Wednesday, October 19, 2016

If you want something done, and raspberry thief *

After more than two weeks and many disgruntled forum posts, it became clear Blogger wasn't going to do anything about fixing the broken blog roll widgets, the masses of individually collected, mostly not-backed up data from numerous blogs they inadvertently flushed down the toilet being, presumably, lost forever. Maybe some bright spark somewhere has a red face about it but maybe not; Blogger has clearly become a very small and unimportant fish in evolutionary terms swallowed by the great Google whale, as blogging itself has become to social media generally. (This is a really a tired and self-piteous old refrain; if it matters it's up to us me to do something about it and blog, or just shut up and move on.)

So, deciding there was no point in cutting off my nose to spite my face and insisting that, as they broke it, it was up to them to fix it, I re-entered the links I had managed to retrieve from the cached copy myself. It didn't really take very long, and now it feels as though my blog has at least the potential to live again; without a live feed blog roll it really did seem a very dead thing. I mostly put it back as it was before; of those who are simply dormant I will know if they do ever re-animate, and even one or two who surely will not post again are still there for old time's sake. However, it no longer seems to be possible to limit the number which actually appear to, say, the most recent twenty-five, as I did before, so those who hadn't posted for a very long time slipped discreetly below the horizon. Some very long-lapsed blogs lingering visibly right at the bottom, sometimes with four years or more since their last post, was just too melancholy, like a pile of old correspondence left out on the table, and I did end up removing quite a few.

Anyway, we are back home. It is surprisingly good to be so, even though the work is still not all finished; it feels familiar, comfortable and safe, yet the enjoyment of it sits quite comfortably with a strong desire to be moving on as soon as possible, plummeting exchange rates and other uncertainties notwithstanding. The initial urge to scrape all our savings together and get something new on the go even before selling this place have been shelved; it's a terrible time to do that (aforesaid economics, savings mostly over-the-water), and it would be sod's law if we settled for something we could afford but weren't really happy with, the house would sell shortly afterwards and maybe even the exchange rates would improve (hein, cochon volant!) we'd regret that we hadn't held on (the sod's law corollary of that of course being that we will sit here forever waiting for a sale, while the pound dwindles to the value of three small cowry shells, but I prefer not to think about that). Anyway, running two properties at the same time wasn't something we wanted to be doing.

Tom's working away like a trooper getting things finished and tidied up before the painters and decorators come next week, jobs he hates like repairing and rubbing down plaster but which will never have to be done again. Inevitably there were many things which ended up falling between two artisans' stools, or which appeared on the assessor's report but somehow failed to appear on the artisan's quote, or which an artisan (the electrician is the particular bête noire in this) succeeded in buggering up, breaking or making a hole in. However, mistake me not, we continue to be grateful and cognisant of 1) how lucky we are to be alive  2) that while we will be somewhat out of pocket our insurance is nevertheless paying for a large number of things, finishing some of our unfinished work, upgrading the electrics, decorating, cleaning carpets etc, that will, we hope, be to our final material benefit, and 3) that we happened to give a thought to the matter of our house insurance and went and got all the relevant information on it updated and accurate a few months before the fire, without which we would have received only a very small fraction of the costs incurred; I would advise everyone, but especially anyone who has extended or improved their home, to make sure you do this.

Elfie has finished her training course for the moment. She will now sit, lie down, stand up (handy when she doesn't want her 'trousers' brushed), 'look', do some quite fancy heel work and more, to order indoors, but still sees most barriers outside as simply an interesting challenge, if she sees them at all, being let off the lead as carrying an obligation to quarter the surrounding hectare at a flying gallop regardless of the terrain, and the presence of so much as a worm wriggling beneath the soil as her cue to stalk, pounce and dig like a maniac. Nothing is safe in the garden, from bumble bees' nests to baby grass snakes to the cock pheasant taking refuge in the long grass (she was under the hedge into next door's garden before you can say gundog) to the neighbour's cat which she climbed half way up the eucalyptus tree in pursuit of (she got dragged off, given time-out and shunned for an hour for that, we fetched a ladder and rescued the poor terrified cat). One of the attractions of moving would be to a smaller, better-fenced plot with a bit less wildlife in it where we could keep closer tabs on her. Interestingly though, while normally friendly to other dogs and humans, despite her hunting dog behaviour, she hates hunters, giving them her rare, full-throated 'see-em-off' bark when she sees or hears them, and rejecting their dogs' overtures of friendship in no uncertain terms. We love her enormously and feel that the bond with her is stronger all the time, that we know and understand each other better; she is loving and affectionate and eager to please, and even open fields and hedgerows are slightly less irresistible when she knows I've got a clicker and a piece of cheese or sausage in my pocket. And the lessons have been a very good thing to do anyway, a welcome focus of activity and encouragement away from house and fire related matters and our displaced state, a pleasant trip in the direction we'd like to move in, a chance to have an Indian lunch in Dinan afterwards, and above all the benefit of Suzie's calm, wise experience and advice on doggy matters.

Natalie asked Tom if he could show a photo of our new staircase, and I said I would, which I will, but not till later when perhaps I'll do a 'before and after' post when the job's finished. Just for now here are some photos of Elfie scrumping. One of the unexpected delights of Hénon we discovered when staying there was this marvellous park:

It was vast, next to a settlement of beautiful old mill houses, and contained children's swings and a slide, boules courts, great open areas, ponds and streams and little bridges, terraces of apple and chestnut trees, and a long hedge of fruit bushes: currants (these were finished), cultivated blackberries, and raspberries both red and yellow, all free for the taking.

Elfie loves most kinds of fruit, berries in particular (she also tries to crack hazelnuts with her teeth, which I discourage, and it makes me wonder if she had to live off the land at times before) and she used to avail herself freely of any within reach:

Yet despite the park's beauty and all these free treats, and though it was the school holidays and glorious sunny weather, except for one group of older people playing boules once, a couple of over-aged adolescents brooding on the swings once, and one sweet family of three generations, a young couple, grandfather and baby, sitting with a guitar singing a Christian song once, we seemed more or less the only people ever using it at any time of the day.  J, who lives in Hénon, says the 14 July fireworks always take place in the natural amphitheatre of the park, and the municipality lays on minibuses to take the elderly people the couple of hundred metres from the village centre to the upper levels to watch them. The access is quite steep, which may be a valid excuse for the older people not to go there, but I found it sad that as the new-build houses and lotissements spread progressively outwards from the village centre, most of them with their smallish gardens completely filled with hideous plastic slides and paddling pools and enormous netted trampolines (when did it become de rigueur that every child should have its own trampoline at home?), there was this excellent, well maintained, rich public space going almost entirely unused. We enjoyed it anyway.

* While we were in exile, a delightful package arrives all the way from the land of Oz, a 'Red Cross parcel' from a lovely erstwhile blogging friend, long since disappeared from blog roll and blogosphere, but still a faithful and cherished correspondent and reader, I gather, who had had similar experiences to ours only more extreme and drastic. It contained sweeties and nut cake and a toy for Elfie, and a little bundle of pretty blue fabrics, including a miniature blue-toned version of William Morris's 'Strawberry Thief', which I've always loved.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Bonfire of the vanities, the blog roll - and some have detachment thrust upon them.

It would appear the cosmos is seeking to teach me yet more lessons in detachment. I logged on this morning to find that my sidebar blog list feed thingy, which had served me well in keeping up with almost all of my blogging friends and acquaintances for many a long year, had completely disappeared. I was thrown into a flat spin, quite discombobulated - or should that be discomblogulated?

An odd thing about this was that just yesterday I was indulging in a characteristically whimsical exchange in a comment thread with Robbie (Roderick Robinson) about visiting defunct blogs, of friends and contacts who have disappeared either from actual life or from the blogosphere, and how poignant it was scanning the list to the bottom - I had it set to display the most recent twenty-five blogs to post, but the 'view all' function showed over sixty, many of which had not been updated for several years. I said:

And that's only a sample of all the 'trépassés' whose blogs languish there. At one time I might have cleared them out as link-rot but now I can't quite bring myself to, it feels like a kind of betrayal. There are also many who update quite regularly but I seldom visit them any more, again, it would seem disloyal to delete, and I like to know they're still there. 

Despite the fact I should really be concentrating on getting on with our final move back into our own house which we are just now undertaking and other things, I could not rest until I had  gone onto Blogger help, where I received the very inexpert 'expert reply', did I mean the blog archive? And that I could always add it again. Of course I could, but the information, the URLs of all the blogs on the list, was lost, and just relying on my 'meat' memory to recall what was on it would not really be adequate. Oh, and they told me to back up from time to time, horses and stable doors and all that.

After a bit, however, a more helpful non-expert (this has happened to a number of people and seems to be something to do with an 'it-ain't-broke-but-we'll-bugger-about-pretending-to-fix-it-anyway' change to the search box widget which has spilled over into the links list) suggested searching out a cached copy of the blog and getting the html from there. I had no idea how to do this but found out about the first bit and quickly copied all the URLs into a notepad thingy, so I've saved the data if Blogger can't fix it.

But this would leave me with the question, what do I keep on the roll and what do I let go? While the redundant links were just sitting there, I could just leave them and not make any decision. If it came to putting them all back, do I just shunt them over, or should I have a cull and a clean out? In digital microcosm, it's the same as the stuff in the house really. How much should sentiment stop you from getting rid of the unnecessary?


As I say (do I use that collocation too much?), it's not as though I don't have other things to be doing. We are officially out of here - the gite - tomorrow. The electrician took it to the wire (!) and finished the wiring and putting all the stuff he'd bashed up back together this afternoon, I had thought we might sleep there tonight but I've bottled out, though I have made the bed up. Tom's been working flat out to get all sorts of jobs finished there and being upbeat and brave and energetic and I know I'm in danger of giving into being fearful and difficult and tedious. Getting back and getting on with it has simply got to be done and at least there's plenty of clear and present work to be busy with; it won't be so bad once we've been there a day or two, the gite has been getting a bit cramped and boring really, though we've appreciate much about being here, and in Hénon. And the house really is beginning to look very fine, especially the new light oak staircase, the beauty of which we can just stand and gaze at. Even the new fuse box is rather lovely in its well-labelled order, and the rest of the repairs and re-painting should be done in the next month or so, ready for it to be put on the market and for us to leave it for good, as is the plan.

Then Tom yesterday started getting weird black floaters and the odd flash in his eyes, which have been giving him some trouble with blurring and tiredness all summer, so that was my cue finally to get on to the clinic where he had his cataract ops done pronto; the ophthalmologist there had a look and said he was not in fact suffering a detached retina (more detachment!) but would need some minor corrective laser surgery next week. 

(Turns out he's just posted about this, he wasn't just doing on-line sudoku after all,  and we've both employed the same lame pun. Not altogether surprising).

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Bonfire of the Vanities - books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 12, 2016

Hénon reprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We saw the Bogard balloons a number of times.

And some sheep safely grazing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

I googled macrame...

... and found this

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

Also these

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

Internet mon amour, how I have missed you.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Easing back in.

Look, no lead.

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


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

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

Interesting times. Bye for now.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Aftermath moments

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 04, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not without the dog. Point.

We do not transport dogs to the hospital...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 24, 2016

24 June 2016

Oh shit.

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

That's all.