Sunday, March 01, 2015

The perils of creative mending and rather too appropriately named slipper socks

With thanks for all the good wishes and concern extended to Tom regarding the eye surgery; he is seeing better than for many a long year and drove the car the other day. He has in fact detailed his experience at his place here, with a few sometimes eye-watering photos taken, at his request, by me, of which I shall only feature this one,

to illustrate how seriously the medical services take the matter of healthy eating. In fact quick and simple sucrose and fructose and plenty of caffeine are really just what you want after hours of fasting and minutes of minor anaesthetic, but I munched on my oatcakes and apple and felt virtuous.

Unfortunately the new lease of life afforded him by his new vision rather came a cropper and ended in tears, or at least groans of agony, and this was in part my fault, owing to my particular current preoccupation with creative mending. 

This has led me of late to the embellishment of an old blue lambswool sweater gone into holes (perhaps moth, but then it was 30% nylon so I doubt it, probably just a cheap sweater in the first place) with small flowers,

which remind me a little of tattoos, but without the commitment, and also, would you believe, to this rather kitsch patching which has rendered new tea towels for old:

Yes, I know, you're asking what kind of bored do you have to be to patch tea-towels? It's not like I don't have any new ones, I frequently come across and buy very tasteful ones in discount stores for next to nothing, grey ones with red embroidery, ochre coloured waffle ones, black gingham ones... trouble is they're all so pretty I can't quite bring myself to wipe up with them but instead use them as alternatives to wrapping paper at Christmas or just leave them in the cupboard. But I actually like these old towelling ones, they are efficient, and yes, I know my hygienically evolved transatlantic friends and anyone else with a dishwasher, ( ie mostly everyone) shudder at the thought of wiping up at all, but I'm very particular about rinsing and draining and changing the towels, and glasses are so much better wiped immediately very hot with a clean cloth.... and it's so annoying when your fingers go through them, and anyway I felt like doing something idle and whimsical one Sunday. I was somewhat inspired by Tom of Holland's visible mending programme, and the double thickness parts are actually rather good for purpose.

So, anyway, when the house socks which I made Tom for his last birthday from thick old short staple vintage wool

got sloppier and sloppier, and he asked me if I could perhaps shrink them a bit in the machine, and I did so rather too zealously so they turned into stiff little felt bootees which I can barely get on and he certainly can't,

I sought to make it up to him by converting the his Irish wool hiking socks which had already been darned more than once, and, New Testament style, gone into holes around the darns, into slipper socks, by sewing on soles cut from an old felted sweater, my go-to material for many creative projects. He liked them very much.

Thus slickly shod, full of enthusiastic, newly re-visioned zest for life, and taking it at a run, he misjudged something crucial and slithered down the last several stairs, whacking his foot on a wooden post so that a middle toe stuck out bizarrely and was clearly broken. 

Now Tom breaks toes about as often as I smash up cars, it's less expensive but more painful (maybe, though psychologically perhaps not...), we know what it looks like by now. No hope of medical attention on a Saturday evening and not much to be done anyway, so I slathered bruise gel everywhere possible, strapped the wonky toe to its neighbours, dosed him with tea, sugar, aspirin and whiskey, and there he is, still fairly cheerful but stopped in his newly refurbished tracks. I'm looking into bathroom silicone as a means of making non-slip soles.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Knitwear, eyes and thumb-twiddling

Modelling some new knitwear - hope the destined recipient doesn't look at this before it gets there.

Me: Alas my love you did not marry a beauty.
Tom: Aw, you've got character.
Me: Like Peggy the boxer has character?
Tom (dreamily): I loved her!
Me: And she was told how pretty she was several times every day.

We both go into a reverie thinking about this.

And I finished a pullover, big and sloppy as usual, maybe one day I'll manage something that fits, but I've always liked big and sloppy anyway.


Now thumb-twiddling waiting to head of for Pontivy for the second of Tom's eye-gougings, administering the barrage of drops at five minute intervals. A month of worry about worsening discomfort around the first eye done, the surgeon having buggered off on holiday, was resolved on his return when he took one look at said puffy and inflamed organ and said, oh, yes, you're allergic to the anti-inflammatory drops, stop using them for the next one, they're not that important anyway. Not macular oedema then? I asked, and he gave me that a-little-learning-is-a-dangerous-thing look that doctors do and confirmed it was not.

I'm better equipped this time anyway, with two lots of knitting, the Kindle, a three day old copy of Ouest France, an apple and a packet of Nairns cheesy oatcakes (thanks G and A). Oh and a camera, by special request. Back anon.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Peggy, Milly and Sidney come to visit

Peggy is a boxer
Peggy is a lump
when she's pleased to see you
she wags her little stump


Milly is a beauty
Milly is a dream
she'll jump in any water
the sea, a lake, a stream


Sidney is a tearaway
a feisty little chap
but you can wrap him in a blanket
and sit him on your lap


When they came to visit us
we had fun every day
and what was even better was
they came with G and A


Altogether, human and canine, the best house guests ever. I haven't seen G, he of the Gallé cat and the luminous landscape paintings, for well over twenty years, and his partner A never before, and Tom didn't know them at all, but they and their three darlings breezed into our lives with all the ease and good cheer one could hope for, bringing energy and hilarity and enormous quantities of food, we scarcely had to shop or cook at all (except that they won Tom over even more by asking him to cook them the curried mussels a second time in a week because they liked it so much), and we won't have to much for some time to come, since as well as the cold-bags of quality sausages, sacks of hard-to-get split peas and lentils, cartons of cream crackers, jars of lemon curd and sundry other things which they brought with them, and the supplies they bought here, they also made quadruple quantities of sumptuous stews, fish pies, cassoulets etc with which they filled any remaining gaps in the freezer. And there was equal generosity of laughter, conversation, reminiscing and storytelling, confidences and chitchat and generally a sense of filling in of the gaps in ways which I feel sure has done me, at least, a deep good.

They did in fact rent a gite nearby for a week out of the time they were here, concerned, of all things, that we might find the dogs too much. As if. But the gite was so horrible that they only stayed there three nights and then we prevailed on them to come back here, and we continued to eat like kings and enjoy the dogs. Peggy, Milly and Sidney are all rescue dogs, who all had difficult starts in life - Peggy, though she is already ten, only came to them two years ago and had never lived indoors before, Sidney was re-homed several times and said to be out of control. Despite their very comfortable life style, bespoke buffalo- and elk-hide collars and handmade silver medallions each with its own semi-precious cabochon setting (A's brother does silversmithing for a hobby and made them for them), they are still quite a harum-scarum pack, proper dogs. There is a sometimes a degree of tension between Sidney and Peggy, always initiated by him, she is a gentle giant but would probably make a reasonable job of squashing the life out of him if provoked beyond endurance. She in turn, though loyal and loving at home, will sometimes simply let her legs carry her off, forgetful of all else, at the risk getting lost, so she can't be off the lead too much. The beach scenes above were in fact the idyllic prelude to such episodes of fight and flight. Even Milly, who is sweetness itself, once out in a watery place especially, becomes completely absorbed and rather indifferent to any other presence, so I wasn't inclined to take them to the water mill, having horrible visions of the fast flowing river and the mill race, though G and A don't seem to worry too much, trusting her as a strong swimmer and sensible. But for all their challenges, they are marvellous dogs, because they belong to marvellous people, who have applied the same steady, patient, compassionate, robust and humorous goodness and love that they show and give in abundance in every part of their life together. 

The dogs of course return it, as well as supplying the material for an endlessly unfolding, very creative and imaginative, narrative and drama; Sidney (also known as Kidney and Pig-meat, and any other appropriate assonance) in particular is the object of many a lurid fantasy: being carried off by a buzzard while walking in the countryside, snatched by a killer whale while walking on the beach, wrapped in banana leaves and barbecued... Happily none of these things happened to him while he was here, neither were our threats to kidnap any or all of them carried out, since we could see they didn't really want to live with anyone else, and men and dogs all made their long way safely back through the winter roads up to Cherbourg, over the sea and home to South Wales, leaving us filled with good things.

 Goodbye for now, dears.


(There's a web album with even more photos of them, though many of them are nearly identical I couldn't leave any out)

Friday, February 13, 2015

three dogs, three herons
over the fields, word of joy
of a new order

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Oh blow, it's snow; chuffed, amused, tickled by blog fame; January collage

Well now, all very pretty you might say, and in normal circumstances I'd snuggle down happily and enjoy looking at it, but it's just the wrong day for it, because after a really very manageable winter, the first time it decides to chuck a load of the white stuff is the one when a very old friend I've not seen for over twenty years who has never before driven in France, his not-yet-met partner (who sensibly went out and bought European satnav a couple of weeks ago), and car-full of dogs and sausages are making a twelve hour journey to us from South Wales, and we cannot but worry about them making their wintry way down the cold backbone of the Cherbourg peninsular. But now the sun is out and the snow is melting, and when they arrive all will be rejoicing, and there will be wine and a hot meal and a wood fire and furniture the dogs will be allowed on. 


This was a nice surprise:

I could barely remember the poem in question, it was part of a longer post and rather done as a five-finger exercise at a time when I still worried if I wasn't writing poems on a regular basis, but looking back on it it wasn't so bad, and anyway there probably weren't too many out there about chrysopid flies, and I really am very chuffed indeed; it's the first time I've had a poem chosen for print in this way, and I didn't even submit it or anything, it was completely out of the blue.

So while I was idly and not very relevantly conducting a consequent google search on myself, I learned that I am also quoted and cited in the bibliography of a worthy tome published by Palgrave called The Cultural Politics of Austerity. In another downright inconsequential post from three years ago concerning assembling a new spice rack, a phrase where, with my arch, smart-alec tongue firmly in my self-mocking cheek, I swear, I refer to 'my make-do-and mend-anti-consumerism' is described as 'a meaningful descriptor of contemporary ethico-political practice'. Well who'd have thought it? And before I pretend to get too cynical and sneery about it, yes it did take quite a bit of effort to track down the exact reference and yes my vanity is tickled as well as my sense of the ridiculous; however at fifty-three quid print-on-demand it probably won't lead to any worldwide recognition of my talents, or indeed a free copy, but I will get one of the Buglife anthology which will be very nice indeed.

Oh, and then my old pal Charles Davies asked me for a copy of this photo from the plane trip I took with RR and VR when he was still Barrett Bonden, for the cover of an e-book he hopes to publish of a novel about Mont St Michel, and sent me a PDF of it, so in fact my cup of blog fame and its rewards runneth over, as it always did.


And with that and since I won't probably be around for a week or so, here's a January collage, only nine pictures rather than the usual twelve because I really haven't used the camera much this month. Quite a bit of knitting.

  1. Christmas cactus, flowering after Christmas.
  2. Blue tit and chaffinch eating breadcrumbs. Let's hope we've not fed them all our bread then get snowed in.
  3. Tom's red knits.
  4. Bunch of garlic from the market.
  5. Charlie Hebdo vigil, Lamballe.
  6. A very thick pair of sofa sock, knitted very quickly from oddments.
  7. Mackerel filliets, marinading in redcurrant vinegar, lemon, rosemary, fennel and olive oil.
  8. First attempt at a top-down in the round pullover. Looking forward to wearing it.
  9. Frozen leeks, none the worse for it.

PS - the travellers have just called in from a lay-by somewhere south of Cherbourg, it's chilly but bright and snowless and they sound in good form, despite subsisting on a Brittany Ferries breakfast and large bars of Toblerone.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Oh sod it it'll have to be some knitting

Can't seem to get a proper post together, so it'll have to be some more knitting, including Tom in a hat.

The hat in this picture in fact, featuring all Tom's knitted Christmas presents, none of which were ready in time for Christmas:

These items include the epic merino/cotton half fisherman's rib sweater I think I mentioned a while back, which just about came out OK, proves not to have enough warmth in it to be worn just now, and I was so fatigued by the sight of it after about half a million tiny half-fisherman's rib stitches by the time I'd finished that I was not sorry to see it put away for a bit. Also featured are a pair of green and black striped thick socks, and said hat.  This is the second hat I have attempted to make for Tom; the first was too big, too fuzzy, too fussy and, ultimately therefore, too feminine. Odd this masculine/ feminine knit thing, it really is quite delicate, anything too fuzzy and chunky, however sombre the colour or plain the stitch, is just not right. Tom didn't complain of it in those terms, but nevertheless that was the fact. 

This one, however, seems to have worked. The red and grey pattern was derived from an old chart to be found on the Estonian museums public portal. Despite careful transcribing of it onto big squared paper, my maths still let me down and there's an odd jog in it so it doesn't flow freely round the hat, but Tom, like Eric Morecambe, says you can't see the join. Also by the time I'd accomplished three repeats of it the hat was already too long so I had to rather hastily bring it to a conclusion by means of gathers rather than decreases, but, even so, it is a satisfactory garment and has already been christened on a wet and windy beach.

The other noteworthy thing about it is that I started and completed it in a single day on New Year's Day, which listening to BBC Radio 4 FM's all day dramatisation of Tolstoy's War and Peace, which was very good, and which the sight of the hat will always bring back to me. I did take a break to eat mid-evening and so missed the battle of Borodino. (Finding that link has just revealed to me that the actor playing Pierre Bezukhov, Paterson Joseph, is black. I love radio.)

So here is Tom wearing his hat (I've noticed he's often a crowd pleaser, so I'm shamelessly exploiting this):

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Books again

One or two posts elsewhere,  Zhoen pondering the matter of writing in books, library or otherwise, comments left on the last post when I featured the books I had at Christmas, and conversations, started me looking back over certain earlier reading experiences, and thinking about the meaning and value we give books as both concrete and abstract things. Stella too, has been writing about culling things, possessions generally, then books in particular. She dwells on the connections reading creates for us, with other people and with our own history. She mentions H is for Hawk, and how it will connect her with me since she came across it here, which is nice. My finding that book was already part of a long series of occurrences of synchronicity, prompted and giving rise to other memories in turn.

I suppose I tend to be on the lookout for things about falconry. Like Helen Macdonald, the book's author, from my teenage years I wanted to be a falconer. The wish faded, there was little opportunity to explore it hands-on at the time, and the extensive reading and research I made showed me that it would probably demand more time, money, grit, heartbreak and a stronger stomach than I would likely ever be able to manage, but I still love the subject, and very much enjoyed our day at Fauconnerie Bretagne a couple of years ago. One of the first books I found on the subject, and one of the first adult books I remember buying for myself, at the age of about thirteen at a school book fair, I think, was TH White's The Goshawk. This has been on my bookshelves ever since, becoming so familiar that, slender and plain-spined as it is, I had largely ceased to notice it, and even wondered if it were still there. But there it was, between Le Grand Meaulnes and the Mary Renaults, and I was happy about that, not only that I still had it but because of the company it was keeping. My ordering of books on shelves is idiosyncratic and fairly fluid and has developed organically, and I don't necessarily remember exactly where things are, but it is important to me, so when lack of space, appropriate height of shelves, additions which expand certain groups that need to be kept together, and my own acts of culling necessitate changes that force certain volumes into places alongside others where I don't really think they belong, it bothers me a bit.

At about the same time as, or just before, I must have read a review of H is for Hawk, the Sunday afternoon radio dramatisation was of TH White's The Once and Future King. It was quite a good one, using bits of White's own Book of Merlin coda as a device to make the narrative retrospective and non-linear, which meant that the darkening heaviness of story's progress could be lightened and enlightened from time to time by some of the episodes from the first volume. I'm sorry for people who haven't read the book, that the label of 'fantasy novel' might put them off. Not that I want to run down fantasy novels anyway, but I just can't think of it as one. I suppose if I had to I'd describe it as a kind of psychological novel, but on an epic, historical, mythic scale, but also the inward broodings of a brilliant, sad, bitter, hurt, rather twisted man. Not sure if I'm selling it to you yet. It's about love as weakness, evil as power, about betrayal and cruelty, good people doing bad things and bad people doing worse ones, about national and personal mythmaking, and most of all for me it's about terrible, painful loss of innocence.

There's a lot of falconry throughout The Once and Future King, but especially in the first volume The Sword in the Stone, along with many other birds and animals and animistic nature and colour and magic and jokes galore, including lots of ironic anachronism generated from the conceit that Merlin was born and lived backwards through time, an idea entirely White's invention, but which took off so well that many people think it is an original part of the Arthurian myth. There is fun and education and wisdom - I still love the Badger's Dissertation as one of the most satisfying of creation stories - a few sad and worrying moments and a few early intimations of later themes, but overall a completely delightful, joyous, appropriate children's book.  I read it one summer when I was about twelve, I think. I had a comfortable and sheltered childhood and was undergoing an old-fashioned though serious education; I was not a precocious reader, and mostly was still cheerfully consuming Monica Edwards and Arthur Ransome, stories of birds and animals and tomboyish adventure and old legends were my meat and drink. At the end of The Sword in the Stone I was thrilled, I knew this was more substantial fare and wanted more, so I announced I would read the rest of the work. My brother, three years my senior and always more of an intellectual heavyweight, looked somewhat doubtful and warned me that I wouldn't find it as pleasant, which of course made me think he was patronising me and I had to rise to the challenge.

The second volume, The Queen of Air and Darkness, is fairly short, and I did get through it. But the blow to the solar plexus which the two episodes of Morgause's evil which open and close the volume delivered remain with me still. I can remember sitting up in bed with the sick knowledge that I couldn't un-read it. In the first, she boils a cat - 'both woman and cat had black hair and blue eyes' - alive, in some detail, on a whim to make an invisibility charm. The charm fails and she loses interest, throwing out the cauldron of water, skin fur and bones out of the window. This shocked and disgusted me, yet I persevered, and somehow her seduction of Arthur at the end - by means, perhaps, of another charm, a ribbon of skin carefully cut from around the outline of the corpse of a dead soldier - had a deeper and more poignant impact. Arthur, though somewhat blooded and battle hardened by this time, is still the open, energetic, kind-hearted, well-intentioned boy of the first volume, an innocent. Merlin, who has the powers of magic and foresight to protect from and avert evil, for a number of reasons - whether a kind of time-travel directive, the requirement that Arthur and others, should work things out for themselves, simple absent-mindedness or the enchantment (not altogether unwelcome) of his own sorceress Nimuë - cannot or does not intervene. Arthur doesn't know who she is or what he's doing, or what the ultimate cascade of consequences will be, but as TH White concludes, innocence is not enough.

Well he certainly helped me offload quite a bit of mine. But it wasn't the first time this had happened. At a similar kind of cognitive point, when I was beginning to choose and read independently at about seven or eight, there were some little softback collections at pocket money prices that I liked very much as objects, they were small and chunky and had bright, slightly folk-art kind of covers, those for the younger readers had red spines and those for rather older ones dark blue. I'd worked through the red ones and reckoned I was ready for the blue. This turned out to be a collection of stories including Bluebeard, a story my evidently sanitised education in fairy tales so far had omitted to incorporate. As I recall it, the details of the contents of the bloody chamber were not spared. Again, I remember where I was, in the back seat of our estate car on a shopping trip, maybe left there with my brother with our books while our parents finished the shopping, as happened quite frequently in those days. I remember closing the book in horror and not picking it up again. Neither then though, or with the TH White, did I tell anyone about what I'd read and how it had affected me, though I may have muttered something to my brother about 'I see what you meant.' I don't quite know why not; a sense of not wanting to share the distress, protecting my elders from something nasty or a kind of fear that I might get into trouble for messing with nasty things myself, pride, that I ought really to be able to cope with difficult stuff for myself, but also perhaps a sense that what happened between me and my books was my private affair, and a knowledge, underneath, that there was in fact nothing that could be said that would make me feel better; 'it's only a story' wouldn't wash with me, then or now - as if that makes it any less real!

And I don't quite know, in these times when children are both exposed to all kinds of horrors, real and fictive, which make these mild trauma seem very small beer, and yet are also overprotected and overseen and fretted about, so that a child psychology book I've read deplores the Saint Nicholas tradition as trying frighten children into good behaviour and damaging them terribly, and that reading AA Milne's 'James James Morrison Morrison' could create serious anxiety in them, or when a mother I knew, still reading (the early volumes of) Harry Potter aloud to her thirteen year old, used to make off the cuff deletions of things she thought would distress or frighten her, quite how things should be.

Anyway. I don't have a copy of the blue-backed Bluebeard book, in fact I have very few books left from childhood, presumably it was either passed on to jumble or left in the attic of my childhood home when my parents moved, along with all kinds of other put-away childish things to be someone else's problem, or conceivably, in the case of some of the objects, rare collector's items. That's one way to deal with your unwanted clutter. Neither to I have The Once and Future King, though I did until recently. I think the first one I had was a library book, as many of the books we read were. We owned a lot of books, but it wasn't considered needful to do so, and many of those I remember most vividly, in terms of their content and what they looked and felt like, were from the library (and no, we certainly never wrote in them!). It took me many years to read it all, in fact, the long anguish, sordid betrayal, compromise, cruelty and conspiracy of the four-cornered adultery of Lancelot and Guinevere and the revenge of the Orkney clan were also difficult to work through in a different way, but for all that it has been my constant and much loved companion for most of my life. I often wondered about its author, and the consciousness and personality which created it, so humane and imaginative and so sad and bitter, so when I heard about H is for Hawk I was doubly interested.

The copy of it I owned, for at least thirty years, was a paperback which I bought for my first serious boyfriend when I was seventeen, it had a not-too-embarrassing dedication inside the cover, with a date, so I know how old I was, in my very neat small, pointy, just post-childish handwriting. Not quite sure why; he had courted me with a gift of The Mabinogion so perhaps I thought Arthurian might interest him, perhaps it did, perhaps there was something subliminal going on!  I ended up keeping it anyway when we went our separate ways. It began to fall apart, worse than most paperbacks, quite early; another brother borrowed it and said he had a very active relationship with it, in terms of becoming quite obsessive about the content, making notes etc, while wrestling to try to keep the pages in any kind of workable order. Finally, not very long ago, I threw it away completely, and though it was odd to put a book in the bin, especially such a familiar one, I did so without regret; it was unreadable and I can always download it to the Kindle if I do want to read it again, though I feel I probably won't need to.

I still have The Goshawk though, with its ring marked cover and scuffed edgesand would be sorry to part with that. I might read it again too, before or after H is for Hawk, or alongside.

The other book in the picture, Bird of Jove, is also falconry related, but part of another story, a shorter and lighter one, which I'll get onto later.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

'I see no ships'

Monday, Tom's cataract op. As predicted, considerably less painful than going to the dentist, though an awful lot of eye drops and waiting around and going hungry, though he was given a nice petit dejeuner of orange juice and coffee with lots of sugar and a little madeleine cake like the one Proust had from Aunt Léonie, as well as the mars bar I brought for him.

So last night I felt like I was living with Mad-eye Moody,

but this morning he has two eyes again, and the one worked-on, while sore, seems to be clearing quite hopefully. 

Everyone at the clinic was lovely.

Sunday in St Brieuc

The rendition of the Marseillaise was lacklustre to say the least. I don't really know the words beyond the first few lines, though my mother, about as conservative and Conservative, monarchist and a little-England a woman as one might find, used often to sing it too me as a child. I rather liked and always joined in with the 'Marchons, marchons!' bit, which seemed to be the most enthusiastically sung part on Sunday in St Brieuc too.

So we shuffled our feet and looked embarrassed, but then so did most of the people round us; I think perhaps, even leaving out all the obscure verses like the one the little children are supposed to pipe up about preferring to die in the struggle and share their fathers' coffins than outlive them, even the most unreflecting person gets a bit queasy these days about the notion of watering the furrows with impure blood. But then the British national anthem, when not intoning drearily about saving the monarch, contains a barely veiled subtext and omitted verse about stomping on the Scots, and the German one seems still to hold elements of desire for world domination... it's hard to escape the feeling we really do need a rethink in Europe if we are to shake off the chains of our history. But it's in fact quite difficult to gather in this way without some kind of focus or shared outward expression, so I suppose people reach around for something they all know.

Despite the prior statement that there would be no slogans and no speeches, someone or other from an august body or the administration did get up and deliver some words most of which I couldn't catch, but including 'une laïcité sans adjectifs'. I've been reading more French in the last few days than I must confess I usually read in a year, and find myself wondering and smiling at linguistic comparisons: where a short hard English monosyllable 'kick' needs to be rendered by a long descriptive 'donner un coup de pied', but abstract and metaphorical  intellectual concept words which would solicit puzzlement in anglos are readily found, taken up and used freely and ubiquitously in quite ordinary contexts. So the association to  commemorate and promote a local novelist, Louis Guilloux, administered by the wife of the couple who ran a much loved hardware store in the town, a formidable woman of letters and big in public life (also my boss for a time), awards a literary prize in his name, the remit of which includes the necessity to reject all forms of Manichaism. Eh? I mean I know my Gnosticism, better than many, but I can't quite get my head round that one... More to the point though, the word amalgame is being used frequently to describe the kind of lumping together indiscriminately, tarring with the same brush, of all Muslims which must be avoided at all costs.

Another person, a cartoonist I think, mumbled in an ill at ease tone, some people in the crowd called out 'plus fort!' but to no avail, the PA was buggered and the chap seemed disinclined to his task anyway. There were large sheets of paper on the prefecture railings which people could and did write and draw on, and there were some creative hair styles involving pencils and pens, and some reproductions of the less contentious cartoons on sticks, but generally the stipulation was adhered to. Yet I did perceive a kind of process of apotheosis of the murdered cartoonists and journalists, or of the idea of Charlie Hebdo as a kind of single symbolic entity, the creation almost of a cult of secular sainthood, quite different from the initial, immediate shock and sadness and solidarity we felt at the early vigil in Lamballe, and, it seems to me, deeply ironic in many ways.

Later I saw this, from the Belgian cartoonist Jean Bourgignon, which pleased, in a necessarily wry kind of way:

However, I don't want to fall into a kind of glib false sophistication and cynicism about this. I have been reading and reading obsessively, and thinking, and writing and talking too. Expressions such as 'bandwagon', 'groupthink' and 'secular religion', have quite made me defensive and, rightly, questioning about my responses and actions and those of other people. I am not in the habit of claiming to be someone, or something, I'm not, even symbolically (an avatar on Ravelry caught my eye and made me think too, which said 'I'm not Charlie, I'm not brave enough'). If the amalgame is to be abhorred, then we must be quite careful about voluntarily creating and joining one of our own. I find myself saying things, aloud, in e-mails and elsewhere on the web, which very soon after I want to qualify or retract. No one likes to be seen to be supporting racism, and I am leery of defences which claim that cultural context gives the unacceptable exemption. The civil discourse, good manners, anything for a quiet life, this is how I mostly live and want to go on living. I have already said more than I meant to here, since I had already concluded, so I thought, that I really hadn't anything useful to add to the mountain of debate and comment, and argument and vitriol, still being generated. But to quote a leader in The Economist 'If the proper first response to the slaughter was outrage, after considering the argument that Charlie Hebdo made about free speech, the second response should be outrage, too.'  

So, to come back to what is really rather more within the scope of my talents and this blog: What I Did at the Weekend, we made our excuses and slipped away after the initial rally, filer à l'anglaise, as is our wont, and we were impressed by the good nature, the patience, the cheerful politeness everyone showed, the accommodation and ease with which we moved against the current, the lack of crush so that kids at foot or in pushchairs or on shoulders, the occasional dog - big enough to hold their own or small enough to be carried - weren't distressed or fractious, and 30,000 people were able to move in a comfortable way through a really very small town centre. There's a post on a French blog with some lovely photos here. Coming home, we watched the coverage in Paris on the television, and were even more amazed at the patient, civil behaviour of the crowds, and their diversity, frequent eloquence and goodwill. 

And throughout, here and there, I've been struck by the goodness of the young people, the kind of kids I've known and tried to help with their English and seen grow up: the confident and the less happy in their skins, the conformist and the stroppy, the cool and the intense, the bright little would-be intellectuals who knew more about the English eighteenth century than I did and the trainee car mechanics creeping like snails unwillingly to their philosophy classes. From those who joined the chorus of support for their fellow lycéen Hamyd Mourad after the killers had used his car while he was in school, and he'd turned himself in, and it was immediately being assumed and stated elsewhere that he was the get-away driver and everything else besides, to the ones who spoke to Ouest-France about their views and feelings and posed for a photo-collage on the back page including the two muslim girls, bare-headed and open-faced, who expressed their unqualified support but said politley no, they would prefer not to hold up a 'Je suis Charlie' sign, but would rather have one saying 'Not in my name', on a day when the soldiers are on the streets and in the schools, and the possibilities of hateful opportunist hi-jacking is still very much with us, I prefer to think about them.

And this will be the last thing I post about this, then I'll be back to knitting and the domestic detail.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Observing silence for free speech

Lamballe, 8/1/2014.

Tom's hands, placing those quintessentially French items, mustard glasses, with candles in, at Lamballe's beautiful bronze horse fountain at tonight's vigil.

There are more photos, just seven, and not great quality, but I love them for the atmosphere and feelings and expression, the variety of human life (there were some dogs too but I failed to capture any of them), that they contain. I decided against posting them here as they are of people, and it seems a bit intrusive perhaps, though they mostly aren't recognisable and the only one who clearly is I asked her permission, and there were plenty of of press and other photographers, but still. However they can be seen on the web album here.