I don't ignore rules of orthography and grammar as a concession to my slowness, and insist on tapping out 'are you' instead of 'r u', for example, or searching the asterisk menu for the apostrophe, once I've worked out how to turn off the predictive text. And why did no one consider that 's' is one of the most commonly used letters in English, yet it's one of the few that requires as many as four clicks? I know these concerns must be almost entirely obsolete in most people's world, but I'm quaint like that, and while my old matt blue Nokia keeps going, I'm sticking with it, even if the battery does only last for one short phone call.

Anyway, she hastened back from the station, and Bram was very pleased to see her, dancing round and round her in the hall, farting merrily and adopting the demeanour I always think of as that of Darwin's dog:

A search reveals it was not in fact Darwin's own dog, but taken from the illustrations to his 1872 work, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals,   depicting a 'dog in a humble and affectionate frame of mind' and 'the same caressing his master'.

They were very happy to be reunited, as were we to see them so. She has lately e-mailed to inform me that he seems extremely tired and appears to be sleeping the sleep of the just. It's exhausting work guarding a poor hapless human female who will insist on consorting with the enemy. 

Later, we lit the first fire of the year, which must be one of the latest yet. Debris of the past seasons: old wine corks, nutshells, spent matches, twists of paper, prunings of laurel and sumac and buddleia, screwed up paper bags and cardboard egg boxes, all having had their moments, reasons for being, their stories, most already forgotten, up in smoke. I kneel at the hearth and poke and push at the fire as it burns, finding the right angles, the right shape and size of wood, how much to open the grill and the fire doors, all an excuse to linger with the clean dry heat on my face. The Vestal Virgins were opportunists, I reckon,claiming it was an altar, a mystery, tending the sacred hearth, they just wanted to be allowed to do this, but it's as good to worship as anything, and better than much. 

Winter's here.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Dog-imposed eremeticism, Freyfaxi, flowers

Skipped yesterday, I suppose you might say the strain is beginning to tell now. Partly that of daily posting, partly of dog hosting. Poor Bram, at just over a year old, after three homes and two refuges, he doesn't know he's only here for a few days, that his mum will come and get him on Friday, (or indeed what Friday means) and restore him to a two-dog household so all the onus of doggy responsibility is not on him, that no one means him any ill, that when Tom bends down to scratch his leg across the room he is not intending to do whatever nasty thing it was someone* used to do when they bent down, or that I am not the one and only resource he has left in the world so that I must be stuck to for dear life and guarded from all comers, or at least from Tom.

Poor us that we really can't find a way to communicate this to him firmly but comfortingly, and he's a big, young dog with impressive gnashers so we begin to fear that unpredictable reaction prompted by fear and misunderstandings could deteriorate into actual aggression, which we're not prepared to cope with. A single false move seems to undo days of apparent progress, and it would take months and experienced patience and even possibly the intervention of an expensive dog psychologist to properly remedy the situation, none of which we have, but in fact we've realised it wouldn't really be what we would want to spend precious time and money doing anyway. When E entrusted him to us, with typically robust optimism, she suggested that it might help to get us over our reluctance to get another dog, but I'm afraid it has had the opposite effect, and made us wonder whether we really want to take on such a thing again at all. It seems to me a terrible thing to rescue a dog from a refuge then find you simply can't integrate its peculiarities, problems and general hitherto unseen baggage into your life and so have to take it back again, but I can see how it happens. And this week has made us miss Mol more than ever, and appreciate how marvellously balanced the triangle of the relationship we had with her was, with never any sense of preference or jealousy or hierarchy needing to be expressed at all. Plus she never ate poo, or other disgusting things, or indeed farted so as to strip the paint from the walls (another downside of being the object of his devoted, closer-than-a-brother, attachment). But then she had awful health problems from overbreeding, so it seems like you can't win.

However, E is besotted with Bram, is not a worrier and has plenty of time and space to devote to bringing him round, and no man in her life nor any plan to have one, which is just as well, as I think Bram would put the kibosh on them if she had, and if it came to an 'it's me or the dog' ultimatum with E it would be the dog every time. He came to us as she had to go to Paris to fetch a passport, a plan already arranged and paid for before she got him, his big 'brother' Moos was already booked into the kennels with the dog of the friend she was going with, and she thought he'd be better at home with us. In fact though, if she goes away again after a while, I think he'd be OK in the kennels, which are a ruggedly female-run establishment owned by a terrifyingly competent and bossy British woman, he's not too bothered by the presence of other dogs and he loves his meals and walks which he would have there.

Anyway, deciding the best thing was to get a bit of space between Bram and himself, Tom decided to make a virtue out of expediency and pretend he was going into a monastery for the day, ensconcing himself upstairs in his study with books and computer and monastic sort of music**. Except of course he gets Bovril and tea and biscuits and wine and chocolate brought to him by his wife, whom he also gets to sleep with at the end of the day, so it wasn't very monastic at all really. Unless you believe the people who told Henry VIII why he should set about the Dissolution, which by and large I suppose I do. He rather enjoyed himself anyway, and still came down for meals, when he and Bram mostly managed to ignore each other very deliberately.

Iceland mostly all planned and bookings made, rather a hectic time for us, what with plunging into hot springs, chasing the aurora, slithering around the Golden Circle (diamond geysers!) and bouncing about on Icelandic horses which are not to be called ponies. One of the few sagas I read at university in its entirety in the original Old Norse was Hrafnkel's Saga, where the horse is the agent of much mischief, I recall. I rather wonder whether we shouldn't have stuck to mooching about Reykjavik, eating and drinking and looking at museums of archaeology which I'm sure could easily have taken up three days. Should we invest in ice walkers, I wonder? What are ice walkers, I wonder, and can one buy them in Decathlon? These questions and more will doubtless be answered.

Here are some spring flowers to brighten up these sad November days.

* presumably a man since I and any other woman he meets seem to be able to move as and how we will without a negative reaction.

** which only differs from how he spends his time normally by the upstairs element, and perhaps the Gregorian chant.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

After-sales; chitchat; pease

After a good start with Bram, things went a bit pear-shaped last night, and, disheartened and worried, we felt that the few days might be more to be endured than enjoyed for all of us. Tom decided to go to bed and read, only to find his still-quite-new shiny Kndle p@perwhite seemed to be broken, freezing weirdly or failing to come on altogether, then flashing up unhelpful messages. Assuming it would have to be sent back, I looked around for the very deluxe packaging and paperwork it came with, without success. I snarked at him about this, then e-mailed the relevant French limb of The Megacorporation from whence I had bought it. Within the hour we had a phone call from a very patient and polite young woman who calmly took me through the elaborate procedure of holding down the on-off button for forty seconds and waiting a few more, which miraculously resuscitated the device. If it did it again though, she said, let them know, as it might mean it really was faulty. No fuss about packaging and paperwork.


Bram's much better too, and the rain cleared by after lunchtime so we had another good walk. One of the things about having a dog to walk which gets you out on a regular basis is that even, or perhaps especially, in these quiet parts, you run into people, stop and talk, keep a bit up to date with things. Our former neighbour, who looks after our field, stopped his van, curious at seeing me with a dog again, and we chatted about dogs and exchanged information and thoughts about septic tanks, to our mutual benefit. When we got back, Tom said he'd go out alone on a provisioning foray. Bram seemed in fact quite bothered by his absence, and, while still quite reticent, genuinely pleased to see him and join in the rather deliberately exaggerated welcome home celebrations.


Less regular walking also means I'm more ignorant about what goes on in the fields round and about. When E came the other day, she pointed out (with a view to where it might not be a good idea to walk) a rather fine young silvery roan bull in one of the pastures. He was new to me, and I realised that the handsome gold coloured Limousin who used to be seen all over the place, a rather gentle seeming character, easily bossed around by the farm dogs and his harem of black and white cows, and who sometimes featured in my Molly walking blog, I hadn't seen for a long time. Scarcely earth shattering, you might say, but of no more nor less importance than many other things. When I did get out walking this year, back in the summer, I noticed a lot more fields of these pretty violet flowered peas:

sometimes on their own, sometime mixed with field beans, like small broad (fava) beans, and a cereal type plant:  

(there were some fields of just the beans, which I sometimes filled my pockets with and cooked, can't remember how)

I picked a bunch of the flowering peas and put them on the window sill, sometimes using the top shoots for salads and stir fries, but mostly just to admire.

What they were used for I don't know, they didn't seem to be there long so they clearly weren't harvested for the peas and beans, but whether they were made into silage or simply ploughed in as green manure I never saw, or spoke to anyone to learn. Pretty while they lasted anyway.

Monday, November 23, 2015

No toothache; melancholy cat; visiting dog (with photos)

Tom was fed up; just when he thought he had finished with the dentist for a while, he broke another tooth. Feeling I had been getting away too lightly, I began to suspect sensitivity and incipient toothache. When our shared appointment arrives, the dentist says that the broken part was where she'd already repaired earlier, and fixed it again without pain or problem, and my toothache having evaporated, any worries prove to be groundless save for a small amount of gum withdrawal (if that's the right expression), she blows the puffer round my teeth almost with impunity. We go home relieved.


I am in e-mail communication with the potential future landlady of Simone's and Jean-Felix's daughter (see previous), an Indian lady (I think) in Golders Green. She sounded nice, and very well-spoken, on the 'phone, her written English is slightly quirky. She says it's necessary to let them know, 'We have a quite cat as pet. Tabby is an old cat and does not purr a lot.'

Bram, who is staying with us now, is a noble and handsome dog:

though nervous of many things, goats, cows, tractors, Tom...

Also  unfortunately rather attracted to cow poo, though he takes to heart being told off for eating it,

'What me? Noooo!'

But it's good to have a dog to walk again, and to reacquaint myself with the beauty of our hilltop on a late afternoon in winter.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Silent Sunday

Well almost. Here's a picture of dinner, Yorkshire pudding, cropped to show as little as possible of our dirty oven,

and maybe to give non-Brits something else to google.

Have a nice Sunday night, or whatever it is where you are.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Giggling; pinny; raptors; marigold

I go to bed giggling, at a late comment from Glenn on this post telling me that 'we have learned' (how can one ever dispute something that begins thus?) that Nigella's programme is really all staged, her friends are actors and her perfect home is in fact a hired location. This leads me to this piece which suggests playing 'Nigella bingo', scoring whenever certain familiar Nigella tropes occur, such as: 'triple alliteration, eg “basking in bronze beauty”, “gorgeous golden globules” or “fruitful foraging in the fridge” ' or 'she licks something erotically from a spoon' or ' strolls around high-end London shop, picking out produce - even though in real life, she totally has someone to do her shopping for her'.  There is also the observation that a 'party of glamorous guests descend for candlelit supper. They look faintly important and influential, like you should know who they are, but you don’t', which may well substantiate Glenn's allegation. The comments are also often funny, especially the man who must be on a promise.


Simone and Jean-Felix were once our insurance agents, now they're retired and just sort-of friends. It's nice seeing people go from being soigné and professional and restrained to soft and scruffy and expansive on their retirement, I've observed it quite often. They ask me for help - translation, phone calls etc. - with finding short term student accommodation in London for their daughter, whom I've known since she was just a little thing and I used to help with her English sometimes. I feel a sense of weight and reluctance, but I do want to help. I worry for these children I've known, who touch my heart when I don't always want it touched, and if I worry how do their parents cope? It's good though, to sit and chat for much longer than I meant to, and Simone forgets to take her pinny off all the time I'm there.


On the way out to see them, there are two buzzards and a heron in our field. I slow down and have a good view of all three taking off and wheeling away in the chill wind. I've not quite forgiven the herons for persecuting our fish, but they are still magnificent.


Summer colour, why not?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Adjectival: between showers; cauli; and Toëno

A newcomer to Quess'quitricote, a petite woman perhaps my age, is fun and lively and bright, and not at all shy. She is wearing a skirt, quite short, made from vivid hued, densely patched crochet squares, and from her bag winks a multicoloured ball of glossy, flossy yarn.


E brings Bram round on a preliminary visit. The rain clears and we take a turn around the square of fields I used to take with Mol, along the ridge road. It is breezy and splashy with sunlight after rain, and Bram is brisk and alert and a fine dog to walk. E remarks on how very beautiful it is up on our hill, and I realise I had rather stopped appreciating it.


A good, medium sized cauliflower for just 65 eurocents. I roast half of it with olive oil and cumin seeds to go with a couple of mackerel fillets. 


The Ile de Toëno, or perhaps it's just a presqu'île: one of those funny sort of causewayed excrescences up on the Pink Granite Coast, with nothing much there but a menhir, a small boatyard, a place to buy oysters and other shellfish, and rather pleasant motel type hotel, where we spent a night back in early October, to attend a concert at the Lanvellec early music festival. The concert was a disappointing washout, which made us cross, but it doesn't seem to matter much now, and I spent a pleasant hour or so scrambling about on scrubby granite pavements and rocks and headlands enjoying the views and the sight and sound of the sea, which one can never have too much of.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Insurance; thankful; things on the table, and another goat.

I am having trouble looking forward to our coming trip to Iceland. We have never travelled much in winter, so many things can go wrong, and in the cold, short days it just seems more advisable to stay at home. Now, feelings of apprehension and impending doom, and a certain reluctance to focus on fun and frivolity, are casting a pall over it, and I find I'm avoiding making even necessary arrangements. I took out basic insurance with the first flight, but even finding something more comprehensive and suitable seems to be difficult for a couple of ageing expats. However, we talk it through, decide the extra cost is worth the peace of mind. I apply myself to a more thorough search and come up with something clear, appropriate and not ruinous, and now I find I can better enjoy making plans.


We watch a programme about the home life of the Georgians. It's lively and full of interesting detail you never knew about. We end up agreeing that, whatever the problems of the 21st century, for ourselves anyway, we're glad we live when, where and how we do.


I scan the things on the table, and though it's a bit messy and not-dealt-with, mostly I like what I see and how it reflects our life.  There is a book by Simon Schama about the Dutch Republic, a leaflet about a museum in Châtelaudren that wasn't open when I went to see it, catalogues for organic garden seeds and gifts in aid of the SPA, a pad of 2mm graph paper and one of ordinary squared, a to-do list from an indeterminate time ago, a printout from my brother of something he wrote about Green Man ornaments in a church in the Orne, the monthly free departmental magazine, scissors, matches, pens and pencils, reading glasses, the stalled septic tank project papers, vitamin pills, books about drawing and painting and meditation, a book of very difficult sudoku, two Kindles known to have at the top of their contents the accumulating works of Patrick O'Brian and CJ Samson, blood test results, a basket of walnuts and a large and handsome plate unusually containing a good selection of fresh fruit.

Some of these things really should be tidied away though.