Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Of all the arts, I wouldn't mind being poetic, but fates have seen fit to endow me with a dry, processing, sort of brain. I feel like a country GP but with less medecine. Just imagine if your GP wrote prescriptions in verse. It just wouldn't do.

But I am not a GP. I am not anything. I can barely write any more, either physically or figuratively.

My garden is my canvas, but I am defeated by thistles and chard.

Passing wobbly. It has been, for the last year.

I think it's England. If I were going to lie back and think of England, which I don't, I certainly wouldn't think of England. Apart from the green, which is won at a price. It would have to somewhere with a little more than a Toc-H lamp for sole lighting.

I know that artists move to sunnier climes or Newlyn for the light, but surely they need to be able to see things to paint? Does one need to see clearly in order to hew out a few hundred words of prose every day?

And yet, and yet... It all seemed so much easier, before.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

A schoolfriend of Sim, Hen and Dill is staying here, with his mother, as they are between houses. My children are exploiting the loopholes as the two households collide and seek a modus vivendi for these few weeks. Transgressions occur. Naughty temptations are ceded to.

I am cross, and wrathful on occasions. Today, my ire has been quiet and purposeful. They know I really mean it. I have not raised my voice, but they know.

Yesterday I had occasion for a long chat with Sim and Dill, on Friday with Hen, and today with Dill again.

And so the gifts start coming, like offerings to a vengeful god who must be placated. Precious baubles are handed over by way of 'sorrys'. Once again I am feeling the tremendous weight and responsibilty. I am almost their everything. That is scary at times.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

You're a pretty knowledgeable, well-travelled lot, aren't you?

Knowing what you know, what would you say if you heard that a young family with a 15 month-old (blonde, blue-eyed) daughter, and another baby due in a few months, were thinking of moving to Thailand for good. Let's say the island in question is Koh Samui, and that they're planning on dabbling in property development. What advice would you offer them?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


I've finished the MA. Now what?


List of things to do as long as my arm.

Where to start?

Need for edge of panic to force me to do things that need doing.

I feel not on edge for the first time in a year

Another cup of coffee?

Why not, it's not as though looking after the children requires me to be rested

Oops, I said that out loud

My sister and her situation, rumbling away in the background. Can that be my next project?

No, no, not your life

My life, then.

Need to start building up work base. Want to redecorate several rooms. Hen has been promised a colour scheme other than white for the last two years. My child comes first. These are the things you remember "Remember that time you...?" "Remember when...?"

Need to feel the calmness of brushstrokes, the satisfaction of that small job well done

Worried about mistakes I know I left in the dissertaion, and that keep popping into my head even though I couldn't see them when they were under my nose.

Too much grass to cut. Is this a metaphor? No the damned grass is all too real and all too vigorous. This is Devon after all. Should I thwart my desire for a Mediterranean garden, complete with olives, uber-delicate lemon and apricot tress, and Roman clipped box, on the grounds of insanity?

Lovely middle-aged neighbour, dropping round for coffee. I feel unreasonably middle-aged all of a sudden. Suddenly too settled, not busy enough, too preoccupied by colour schemes and grass and box.

I think I'm beginning some sort of mid life crisis.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Dissertation done, dusted and delivered.
Off to drink myself into a stupour on kirs.

The school here is all right", wrote Irène Némirovsky in 1942 from her exile in Central France, Denise is getting on well, but if it lasts too much longer she'll be good only for keeping cows. Unfortunately I don't own any cows."

All Irène wanted for her daughters was the dazzling childhood she'd had, holidays in the hot spots of Europe, glittering social occasions among the crowned, well-connected and wealthy.

In 1942 she found herself living in a sleepy market town in Burgundy, kept by an invisible demarcation line a few hundred metres away from returning to her chic Paris apartment.

Late in 1941, Denise, baptised catholic and French, was sent with her French governess to Hendaye on the Atlantic coast, where for a few fleeting weeks she had a taste of her mother's early life; sadly, for the last time in her childhood since she spent the rest of the war hiding from the police in cellars and nunneries.

As I looked around Issy l'Evêque last week, it occurred to me that all I ever wanted for my children was this sleepy, grounded, unassuming upbringing; the quiet self-asssurance of my primary school teacher, who can name almost every one of her pupils spanning a forty year career, what has become of them, and still sees many of them from time to time; vegetables straight from the garden, green leaves, and animals; a place where everyone matters, where interdependence is the norm, where bartering and swapping count for more than money.

A place where they can be accepted for what they are and what they can do. I want them to carry these things into their adulthood, so that they may grow up trusting others rather than fearing them.

Irène never really found a place. Perpetual refugee by virtue of being born Jewish in a turbulent century, she fitted with her social circle only thanks to her bank balance. In Issy, I could see how unhappy she must have been, how ill at ease she must have felt in such unfamiliar surroundings, having nothing to give to such a market town. And yet how she craved to be part of it.

Ironically, in her death, the town has accepted her. There is a plaque on her rented house, a new square, "Place Irène Némirovsky", and a new breed of tourist. Acceptance at last?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

I'm kicking the supermarket habit 

Today, stepping into the breach left by Mrs Blue Witch as she suns herself somewhere in Europe, I am going to explain how I cut the housekeeping budget over the summer and saved myself a whole lot of bother.

First of all, there was the food. We were spending at least £100 per week (sometimes up to 120 if there were extra things to buy such as washing powder), just on food, at our local Sainsbury's. Granted, spending this much earned us a 5p a litre cut on our petrol, which for our car and consumption amounted to only £3 saved on every £50 fill, approximately every two weeks. An illusory saving at the best of times.

I traded the weekly food trips to Sainbsury's for fruit and vegetable boxes ordered online from Riverfod Organics. At first glance, the fruit and veg are actually more expensive than in Sainsbury's. However, not going into the supermarket means not bringing back unnecessary items purchased on impulse or because they were on special offer.

Our fruit and veg purchases have now switched from £80 shocks at the checkout to manageable doorstep cheques of £40 a week, including our yoghurt for the week and half the milk (I don't buy more than 3 litres at a time because it would probably go off before the end of the week). More recently still, by rejigging the composition of our order to reduce the amount of veg (we had 6 people in the house throughout most of the summer, now back down to the standard 5), this bill has dropped to £30 a week. Not bad for the bulk of the food for 5 people.

More recently still, Riverford Organics have started up a meat box scheme. The meat comes from farms around Totnes, about forty miles away from here, so there are few food miles attached to it, and it is organic, naturally and slowly reared, and delicious. We've had this delivery twice, and each time it has been a delight to unpack the box.

This costs £58 for a two-week "medium" box with free delivery- you put half of the contents in the fridge, half in the freezer. There is more than enough for the five of us, and our weekly meat bill is now less than £30 instead of nearly £50.

Furthermore, if I wanted anything else such as pasta, lemons, or sauces, I could order it separately from Riverford via their website.

What about the fish? Well, I have not yet found a source of fish that suits, but I go to Sainsbury's in the evening every six weeks or so, and buy the fish they're selling off at £2.50 a kilo. Often it is white fish such as Atlantic pollock, good for chowder, but I've also bought monkfish (mmm, monkfish), skate wings and fresh tuna at this price.

This all goes straight into the freezer, from which it can be taken just before cooking since it's all filleted really thin. Total cost: usually about 6 weeks' worth of fish for under 10 pounds.

What else? Loo paper and detergents. Since we have a septic tank, we use Ecover products and few nasty chemicals anyway. Ecover washing powder costs £4.50 for about 25 washes in the supermarket- enough for about three weeks in our house. Last night, I ordered a 10kg bag (250 washes) for £22.50, along with dishwashing tablets, 36 loo rolls -enough for about three months- and a few other cleaning things.

The total bill, delivered to my house for the inconvenience of a few minutes online: £85, for about three months worth of supplies. This brings my cleaning products bill to something less than £10 a week.

Grand total: 30+30+2+10=£72 per week, for five people. I don't need to drive to the supermarket any more, so my petrol bill has gone down as well. It makes sense to me.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Hen the photographer 

My summer holidays, seen through my daughter's eyes.
The garden

Me in the summer:

I am never, ever going to study again. I have become the back of my own head, glanced through a blurry window.

Are they the lost generation? 

In the week that my poor sister's life has gone from appalling to utterly fucking abysmal (can't even blog about it yet), my dear mother and father have shown their true colours this week.

What it is about today's sixty-somethings? They just can't stop themselves alternately trying to force themselves into their grown childrens' lives when they're managing just fine, thank you, but as soon as anything goes wrong, and they're seriously needed, you can't see them for dust as they retreat on a Saga grey pound holiday muttering indignantly about "needing a life too".

They then spend their time moaning that they're "not appreciated", "nobody takes them seriously", and they would have listened to their parents when they offered advice, because that was what everyone did in those days.

Never mind if their advice is limited to saying "I told you so" in as many different ways as it possible to say it. Never mind if any concrete help they offer is withdrawn twenty-four hours later on the grounds that one is too old to be doing these things, and "I told her so anyway".

Never mind if the other parent is so away with the fairies that she thinks everything will be just fine (just as long as she doesn't have to actually do anything about it).

Never mind that every single problem we've ever had we've had to sort out either between ourselves or by ourselves since the age of 12, because their interpersonal problems obviously take precedence over any problem their progeny might have.

I would take advice from my 80 year-old grandmother when she was alive, because it was offered in a completely off-hand, non-judgmental way, and came from a settled old lady who'd found her way at last.

Advice about relationships from people who have spectacularly and repeatedly ficked up their own lives, and continue to do so, and who attempt to conceal their fecklessness under a blanket of grey hair, just sticks in my craw. Thanks, but we'll do what we always have. We'll work it out for ourselves, thanks.

I don't think the three parents in our family (my two, The Boff's one) are the only feckless middle-agers on the planet. I think I know enough of them now to know that they are really not the exception. This generation of middle-agers is too healthy to recognise mortality, but not busy enough to stop meddling. They don't feel the need to be polite, or the desire to please.

They've been running their sticks along the railings for ten years, but the grim reaper is still not reaching for them. They just don't know where they fit in.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Why everyone should own a guinea pig at least once in their life 

There are guinea pigs here. Hundreds of them. OK - I lie, but there are 58. I like guinea pigs and no - not on toast. Guinea pigs are good for the following reasons:

They make very silly noises.
They run about in a silly way.
Some of them have silly haircuts.
They play happily in tubes and flowerpots.

The last of the points is the one which takes Mr. KW's fancy the most. We have been moving the guinea pigs every day, apart from one day when we were running late and didn't fancy our chances at "chase the guinea pig across the lawn in the failing light". It also chose to rain that night so in the morning the area that had once been grass had turned to a boggy quagmire. Well, they're pigs right, and pigs like rolling in the mud....?

Anyway, during the move of the guinea pigs one day Mr. KW was suddenly taken by the urge not to just move the couple of octagonal bricky tube things (part of a chimney one suspects) but to collect them all together and put them in the largest pen. Since then Mr. KW has spent much time and effort designing elaborate guinea tube runs to titivate the brains of these tiny creatures and he must say, without wishing to blow his own trumpet, that it has been something of a success. The giant H shape with additional long tube for more direct entry was an unmitigated success, and the guineas ran around it having snout-on collisions and interesting backing-up manoeuvres to their hearts' content. They currently have a kind of exploding star formation with central meeting point, covered of course so they can't escape. Mr. KW particularly likes lifting the lid on this part without warning to provoke frantic scrabbling as they all try to run in the same direction at once to avoid Mr. KW's approaching hand....

A giant tube with only 2 entrances can make for amusing moments. Imagine a head appearing at one end and a bottom at the other: instant 4 foot long guinea pig! But what Mr. KW would really like to do is to invest in more equipment. This would take the form of lengths of plastic rainwater downpipes arranged in a massive 3D maze, complete with guinea treats (dandelion leaves) at strategic points and possibly a death-defying water jump!

Just off to take my tablets now. Does anyone know the collective noun for guinea pigs? Suggestions on a postcard please....

Friday, September 09, 2005

Mr. KW joins the Purple Empire 

Hello. This is Mr. Kitchen Witch.

Having taken possession of e's dog, logs and blog, I now find that the hour is right for me to attempt to dazzle the online world with my witticisms, ramblings and complete inability to use a computer.

Mr. KW, if you have not already bumped into him, hails from the background of a website written by his partner, tormentor and torturer, the lovely Kitchen Witch. Mr. KW once wrote a few entries on the KW's site which were evidently so perceptive, insightful and intelligent that e could simply not resist asking him to work his magic with her own purple empire. So what's with all this purple then? Having read a bit of it it looks quite fun, but not being half as interesting or clever as e, there are bound to be a few changes with Mr. KW at the helm. Bring on the dancing girls! And the purple.... perhaps a subtle shade of green?

For a start, no pictures. None of those linky bits either, methinks, as that is way beyond the capabilities of a pleb like me. The MacApple computer which e types away on is very posh, but a trifle alien: a small white dome sits on the table and on top of it sprouts a bendy pole with a big, funny wide screen on the top. At the base of the small white dome is what looks like a CD drawer, but despite prolonged prodding and poking it will not budge. Mr. KW is sure that it moves but is unable to think of a way to make it do so. Not even "open sesame!" works. Mr. KW likes CD drawers and often uses his one at Hell Inc, his delectable place of work, as a cupholder. Mr. KW is delighted at the prospect of meeting the Firefox, who makes his residence somewhere within the small white dome. Funny things, these MacApples. E apparently poured a beverage over her keyboard a while ago, so I have the privilege of a shiny new one. The KW also poured a beverage over her keyboard not so very long ago (as no doubt you know if you read her site), but as her computer is (was) a laptop the rest of the computer was attached to it and the results were somewhat more dire.

As well as looking after e's blog, Mr. KW is living in her house, eating her food and watching her 350 television channels (correction - watching one of her 350 television channels which is imaginatively called Men and Motors and is full of exactly the sort of quality viewing that Mr. KW finds thrilling and informative. They have monster trucks and motorbikes and racing cars and adverts for "inventors' information packs" and rally driving and people doing stupid things and police chase programs and and and..... All of which the KW sighs in desparation at as she would rather be watching things about American people who are not funny, dire soap operas with predictable plots and costume dramas which make Mr. KW go to sleep).

In return for Men and Motors Mr. KW gets to feed the menagerie. This consists of 3 normal hens, 3 hens with very silly fluffy feet and heads which Mr. KW finds most amusing and laughs at in a sort of Darwin-gone-wrong way (were they designed to be sent to Eskimos and given extra warmth protection in order that they would not freeze?), 1 very lovely dog by the name of Mr. J (not his real name - just protecting his identity), some slightly despondant fish (well, wouldn't you be if you lived in a glass tank and lived on fish flakes? Although that said I hear that one can purchase quite exciting miniature plastic castles these days) and 58 guinea pigs. Or at least there were last time we counted. The guinea pigs are of such interest to Mr. KW that he will post a separate entry about them at a later date.

Mr. KW is off to bed now, and Mr. J departed from the world of awakeness some time ago, so good night for now from both.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Johnny Cloudseed 

It hadn't rained for some weeks by the time we turned up to camp in Issy l'Eveque, home for two wartime years to the author of my dissertation translation. The grass was dry and crispy. Cattle and horses stood glumly in grey fields. The next morning, as we took down our tent, the first drops fell.

It had not rained for five months on the village of Gordes, above Aix-en-Provence, as we booked into the campsite with the unbeatable view. Beautiful it was, but the fire risk was so great that all walks in the tinder dry brush had been banned since early June. As dawn rose, enormous black clouds rolled over the horizon, and we packed our tent wet between the first showers, and fled like poltroons before the storm. Emergency services in that area are now dragging stranded citizens out of three-foot floods.

We tried to camp in Antibes and Cannes, we really did: every time we stopped the car to take stock of the situation, great fat drops flattened themselves against our windscreen.

We rang our friends in Nice, asked to bring our visit forwards by one day, and spent the night trembling under the bedclothes (me, anyway; long story) as the most gigantic storm boomed and crashed overhead.
We start camping again on Friday, making our way back up the country. I can only apologise profusely in advance to the rest of France. I hope you dry out quickly, people. Sorry.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Hehe. I sort of forgot to tell y'all that I was going on holiday. You see, we seasoned travellers think nothing of just going on the spur of the moment, just like that. Although obviously we didn't. Just go, just like that.
We packed and everything. Which means in my case that for an 11am departure, I started throwing some clothes into a bag at 10:57am. and that the day before, telephoned her, to arrange chicken, guinea-pig and dog-sitting. I'm not that irresponsible.
So here we are on the other side of the Channel, and I've no walking boots with me, so we'd better not be climbing up the vertical side of the Puy de Dome again, with or without three toddlers. That was quite mad.
Luckily my dear husband has packed all our camping equipemnt, although he's taking a dim view of cooking at a camp site. He favours eating out all the time, the spendthrift. You can get quite long on those hot roast chickens, baguette and tomatoes. Not to mention apricots, purchased at a sensible price from the market (none of this £4 a pound here, thank you very much).
So here I am, possibly incommunicado for a few days. And I'm rather hoping that Mr KW will deputise for me, given the more than passably good job he did at KW's that time. The passwords are on the computer, Mr KW! Just let inspiration be your guide!
So now he has my dog, my blog, and the logs. Dangerous combination.
I may blog from t'road. I shall see if I can. Tatty bye.

Friday, September 02, 2005

It seems to me that after any disaster, more particularly when dealing with volatile people with little or nothing to lose, the first few hours after the incident are decisive. If plans are in place, people taken care of in a calm and firm manner, they will not feel that they have to look after themselves.

When you are dealing with people used to self-sufficiency in any situation, they will rise, or sink to the prevailing conditions and do what they have to. They will not sit around waiting for help which they cannot trust will come because they know from experience that it may come too late or not at all.

In short, when you have no faith in the institutions supposed to safeguard your interests, you will not wait around for them to help you, particulalry if they show no signs of being in control of the situtation. You will help yourself first.

Seriously, how long can it take to regain control of a situation like this? Decades or centuries, in my opinion. This event, with its singular lack of compassion and help, will be lodged in the collective memory of the impoverished of the US for many generations to come. 'The one time we really needed them, they were not there for us. Be prepared.' And so it goes on.

I can't think of any other situation recently that sounds more like civil war than what's going on in New Orleans at the moment. To think that a first-world city should come to this in less than a week is unbelievable. I don't think such civil unrest was evident even after the Pacific Tsunami in December, and not even in places where there is civil unrest and war. It beggars belief that people should sink so low so quickly.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Another good reason not to use l'Oréal products: The founder, Eugène Shueller, was a violent fascist who assisted in the rounding up of thousands of Jews in France during WWII. Goodness knows I didn't need any more ammunition to eschew cosmetics. Mind you, by that token, I probably shouldn't buy paint, cars or any kind of medecine.

Pigs, flying 

Does anyone know what type of fuel the French army would have used during world war II? No?. Oh dear.


Miss Silkie to the left, Mrs Rhodey the Rhode Island Red to the right.

This page is powered by Blogger. 
Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting by HaloScan.com