Sunday, August 17, 2014

A trip on the Sainte Jeanne # 1 (before we even get on the boat...)

Last weekend, we headed up to Erquy to take a special 20th anniversary trip on the Sainte Jeanne - it was the boat's anniversary, not ours. As we later learned, she was wrecked in the 1930s off Paimpol, by the actions of a skipper cutting corners by overloading her and relying on a recently added engine to get him out of trouble which then broke down. She was rebuilt and relaunched in 1994. Needless to say, I took a lot of photos, and Tom took some more with my camera, which it's taken me a week and more to sort and edit.

It was a day of a high tidal coefficient, something we've kind of known about in the abstract, but have lately become aware of and interested in, after inadvertently making an evening outing a little further down the bay a few weeks before and finding our usual walking beach non-existent, familiar rocky landmarks disappeared, and the sea beating at the cliff stairs at our feet.  It was curiously exciting and magical and made me think of the Franklin's Tale. (It seems the town of St Malo is even trying to make a tourist attraction of this phenomenon.)

So, although it was nothing like the lowest point of the tide that day, when we arrived in very good time so as to get a parking space, there was not much sea to be seen - all that we could see-see-see was the bottom of the deep blue sea-sea-sea, in fact. 

But we also saw plenty of people enjoying an old fashioned seaside experience,

some having less traditional fun,

And quite a few happy dogs sharing the day, the ice cream and the tidal mud.

all of which did our hearts good.

The Sainte Jeanne, which we'd been told would leave from the harbour wall, was not to be seen there. Le Grand Lejon was there, but clearly wasn't going anywhere just yet. 

Her crew didn't seem too bothered, they sat around nattering and lunching and making fairly merry.  After a while they made to hoist a sail or two.

the main one had a picture of the boat painted on it, thereby creating an always pleasing (to me anyway) mise-en-abyme effect.

Don't worry, though, we were told, the Ste Jeanne was in open water the other side of the fishing quay, and we would be conveyed to her by a smaller vessel. So we went to have a look.

On the way we saw the official tender, painted in matching livery, or whatever boats paintwork is called. It seemed a tiny cockleshell to carry many people, we thought.

Passing the fishing port, very much the business end of Erquy, there were lots of examples of the kind of counter, original, spare and strange stuff, lines and shapes and textures and colours, that I find hard to pass by, though I didn't linger too long.

and  a more artfully arranged exhibition of older gear and tackle and trim, chandlery, books, maps and prints:

 as well as some models of different kinds of old working sailing boats.

Another very minute detail of something, which I reckon is worthy of a digression, was to be spotted down a drain. (And if, like some, myself included, bits of workaday and rugged cast iron street furniture float your boat, the drain cover in itself is worth looking at. No? OK.)

What I spied through the grill, just about visible here as three white stripes, I recognised as a netting needle. When I was about eleven, I had to endure school needlework and 'handwork' lessons.  Despite having stitched and worked a sewing machine and made all manner of things quite competently with my hands from almost before I could walk, I was a hopeless failure and bottom of the class in these areas of the curriculum. Mostly this worried me not one whit, except that those who shone were allowed as a special privilege to do netting.  This involved turning a chair upside down, tying a lot of lengths of string to it, and somehow weaving and knotting in and out of them with a netting needle, around which was wound another length of string. I didn't think this looked a particularly satisfying process, my interest was in the potential product: a hammock. I always wanted a hammock.  I'm not sure where I would have put one at the time, since there weren't really two suitable trees in our garden, but I dreamed of one anyway.  I do now have one, in fact, not made of netting but very handsome blue and green canvas, which can be hung between the timbers of our open barn thing in the summer, but I don't in fact use it much. However, seeing this tool in this context, I understood for the first time that the technique wasn't simply a bit of leftover Victorian effete hobbywork for nice young ladies and gels, but was and apparently still is really used by fishermen for real fishing nets. In these times when fishing seems a murderous, industrialised, globalised behemoth, and indeed, young ladies and gels occupy their fingers principally with checking their phones and Facebook accounts, I find that rather cheering.

Two other old-fashioned sailing boats and a more modern Bermuda sailed, fibre-glass hulled yacht flapped their sails idly in the fishing harbour while the people on them sat about nattering to one another from one craft to another.  We scrambled up the rocks along the harbour wall and saw the Ste Jeanne waiting on the other side.

Unfortunately, the wind direction was such that we couldn't get a nice sideways view of her, but later we were able to. We strolled back to the meeting point and were issued with life jackets, which were rather hot and bothersome and cumbrous,

and off we went.

(To be continued...)

Saturday, August 09, 2014

July collage

1) The day we'd taken my sister back to the airport, that evening a hot air balloon, which in French delights in being called 'une montgolfière' passed over the house. These were a fairly common sight in the UK; our wedding coincided with the Bristol balloon festival, and the sky was full of the colourful, fanciful things all day.  Hereabouts one never sees them, this is the first I remember; our former neighbour told us that there's a man who owns one, the same man as is to be seen on summer evenings flying a tiny microlight craft, but their use is forbidden as they frighten the cattle. This one began to descend rapidly once over our hill top, and I was very tempted to jump in the car and chase and watch it come down, as I've done on summer evenings in the past: once in my childhood with my dad, when we followed one through Ashridge forest to an area of parkland, where dozens of other people had done the same thing and small children were racing around in their pyjamas, and another occasion when Tom's daughter, whom we were visiting at the time, her mother-in-law and I all drove off in sudden pursuit to the bewilderment of our assorted men- and child-folk. But the moment wasn't right this time, and I didn't do it.

2) Mirabelle plums in the hedges, the branches heavy laden.

3) Pink poppies.

4) Peas ripening, the second sowing better than the first.

5) Red onions drying in the sun.

6) Gatekeeper butterfly in the hedgerow.

7) The last artichoke, left to flower.  These never last very well. On the Island of Bréhat, they somehow preserve them and sell them to the tourists.

8) Courgettes, flower buds and fruit.  We're eating them now.

9) Whitecurrants, later than the red.

10) Tom making chutney with the mirabelles, and very good it is too.  I just have to stay his hand from opening and eating it too soon.

11) Molly's Rainbow Bridge gloves, as it turned out, though not consciously so (I know it's a mawkish and maudlin thing but I don't care).  My niece Bee in Australia feels the cold, even there.  She fell off her bike and smashed herself up a bit because she was trying to pull her jumper sleeves over her hands. I promised her handwarmers, and found the thick rainbow wool I'd bought a while back without plans. During Mol's last couple of days, during my shifts of lap-time with her, I knitted them up; it was comforting to have something bright and quick and easy in my hands to work on.  Bee understands, she always sees rainbows when beloved people die. I have since, it seems, acquired other antipodean nieces and nephews, some of them entirely honorary and unknown to me, who want pretty mittens made for them.

12) Molly's last day, with Tom on the sofa. Hesitated to include this, perhaps I'm overdoing it, but it seems important.  She was calm and comfortable.


The boat trip today was wonderful, will get onto the photos very soon.

Friday, August 08, 2014

June collage

As promised. My resolve to do this seems frequently to get thwarted, by sad things and other distractions, but even though it often seems as if I'm not bothering to get the camera out and use it, when I go back over there are more than enough seasonal nuggets to make up a 3x4 collage.


Top to bottom, left to right:

1) Under the sumac tree, who loves to lie with me... there were days for the deckchair in the long grass with book or podcast and/or knitting, and Mol happy to settle on her fleece blanket alongside. Shortly after, unseasonable winds took down the heaviest branch of that weed tree, with its thick foliage and pappy soft wood and we've not cleared up all the resulting damage, so its pleasant dappled shade is reduced, but it was nice while it lasted, and will be again.

2) Buttercups and forget-me-nots, refractory but affectionately regarded weeds, in the grass around.

3) A bunch of Californian poppies, red campion and other easy-going, self-seeded things, in a jar on the table.

4) International knit-in-public day, which we at Quessquitricote celebrated on the 11th July though knitting fascists purists on Ravelry frowned and said it should be the Saturday following.  My polystyrene head, Jean-Pierre/Josephine-Pierrette, along with a crochet daisy chain and a very long tapestry wool scarf join in the festivities. I'll do another knitting post later.

5&6) View from the bedroom window, view from the terrace, 6.30 am midsummer morn.

7) Tortoiseshell butterfly, not the yellow legged version, as far as I know, on a shrub whose name I forget; no, it's not a hawthorn.

8) The blackbirds go crazy for the amalanchier berries.  I took a lot of photos of this (which I meant to make a post of but didn't), mainly from the living room sofa while Molly was pinning me down.  The amalanchier berries are edible to us too, and taste a bit apple-ish but not very interesting, and it's just as well since we don't get a look-in; through most of June the whole tree is alive and shaking with blackbirds, male, female and young ones, bouncing and squawking and feasting on them. Male blackbirds seem to carry and atone for the whole weight of their gender's oppression in much of the rest of the animal kingdom; they struggle to feed, raise and protect  the young for the whole breeding season, and are mercilessly bullied by them and the females all the rest of the time. They have to hurry to get to the berries first; once the young and the females get there they are driven off.  The babies are perfectly capable of feeding themselves but pester and harry their parents into giving up their share too. It's a jungle out there.

9) Our redcurrants, netted lest they meet the same fate as the amalanchier berries.

10) Multicolour radishes and plain and striped aubergines from a wonderful stall on the market, a guy who comes up from Finistère with whatever he's got that week, which is a surprising variety, apples, then tomatoes, radishes, courgettes, the aubergines were just for a week, going on into the autumn with multifarious squash and pumpkins.

11) Exhibition at the Briquetterrie, Langueux, with some fascinating installations, which I went to with my sister(that's her hand). I do love the place.

12) More redcurrants, we got a couple of kilos I think.


That'll do for now, I'll do July's tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Bits and pieces

Eat less
Drink less
Waste less
Spend less
Mope less
Snark less

Think more
Thank more
Listen more
Move more
Love more
What's more...


Missing Joe to e-mail to remind to listen to Eugenie Grandet on Radio 4, adapted by Rose Tremain, with Ian McKellan as Grandet, a dramatisation dream team.

Glad of Glenn e-mailing remind me to listen to the Tallis Scholars singing  Tavener on Radio 3  and of their keeping it available to listen for a whole month, since it's the kind of thing you need the right moment to listen to, or rather the right hour and three quarters, still, it's lovely when people think of you like that.

Missing Molly. Glad of Tom. Pretty much all the time.


When the kids come, we convert to paper plates to avoid trouble with washing up.  This time a strange fit took me: I smoothed out some packing paper, folded it and printed it with potato prints and gouache,

and voila, seafood-themed throw-away table mats and runner.

I put them with bright yellow paper table napkins, blue paper plates and yellow bowls, but forgot to photograph that.

They came and went, had walks on the beach and round the market and by the watermill and dinner out, as ever. We appreciate their coming but worry more and more about the stress of the journey and of  adolescent recalcitrance on all concerned. More changing and passing. My nice step-son-in-law and I spent an enjoyable afternoon talking over cameras and photos, and he gave me some useful and simple tips about the camera which I shall try to put into practice. His photography skills are way above mine but he is internet shy and lacking in confidence without so much as a Flickr or Picasa web account, and does nothing with his photos except keep them on SD cards and look at them sometimes, which is a great shame.


As well as Kerbiriou for Tom's birthday in September, we're booked for a sea trip on the old sailing boat la Sainte Jeanne at the weekend, and to see Jordi Savall at the Cité de la Musique in October. The kind of things we said we'd do one day when we could, and not hang about before doing them, though it still feels a bit strange and not quite real, like it won't actually happen. The train booking for the latter went pear-shaped, I got flustered by an unsympathetic ticket clerk and unwittingly, or half-wittedly, ended up committing us to a horribly early start to get to Paris, which made me feel stupid and miserable, I'm normally more competent than that in such matters (though it was a bit cheaper). By contrast the Ste Jeanne people were lovely, they held on to the over-subscribed places, even though they didn't really do phone bookings, till we could get there to pick them up, and the little office and those in it were bright and friendly and full of colourful boat pictures. Saying how I'd wanted to make such a trip for a long time, I found myself telling them about Mol, quite calmly, and received understanding and kindness.

 I'll take pictures of the boat trip, all being well, and get the last couple of months photo collages made too.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Latest things happening; a soapstone shape; white arthropods; cone flowers; TMI Marcel?

Cooking chicken Kievs this evening, a nostalgic indulgence from the time when they were Marks and Spencers' signature dish, I found myself scraping the residue of milk, cornflour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs into a blob and throwing it in the pan to make a little fritter.  Molly's portion, as always. What else could I do?

I ate it myself, it really wasn't bad, she did all right.

We picked up her ashes today. Tom had been quite distressed and fretful about the limbo which we were in regarding them. I'd tried and probably better succeeded in telling myself it didn't matter too much, that her poor tired little body was all finished with anyway, and all would surely be being dealt with conscientiously and properly, even if it was the holidays and there were delays, that many a human cremation was delayed far longer. Nevertheless, I was surprised at the peace of mind and sense of resolution it brought, and also how nicely it was done; the paperwork which we had been too distraught to take any notice of at the time assured us that they understood it was a painful and difficult time, that by deciding on this course we wanted to do things decently and that they promised to do their part of it with all respect and kindness.  The certification and packaging looked lovely and used her name, and there was even a little piece of card with flower seeds pressed into it that we could plant for her in the place of our choice. OK, maybe it was all calculated marketing but we appreciated it and considered it well done. I don't remember anything so warm and personal with my parents' ashes, and it really wasn't an expensive service.

The vet and her husband asked rather shyly if we were going away this summer because if not they would very much like to invite us over, as friends, now we weren't customers...? That touched our hearts too.


We have Tom's daughter K, her husband and children coming for their summer visit tomorrow, and now we feel better able to cope with it, and enjoy their company.  I'm always slightly surprised how much it pleases me transforming my blue room into a cosy den for the kids, and stocking up on oven chips for the traditional moule frîtes fest, and Tom and K always benefit from a bit of time together.


Jantien has been back in Moncontour for the remainder of her residency there, and encouraged me to come for another sculpture class.  This isn't really serious sculpture as she does it, more like a simple session of soapstone polishing, but it is immensely satisfying, since whatever happens, at the end of the afternoon one has a beautiful piece of polished stone to show for it, as well as skin, hair and clothes covered in a layer of coloured talc which is curiously pleasurable.  I had a notion this time to make something to do with garlic, having been seduced into buying some very beautiful pink garlic imported from Argentina, a thing I would never normally do as, without being too sanctimonious about it, I do try to buy and eat as seasonally and locally as possible.  But these were so beautiful and reminded me so much of a sculpture, with their pink polished cloves pushing out through their chalky white husk.  

Jantien always says there are two ways to go with sculpture: you can have an idea what you want to make, find the right stone and shape it into it, or you can let the stone lead you to the sculpture.  In fact I suppose I took a path between the two, as there simply weren't any raw pieces which would have lent themselves to becoming a pink garlic bulb, so I let the idea go and picked up a piece of pinky brown soapstone with a flat base and some interesting speckles, and began to smooth it off, but the garlic idea persisted, along with another that came through.  When I'd told Jantien that I had an idea what I might do, she'd chuckled and said she didn't think she had a black piece of stone. In truth the notion of trying to make a Molly sculpture hadn't occurred to me; I'm afraid I do rather find the idea of making effigies and portraits of one's dead pets rather naff and anyway, I don't feel equal to representing Mol in such a way. Yet the shape that came about was about her; as well as being a garlic clove, 

it is also a tear drop.

Not great art or anything, but, as I say, deeply satisfying to make and to have.


A few more photos to season things. 

J'suis descendue dans mon jardin...  Going to pick some white Winchester Cathedral roses (for a friend and neighbour's 100th birthday, a rather strange event which I thought I might write about but am now out of time and probably your good graces to do so) I displaced a curious resident, a white spider, with a speck of pink, like a chameleon to the flower. 

Pray tell me arachnophobes ( which I am only quite mildly), is a spider less frightening coloured thus? Is it the darkness of them which disturbs?

Another white arthropod, a marbled white butterfly.

They are all over the place just now, won't be for long.

Some echinacea with and without bumble bees, just because.

and some poppy seed heads which Tom put to dry in the rough glazed bowl, even though the blasted things sow themselves all over the garden in all the wrong places without any encouragement anyway.

I don't think he meant it to be tasteful but I thought it was just so terribly much so.


And finally, for Robbie really but also anyone else who might be interested, proof it it were needed that Proust really was weird. Never mind every kind of snooping voyeurism from Françoise killing the chicken through Vinteuil's daughter's girlfriend spitting on his picture to the Baron de Charlus getting thrashed by a sailor, never mind locking your girlfriend in your flat in case she might be a lesbian, this is really perverse:

...but what fascinated me would be the asparagus, tinged with ultramarine and rosy pink which ran from their heads, finely stippled in mauve and azure, through a series of imperceptible changes to their white feet, still stained a little by the soil of their garden-bed: a rainbow-loveliness that was not of this world. I felt that these celestial hues indicated the presence of exquisite creatures who had been pleased to assume vegetable form, who, through the disguise which covered their firm and edible flesh, allowed me to discern in this radiance of earliest dawn, these hinted rainbows, these blue evening shades, that precious quality which I should recognise again when, all night long after a dinner at which I had partaken of them, they played (lyrical and coarse in their jesting as the fairies in Shakespeare’s Dream) at transforming my humble chamber pot into a bower of aromatic perfume.

There's a lot of asparagus in Swann's Way. I'm going back over it with audio book, picking up particular passages that interest and checking the text in the original and Moncrieff's translation as and when the fancy takes me, which having them on the Kindle makes easier.  The audio book is heavily abridged, of course. I loved the asparagus description but on checking found they had rather coyly left out the last bit about the chamber pot.  Wrongly I think, for any discussion about asparagus, as with Jerusalem artichokes, is not complete without a mention of the after effects, is it? No, what's weird is that what most people would be more inclined to liken to the miasma surrounding Bridgwater cellophane factory (go on, follow that link, you know you want to) he describes as 'a bower of aromatic perfume'. Now that is strange.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Molly passing; some links; alpaca

Thank you so much for all the truly wonderful, heartfelt and heart-warming support about dear Mol, here and at Tom's place, by e-mail and letter and in person. We really have been quite bowled over by how much affection, sympathy and kindness could be prompted by one small, rather eccentric, not very socialised dog and her, not always very socialised either, humans. People are marvellous sometimes, nearly as marvellous as dogs.

I find myself reluctant to post again, and let the photo of her slide down from the top of the blog. It seems like another of the many small lettings-go we are doing, each of which can feel like a relief and kindness or else a betrayal and abandonment. We are gradually rearranging and adjusting things,  having to think again and again as to which habits and routines we need to maintain and which were instituted because of, or indeed by, for she had us well-trained, Molly.  There is much to be caught up with in house and garden that was rather let slide in her last days, weeks, months even, so we do not as yet feel we have abundant time on our hands, though we are constantly aware of how much detail has gone from our life.  We are cleaning and clearing, keeping and discarding and re-purposing things, the last sometimes a positive and creative action; for example the purple fleece blanket we used to put on the bed so she could come up and join us for morning tea, still good but rather rough and worn and always, even when washed, with a residue of Molly hair, I shall sew inside the beautiful red cotton cover my sister brought over for us but which proved to be slightly the wrong size for our duvet, to make a new piece of bedding with the relic enshrined, as it were. Other items I will take to the local SPA dog refuge, but that's not a place I can face just yet.

Yesterday we went to settle up the final account with the vet, we'll get Mol's ashes back at a later date - much as she loved this garden we simply couldn't just dig a hole and put her in it, come in at night and leave her out there, nor could we simply ask for her body to be disposed of and that an end to it. It was a wobbly moment to call Emy (the vet) again and talk about it, but it did drive me to sort out all the medicaments, throw some out and return some, and in fact it was nice to see Emy and her husband Paul again. I shall miss them as friends, if not all the reasons for having to see them. They too were lovely, with just the right balance of brisk and stoical good cheer and gentle kindness.  I really don't know how vets do it.

I do wonder if people live longer these days because there are fewer deaths. I've had so few really to grieve in my life; I minded my parents passing but I was still young and they had been old by my standards then (I was born to them late); I bounced back and moved on into the life I'd yet to live, lightened and with a sense of freedom, I have to say, from worry and sadness and a little resentment at their decline and the demands it placed. Not a very worthy thing to admit but there it is. Yet I've found the losses that have hit me of late, even those which couldn't be called shocking or unexpected, have seemed to age and diminish me, physically, mentally and in spirit, as though some of my essential life stuff really has been taken away and may not, this time, be restored. The skin around my eyes seems more discoloured, thin and lined, my body more squashy and shapeless, my mind more weary and reluctant to address things, I am more ready to despair and abandon. It seems to me quite possible that mourning too much death could shorten your life.

Enough. I know I owe it to them to live better and not waste time, dogs especially do hate wasting time. I have had and still have so much love and beauty in my life. I am often joyful and always grateful. I shall keep coming back here, and Molly will appear here again, many times, you may be sure. I have been reading back through the Out with Mol blog , lately neglected but always maintained, with enjoyment as well as sadness, and may do something with some of it, we'll see.


Other stuff.  I hesitate to even hover round the edge of the matter here, but these articles I've found quite helpful.  Not that they particularly make one feel any less despairing, but they do, for me at least, shed a bit of light on things I either didn't know about, or have read or heard about over and over but still find it hard to get straight in my mind.

9 questions about the Israel-Palestine conflict you were too embarrassed to ask
11 crucial facts to understand the Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel's Gaza invasion is all about tunnels

I imagine this probably provokes eye-rolling in most quarters, since anyone who's remotely interested knows everything contained (and all the answers) and can't understand why I even need to read them, and anyone who isn't simply feels sickened, bored, hopeless, apathetic or whatever. But I found them clearly written and, as far as I can see, unexceptionable in their editorial line.


And to finish some photos of happy fluffy stuff, which is no more nor less inappropriate than happy fluffy stuff ever is. This is from an outing that we made a few weeks ago, while my sister was still here and Molly still able to set out for a ride in the car quite cheerfully.  Things closed in and I didn't get around to posting them at the time, but they merit showing, I think. A little while ago we saw some alpacas on the telly, and immediately felt we just had to meet some, and of course I love the fibre they make as well. A quick search revealed there were some just down the road (well, almost). Quelvehin Alpacas is on a straight road up a hill a few kilometres out of Pontivy, it's a beautiful place, made and run with real love and care by Steven and Jayne, who also run gîtes, which would be lovely to stay in, and courses on alpaca care and management. Jayne made us really welcome and gave us a load of her time and told us all kinds of things about these delightful creatures, a subject clearly dear to her heart.

Alpaca are South American camelids, like lamas and vicuna, related to camels but no humps. Other alpaca farms, there aren't nearly as many in France as the UK, tend to concentrate on breeding white ones because the fleece can be dyed, but lately there's more and more interest in the natural colours, and there's quite a range, through all kinds of browns and greys to quite a black black.

Alpacas are the most cartoonishly endearing animals imaginable, and the babies, known as cria, are endearing to the power of ten.

They were quite friendly and amenable to strokes,

though, Jayne chuckled, most of all when they aren't pregnant but would like to be, that makes them very affectionate.  This embarrassed Tom rather.

They seem quite affectionate with one another too.

Alpaca come in two types, huacaya, who have soft, woolly, curly fleece, and suri who have silky, straight hair


This lady was a suri (it had been raining). They are more delicate and difficult to raise. In fact alpaca are quite delicate anyway, they barely have enough milk for their young and are exacting about their diet.

We went on to visit the yearling young ones, who had struggled to survive in last year's wet winter, even with all kinds of extra care.

They all seem to get on well with the handsome resident Weimeraner.

In the final paddock were the boys.  Now, alpaca, unlike camels, won't spit at you.  But they do sometimes spit at each other, and it's mainly about sex.  If the girls think that the male on offer is too young and green and just doesn't take their fancy, they'll spit and kick at him and just not co-operate.  If, on the other hand, a fanciable more mature chap hoves into view, they will um... sit down.  This is what is required. 

Atlas, above, is one such comely fellow, and you have to admit he looks pretty cool.

We tended to think Solomon, above, didn't look too promising by comparison, but were assured he'd done all right for himself, with a few handsome cria among his progeny.

They were all in the field together and seemed to get along very equably.  However, we were told, when the males have been taken off to meet their designated date and then come back to the paddock, all the other boys spit at them and give them a good kicking, then everything calms down again.  Jealousy I suppose. 

Lovely creatures, lovely place, and I came home with 200 grms of the most heavenly alpaca yarn, handspun by Jayne, the colour of milk chocolate.

A few more photos on a web album here.

It's nice to be back, withal.