Wednesday, June 17, 2015

20 minutes: 3 months of monthly collages

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

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


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


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


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

It all goes by so fast.

Monday, June 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh yes, and then there was this:


Saturday, June 13, 2015

20 minutes: dogs in the Palais Royale gardens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Generally a good spot for people and dog watching.


Twenty minutes precisely!  

Thursday, June 11, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 01, 2015

Ploumanac'h Plage, pink granite and sea pinks

Some picturesque pictures of a particularly pretty place.

(also present: pelagic puffins, pipits, promenades pluvieuses and pleasures a-plenty. Some of which photographed well and some less so; maybe more later)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Scapes, Balbec, octopods

Three things which have brought much pleasure.

Leek scapes. Our retired farmer usually brings me a bunch of leek plants late in the summer, which he has grown from seed and has spare of. I've usually got a bed free for them by that time, the broad bean patch is good having been well tilled and nitrogen-fixed, so they're a useful and appreciated resource through the winter. This last lot I must have planted at the right phase of the moon or something, as they grew well, stayed rust-free and went on well into spring without bolting. However, they did start throwing out these rather elegant flower buds eventually. At the back of my mind was the idea that perhaps these were usable, so I looked them up, found various suggestions, and that they are known as scapes, so I threw one into the soup one evening as a test, and found that it was good, so gathered a whole bunch and steamed them on their own.

I'd long heard about leeks being known as poor man's asparagus, but not fully understood why. I've had good results steaming the small ones and dressing them with vinaigrette (one made with hazelnut oil with a few toasted chopped hazels on top is pretty sublime), but these flower heads really do have a texture and flavour which easily rivals asparagus. It would be well worthwhile to let the plants bolt every year; in fact it would almost be worthwhile just to be able to use the word 'scapes'.


Just finished the second of Patrick O-Brian's Aubrey Maturin series, Post-Captain, now fully hooked, and glad to know that, if I'm spared (as my granny used to say) I have the rest of my life for the remaining eighteen and a half. I enjoyed the first very much but found I couldn't always quite see the ships for the rigging. The third is on order, which posed a small dilemma as I actually find I especially enjoy reading them on Kindle, where somehow I obtained the first two for some kind of promo-price, because the on-board dictionary, though frequently confounded by some of the more technical sea-going vocabulary, is useful - I rarely, I can say without bragging, need a dictionary when reading novels, but P O'B is an exception, - as is the facility to search for previous references. However, the Kindle prices from now on are more than I'm prepared to pay for an e-books when I can buy second hand more cheaply, so print on paper it is.

Anyway, one small thing that made me almost squeal with self-satisfied joy was when, late in the novel, seeking a target on the French coast on which to exercise the Lively's guns, Aubrey decides to lay waste to the small battery just off 'the little port of Balbec'. Unlike most of the French locations mentioned, Balbec does not in fact exist, save in the pages of Proust, where it is the chic seaside town where Marcel goes with his grandmother, and falls in love with Albertine, among other things. Not only is it gratifying to one's vanity to spot such an arch kind of literary joke, but I also rather enjoy the conundrum of Balbec's existing in Napoleonic times as a little fishing port, then a hundred years later in Proust's time having grown into a famous resort, while O'Brian re-conjures it eighty years on from that as it was a hundred years before... etc etc. You don't really need science fiction to play about with the space-time continuum, any fiction can do it.

(This observation has also enabled me to help rekindle momentarily, and gain some small kudos among, a small Ravelry discussion group of formidable women amongst whom I am a mere tyro, who have put down their knitting mostly to read the entire canon of the Aubrey-Maturin novels, sometimes more than once. The group calls itself 'The Lesser of Two Needles')    


Knitting: Sumer is icumen in, and this tends to mean either cotton knitting, which I have some of on the go but which you can quickly tire of, as can the tendons, or socks, which are light and portable. A belated present for my old friend Glenn, who when he visited with partner and dogs earlier this year, was bearing a very delicate and interesting small tattoo of an octopus, which he had copied from an ancient Greek vase painting, on his upper arm. This put me in mind of the time, some twenty-five years ago, when he and I were traipsing round the Peloponnese in the tracks of Patrick Leigh-Fermor, and we lodged for some days (the next bus out was the other side of the weekend) in a small coastal hotel, and every evening we asked the middle-aged spinster daughter of the house what was for dinner, and she showed us the pots in the kitchen, and every night she showed us the same pot of stewed 'octopoooos', so that by the third night octopus tentacles and the suckers on them had parted company and the latter were floating about on the top.

So, octopods being something of a theme, I made him these socks, for a biggish birthday, a bit late.

They are based on this pattern, but only really the chart and the general style, the helix knitting being somewhat beyond me. In spite of being quite fine wool, and the fairly tight stranded knitting, they came out rather large (they're on my feet in the second photo), but he says he has been wearing them as slipper socks, and will try them inside wellingtons too.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Paris: the heron in the tunnel

There is a heron which lives in the tunnel of the St Martin canal underneath Paris. It has taken up residence in there every winter for seven years, and flies silently ahead of the boat as it navigates the tunnel in and out of the lights from the boat and from the light wells. The video is at half-speed, and uploaded in HD, so best to watch full screen or really the bird is not much more than a speck. I tried to use one of Jordi's and Montserrat's Sybils as soundtrack, because it seemed as though the creature had a kind of chthonic, sybilline quality, but it was heavy and portentous and all wrong, and I ended up using a fluffy bit of Debussy I found on the computer's sample music, which is much better.

It was one of the most delightful things that happened while we were there. Almost as much so as going out on our last evening, our wedding anniversary, when a great fierce shower of rain came down, and we sheltered under a café awning and watched it tear down the river while the opposite bank was in bright sunshine, then the sun came out and we crossed the Pont Neuf, and I invited Tom to buy me some earrings in a small jeweller's shop to fix the memory. He was wearing a jacket and tie and I was wearing a longish green dress I've had about 20 years - all the time we've been married in fact - which is altogether a fairly unusual sight, and we only looked ever-so-slightly like a superannuated version of Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, and as we were walking down the Quai des Orfèvres, an American lady coming the other way smiled broadly at us and said to her companion for us to hear 'Don't they look so good together!' Then we heard pretty music in the Sainte Chapelle, and I cried at Pachelbel's Canon and Tom cried at the singer singing Schubert and Messiaen, then we repaired to the Orangerie on the Ile St Louis where I dipped bread in Tom's oeufs meurette and without being asked they brought two spoons and lit a candle in my apple crumble and caramel Berthillet ice cream, and assured us a lot of people ordered two courses and shared the starter and dessert. We ended the evening unbelievably tired, full and happy.


There are still one or two more posts' worth of pictures from Paris, but in fact I find I'd rather like just to post about some home-based stuff, which is good too, and perhaps have a bit of a break, so perhaps I'll come back to them later.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Paris: la Villette and the Jules Verne carousel.

The park at la Villette, where we finished up after the morning's boat trip, with all it's big open airy spaces, elevated walkways, concert halls, prestigious science museum, is a bold attempt at making a really generous public, cultural open space outside of the very centre of Paris, and must be much appreciated by many. It's not difficult to get to, and has so much to offer, yet for some reason I don't find it quite sympathetic, so much about it rather gives me agarophobia. Not all, I loved the Cité de la Musique in the evening, not only the hall itself but all its interior and exterior peripherals, but it seems to me that the best bits are where they've ended up enclosing and hiving off parcels and elements of the larger space into more intimate smaller ones. 

The adjacent neighbourhood, on the Pantin side anyway, is in no way ugly or bleak or threatening, the people are quite varied, some smart prosperous professional looking types alongside artisan-ish people and some fairly mixed urban youth. But it's rather dreary, big streets and buildings without being imposing, lacking in much variety and interest and ever so slightly, well, lairy. It probably isn't really, but that was our perception of it, after quite a long morning, looking for somewhere to have lunch in a limited time, not wanting too much, or much of what was on offer. There were endless scruffy sushi places, which seem to be the default low budget eateries and takeaways everywhere in Paris now, and a fair bit of couscous, which we're not great fans of, and a pricey shiny office type restaurant further towards the Buttes-Chaumont, which is another area I'd quite like to explore one day. In the end we found a modest bistro down a side street with a relaxed and varied clientèle which seemed to reflect the local population, Tom had a chicken tajine with some recognisable vegetables in it and frites instead of couscous, and I had a beef brochette with very juicy chunks of steak and proper home made creamy-crispy potatoes lyonnaises which were very good . All of which was far more than we meant to eat so we didn't want much dinner that evening. The owner was rather bumptious, a bit of a wide-boy, and teased and joshed us in rapid-fire ways I couldn't pick up on quickly enough, but the atmosphere was cheerful and friendly.

So, we didn't take many pictures (lunch was tasty but not the kind you stand on your chair and set up the lighting to take a photo of). However, on the way back and waiting for the boat, my attention was drawn to the Jules Verne carousel. There were several fairground things, a swing ride and a pêche aux canards ( a thing where you try to hook up ducks for prizes, I think), but none of them were in action, presumably because of the wet weather that morning. I wondered if the Jules Verne roundabout was something unique and perhaps antique, but on researching it, it seems that these carousels are everywhere, there are big and small ones in Nantes, Montpellier, Laval... there is even a company that will rent them out to you in various sizes. While in the style of early 20th century fairground attractions, they are usually modern, for obvious safety reasons. In fact I do remember seeing them aound now, but didn't really take note of the theme: the actual ride-on elements, covered up on this occasion against the weather, as well as the classic horses and other animals, are (loosely) taken from Jules Verne stories. There are steam trains and ships and biplanes and early motor cars and bicycles, and always Captain Nemo's submarine, a Montgolfier balloon and a moon rocket. And always around the canopy there are painted vignettes of scenes from the books, and also of Paris and of other world landmarks.

Those from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea seemed to be especially favoured; it was fun trying to spot and remember the references.

I used to enjoy Jules Verne's books as a child, and liked these quirky, fantastical little paintings very much, wondering about the person who executed them with such care and enthusiasm, what we used to call a commercial artist, I suppose, the kind of painter in a British context who would have painted pub signs.

In amongst them, around the central shaft, were also these relief Melusines, I'm not sure what, if anything, they have to do with Jules Verne, they seem to have rather more of the traditional fairground about them.

The rain cleared, and this passed the time until the boat returned.