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Monday 30 June 2014

Conspicuous consumption?

Fish again, this time in Hereford not in Bouzigues.

On Monday we went downtown and, oh, the irony: that snappy foreign word "downtown" applied to hopelessly out-of-date, inefficient, broken-down Hereford - unknown to the rest of the UK, confused anyway with more fashionable Hertfordshire which is, of course, much closer to London.

We bought a salmon trout which weighed over a kilo. It cost £26. Does that sound a lot? In real money that's $42.57; would Americans (US or Canada) regard that as expensive? We did.

VR said it would do two meals for each of us, and it did. Salmon trout is rare. It's a sea-water fish and is greatly superior to both salmon and river trout. I'll brook no argument on this. Young people should regard the salmon trout as an aspirational dish (ie, to be eaten in their old age).

VR served it with asparagus and Jersey Royal new potatoes. She added chives to the mayonnaise. Look, we're old! We've arrived in the land of Aspiration. When in Rome...

Am I allowed to cheat? To pick poems (From The Poet's Tongue) when I recognise their source? Only if there's a special point to be made.

Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

Reasons why. Blasphemy would be to ask what these symbolic phrases mean. If you know, fine. But pursuing them misses the point. The first sentence is one whole cadence, dwell on that. Dwell on this “family” of nouns. Dwell on the artful repetition. Textbook poetry.


Friday 27 June 2014

To be or, definitely, not to be

Missie, OS's 12-year-old Cairn, is staying with us while her mistress frolics in Glastonbury mud. Missie lacks aspiration.

Food is her only real impulse; as I prepare my brunch each step I take (there are many) is duplicated by Missie. Quickly followed by a step backwards when I change direction. Dance patterns are repeated across the kitchen floor, each terminated by a beseeching stare (see pic). Occasionally my foot accidentally gongs her head.

If the kitchen/hall door is open she sidles upstairs and audibly jumps on our bed. A short call retrieves her. If another dog passes the front door, she barks. And that's it.

She no longer begs to be taken for a walk. When we read or watch telly, she sleeps. When we sleep she sleeps. For long periods she is utterly forgotten. She's not much trouble but I worry about the meaning of her life and her lack of impingement. Also Missie is not even pretty.

Drawing a bow at venture:

Oh! if to dance all night, and dress all day,
Charm'd the small-pox, or chas'd old age away;
Who would not scorn what housewife's cares produce,
Or who would learn one earthly thing of use.

That third line suggests the poet is male, except few males "dress all day". The quatrain is epigrammatic and not all epigrams are poetry, but "charm'd the small-pox" is poetry. We're expected to take a broader view than that defined by these two benefits - to sign up for wasting time, a non-activity beloved by those who write. Plumbers may not agree. The cry is by no means universal, in fact it's special pleading. But never mind, do you agree?

Alexander Pope (1688 - 1744)

Thursday 26 June 2014

End of food; end of hol

Grandad doing his duty by Zach: Translating interminable soccer articles (about which he knows nothing) from L'Equipe colour mag.
Bella: Dressed to kill, obviously
At the end of the holiday the exotic food we acquired impulsively is eaten up. But the impulsive act cannot be entirely suppressed, A van equipped with a weedy loudspeaker tours the village and announces something which I do not catch. OS says to me, “Bella (her daughter) may not know French but she recognised the word for mussels.” And we're off on foot in the scorching heat.

The mussels will be stuffed (farcies). I look at the van's vast mussel container and try to guess how many I'll need for six people. Foolish speculation, simply ask the guy who's selling. “Two and a half  kilos,” he says. We lack parsley as does the village's tiny green-grocery. But you can't have everything. The mussels are being prepared as I write, garlic blowing its own trumpet.

SEASONAL Hot weather can cut the need for bulky food, bolognese sauce (qv) excepted. Soup fills the lunchtime bill – mainly vegetable, sold in waxed cartoons. But I made a mistake a couple of days ago. Savoyard soup, from the mountains, sounded OK but turns out to be invalid pap. Main constituents: potatoes and an unnamed cheese, the former dominating the latter. What remains will probably thicken something liquid. Or be chucked out.

BOUZIGUES A small port near Sète specialising in fish restaurants. Last year I had daurade (sea bream) and saw no reason to change my order. VR went for the menacingly named loup de mer (sea bass rather than sea wolf) and OS for lotte (monkfish). An odd phenomenon with fish; the portions may be small – certainly when compared with meat – but they are remarkably filling. Oysters to start with, of course; anything else wouldn't be cricket.
Darren: uncharacteristically grim. A rock of reliability: knows the garbage collection times, hands me a cool Leffi when I most need it.

Monday 23 June 2014

A day at the races

Granddad, Dad (Darren) and future Seb Vettel
I'm bad at organising holidays. I tend to wander thoughtlessly, expecting holidayish things to happen. Mostly they don't.

An inadequate education left me lacking cultural depth. By happenstance, a word I first encountered in a James Bond novel, my luck changed on Wednesday. I was  wondering idly whence the k came in karting (Don't tell me; the desire died long ago.), we had a short chat and our whole group drove over to the immaculately maintained Circuit de Caussiniojouls. Five of  us willing to give karting a shot.

Not me, of course. Once I was forced into a ski-slalom and was appalled by the number of skiers who crashed out. I made finishing my priority and did finish – but last. As compensation the non-ski-ing Oz manager of the event gave me a mint humbug. Horrible humiliation.

At Caussiniojouls 1 m 25 cm grandson Zach was reckoned too small to race communally and drove his laps alone, under the stigma of a flapping flag. First he trundled, then speeded up. Entering the pits after his first stint he over-shot (“didn't brake hard enough”) and used the fence as a catch-all.

Daughter Occasional Speeder regularly drives me in my Skoda, does so with panache, but wasn't comfortable with the hairline sensitivity of the kart's steering. Granddaughter Bella, constantly exploring the rumble-strips, got progressively smoother and faster. But the two lads, OS's hubbie Darren and Bella's partner Daniel, became faster and more daring, overtaking and making a real race of it.

Coward Me and VR watched and were thrilled. Afterwards, as the heroes shouted out their excitement, the sense of adrenalin was palpable. Faces shone. Not exactly a cultural experience. Closer to  bonding, a word which I fear has always sickened me.

VR and Occasional Speeder happy as Larry

Dad as Pooh Bear according to OS

The missing link

 Very frustrating down in the Languedoc. The wi-fi link was lost and it wasn't just the Brigade of Animated Thumbs that ended up drinking gallons of rosé in compensation. I accumulated unsendable blogposts and unarticulated comments. Now I'm back I await photos that the smart-phone users took and I failed to.

At least I may write about something that cannot be photographed. As the weather grew hotter the Tramontana blew harder - a strong, dry cold wind from the northwest in lower Languedoc. It slams doors, roars and twangs, and once - oh, the shame - it blew a long-stemmed wine glass off the table. The Tramontana disturbs the psyche. A Victor Hugo character says Le vent qui vient à travers la montagne me rendra fou. (The wind coming over the mountain will drive me mad.)

But nothing deflected the soccer-mad members of our party from TV coverage of The World Cup. England arrived in Brazil full of justified pessimism. Played two, lost two; they're out of the competition which has weeks to go. I sat on the balcony in the dark with VR and OS (normally a fan but discontented for some reason) to be joined after twenty minutes by soccer maniac Zach. "Uruguay are just too good," he said. I'd have offered him rosé but he's only eight and had to make do with limonade avec un peu de grenadine.

It's all nonsense about subsisting on salads when it's hot. OS made a massive, elaborate bolognese sauce (to go with macaroni) and it was hugely appreciated. Cleaning the Le Creuset afterwards might have taken a lifetime if VR hadn’t discovered the miracle pot cleaner, Astonish. A truly well-equipped villa.

Monday 16 June 2014

Tooth talk

"Does the dentist speak English well?" I asked of a man as hairless as Patrick Stewart of Star Wars. Looked like him too.

"Not at all," said Pierre Blanchard, gripping my hand like a lumberjack. Thus I started work as observer/translator to the dental travails of OS, my younger daughter

I decided to get on Blanchard's better side. I complimented his baroque background music even though it might have issued from a tape loop. "It's necessary to calm the teeth," he said and we both laughed at that. OS, a rock/pop fan now prone on the table of pain, wagged a sandal in disagreement.

Blanchard poked around and concluded it was the last tooth on the left-hand end of the maxillar. That I could translate. Then came something more difficult: did it make a noise when OS chewed with it? This was so alarming (What kind of noise? A squeak? A bellow?) I had difficulty conveying it to OS. Who was in any case unhelpful since the pain discouraged her from using it to chew.

The tooth was further interrogated with several power tools, one of which emitted a brilliant white light which would, I felt sure, have illuminated OS's socks - from the inside! During this session Blanchard summarised his discoveries: (a) a problem with the tooth (Bien entendu!), (b) a more general problem. I didn't fully translate the latter since it contained the word purulence - never one of my favourites.

More dentistry would be needed on OS's return to the UK, complicated by the fact that she is due at Glastonbury within forty-eight hours.

I complimented Blanchard on the well-chosen logistics of his one-man cabinet (everything neatly to hand without rising from his stool) and received his hand more cautiously. The fish tank I ignored.

Sunday 15 June 2014

Answer me this

What exactly is a holiday? Sleeping away from home - you can do that in jail, on military service or purely by accident. Talking foreign talk (as in Birmingham?) Drinking to excess and not caring. I could go on.

The old bromide says you relax on holiday. But suppose you relax anyway, off-holiday. How much relaxation can a man stand? VR reads off-holiday and on-holiday and that's OK. I write off-holiday and am inclined to write on-holiday and that's not OK. It looks like work. Holiday as an act of denial, doesn't sound right. If a holiday's Lent whence comes Easter?

We do other things. Occasional Speeder and Darren took us to a lovely restaurant - haute cuisine but with utterly humane service. Witty even. The waiter asked what I disliked and I answered fervently cucumber and courgettes. Later I was presented with The Club Sandwich Revisited decorated with, inter alia, borage flowers, pansies and marigolds. Courgettes had also featured but had been removed - "No loss, they were just there for show."

OS developed tooth ache during the week-end. A visit to the Maison Medicale de Garde in Béziers saw us in and out within twenty minutes, carrying prescriptions for an analgesic, mouth-wash and an antibiotic. Promising to see a dentist on Monday. What the Republicans call socialistic medicine.

Touring the Béziers flower market we found ourselves monitored by police on Segway scooterish things (two wheels side by side) looking essentially foolish.  Adding to their foolishness they labelled themselves Securité en Proximité or some such.

Globe artichokes have an an ornamental as well as a culinary function it seems. Below: there's only one reason you'd find me in Galleries Lafayette - air conditioning!

Friday 13 June 2014

Cultural stuff

Satnav got five members of our group from Hereford to Autignac and is presently guiding us round  the Languedoc. But the relationship is much more adult these days and it is the front passenger's job to force satnav to do what it doesn't care to do.

Roadworks to the south of the nearest big town, Beziers, had already proved a pain yet they lay en route to the airport where we picked up the remaining duo of our party. Satnav had to be fooled into  creating a non-intuitive detour and I can't pretend this was achieved faultlessly.

One problem with such techno-domination is that we can end up on very small roads - notably those whose only function is to provide access to vineyards. These can be very rough, a penance in our Skoda with its tyres inflated 15% more than normal to compensate for the heavy loads often carried.

One hideously deep pothole jarred the whole car and caused the running light (the lower of the two in the pic) to detach itself partially from the the front-end bodywork. Hence a visit to the Skoda dealer.

Although resident in the Czech Republic Skoda is owned by Volkswagen and has long since lost its unreliable image. For twenty minutes or so I was able to glance around the large showroom and note how German style (especially typography) mated uneasily with the French way of doing things. How French marketing phrases like A saisir! (ie, Grab it!) looked out of place in this cathedral of seriousness. Like wearing flip-flops to a funeral.

Not that I'm complaining. Long before I'd completed my sociological research the job was done and at no charge. And I had a headlock on satnav all the way home.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Step-up or stigma?

A check-out at the Intermarché gives priority for the disabled. At first sight a good idea. Granddaughter Bella saw an elderly woman, wracked with Parkinson's, hand over her purse to the till-girl.

But an old man joined the queue behind us, moving slowly, needing his walking stick. Did he qualify as disabled? How does one verify?

The situation solved itself. A younger, more vociferous chap tagged on and with him I established the French for disabled. Handicappé, of course. Then the younger man opened his wallet and pointed to a certificate stamped with the unrelated letter R. Some kind of anti-foreigner scam? What the hell? I waved them both through.

In future I'll avoid the Caisse Prioritaire check-out. Or possibly apply for an R stamp myself.

LOST TIME I used to crawl-swim a mile twice a week, posting about this to excess and boring many commenters. For several complex reasons I had to give up swimming.

It's hot here in Autignac. Yesterday I donned my cozzie and my sun-proof tee-shirt and stood timidly. I used to jump in but I'm older and fear a heart attack. Like a wimp I use the ladder – but without a trace of oooh-ooher-oohoohooh! Not surprising, the pool thermometer registers 28.7 deg C. Did three ten-length swims and will jump in today.

LIVING ON Clive James has leukemia and emphysema and may die any moment. His collected TV criticism should be ephemeral but isn't. "Joan Lestor was a splendid chairperson (at the Labour Party Conference): When a speaker's time was up, she slung him off the platform. 'Thanks comrade.Lovely speech. Don't spoil it.' And back the poor sod went to another year of anonymous toil."

Monday 9 June 2014

Verlaine never had these problems

Not all verse gets written

The images were there. On the two-day stretch from Hereford almost to the Mediterranean I had time to reflect since Occasional Speeder now does most of the driving. Prefers it that way.

Time and the necessary state of mind. OS had linked her smart phone to the car radio and we listened to a collection demonstrating how the Beatles' music-making evolved from artlessness to something more adult. Then how Paul Simon became better than adult.

So we weren't just grinding out the kilometres and I was able to to take in the speeding views. One image recurred over the flatlands - a cluster of grain silos. An image that metamorphosed into an idea - of a Praetorian Guard, observing and protecting our progress. A benign presence.

Plus something more inexplicable. During our overnight at Chevilly, near Orléans, a Dutch family, dining at the next table took turns to cosset a slightly fractious baby. As we left for bed they bid us a friendly goodnight and VR, uncharacteristically, said "Lovely baby." That pleased them.

Even more uncharacteristically I added, without thought, "And the way you passed the baby between you - like a gift."

Unforeseen, arriving out of nowhere, but versifiers never look gift-horses in the mouth. Especially after a virgin birth like this. There had to be something that would succumb to meter and rhyme.

But if there is it's proving hellishly hard to dislodge. Too early, perhaps? Or perhaps there isn't anything and I'm deluded.

In the meantime this post acts as an aide memoire. Plus more experimentation with rosé – especially the syrah-based sort, a new discovery.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

To the land of make-belive

What will Father Christmas bring? A drive in the car, only to Dad's office but hey, it's a drive in the car. Oooh! - a bag of sherbet lemons. Yikes - a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Aunty's coming; she should be good for a florin.

Slowly the world of childish anticipation contracts behind us, giving way to more lasting pleasures:

They say that Ingmar Bergman's one of his best.

I say, darling, how about...? No? I quite understand.

Jack's brother's an accountant; he's agreed to do the tax return.

Enthusiasm disappears. Recently VR lifted the cushion of the easy chair and found something brown underneath. A grape that had tumbled there weeks ago and had turned into a sultana. That's enthusiasm.

But this year is different. We booked this year's French villa within a month of returning home from last year's. The anticipative madness has described an eleven-month-long crescendo initiated as usual by Occasional Speeder. Through dark winter afternoons we were bombarded by emails describing restaurants on an increasing radius from the nearby village. We have argued about different techniques for getting up early enough to lunch in Carcassonne. Strategies for bypassing Rouen (and its damaged bridge) on the southward journey have been analysed and discarded. OS has produced a schedule covering the whole holiday fortnight: Friday June 13, afternoon: Chill; Thursday June 12, if it's wet: Narbonne cathedral.

VR and I, veterans of a thousand French holidays, have stuffed our Kindles with indulgence. We have bought jars of Hollandaise sauce (for the asparagus) because France doesn't do made-up Hollandaise.

I'm even looking forward to the drive (shared these days with OS). I know it'll quickly become a drag but that doesn't matter. For the moment my enthusiasm is virginal, something to be cossetted.

Monday 2 June 2014

Time travel by fire engine

The smallest unit in British local government is the parish council (nothing to do with churches). Once VR was the autocratic chairman of Belmont Rural PC, cutting bucolic blether down to ten seconds at most. I edited the PC's quarterly Belmont Voice.

Neither of us wishes to resurrect those bureaucratic futilities but odd memories float back.

At a PC Fun Day we had a bouncy castle, a soccer shoot-out and a local fire engine. That latter item sticks.

Half an hour before the opening, a five-year-old lad asked when the fire engine would arrive. I told him. Thirty minutes later - to the second - he noted the fire engine's continued  absence. Using adultspeak I held him off for ten minutes. Time slipped by, the lad asked again. And again. My excuses got longer ("Perhaps a house is burning down."). Eventually the vehicle arrived and a queue of five-year-olds formed.

Fire engines hypnotise young boys. A lesson too late for me interviewing graduates for journalistic jobs: "Have you got the persistence?" I might have asked, magically pre-imagining the above. The 2:2 sociology applicant would have looked blank - a characteristic of sociological study. OK, send in medieval history.

Don’t know for sure but…

Leaves, summer’s coinage spent, golden are all together whirled,
sent spinning, dipping, skipping, shuffled by heavy-handed wind,
shifted sideways, sifted, lifted, and in swarms made to fly
spent sun-flies, gorgeous tatters, airdrift, pinions of trees.

Reasons why. Words carry meanings (ie, codes). But words are also sounds, independent of meaning; bring several word-sounds together (“spinning, dipping, slipping”) to create a new sound and – if you’re lucky – a new meaning. This poet understands: “spent sun-flies, gorgeous tatters”.

Possibly Manley Hopkins, but too modern. Actually R. E. Warner, b. 1905