Saturday, 21 November 2020

Tricking the mind

After being in our new house for a few months we have experienced a few cold days and can imagine what it might be like on a dank february day so for that reason recently went to a wood-burner shop in the local town and sort of fell in love with a small, cute red Canadian stove that was EEK expensive. On returning to the house and the room it would be situated in we justified the expense and went ahead to ask the shop owner to pay us a visit, survey the chimney situation and give us a quote. He did and the quote arrived a few days later - the sort of quote that requires the opening of a bottle and sitting down for some time in disbelief. Admittedly, the chimney is quite tall, and the tubage required no doubt very expensive as it was red to go with the stove, even though I'd said bog standard black would be fine...

We tried the wheely oil radiator for a few evenings but it's a big room and it barely made much impression so I looked at cheaper stoves and then somehow - as you do on the Net - ended up peering at electric 'wood' stoves. No lugging wood upstairs; click of a switch and heat would appear . . . attractive as we already have a big stove downstairs. Ideas change when one inhabits a new house for a while; things you had assumed about room usage don't necessarily stick. Case in point for this oversized bedroom. We had assumed it might become a species of second sitting room but all life revolves in and around the kitchen with afore-mentioned large stove. So, apart from sleeping and stuff and watching TV with hot water bottles (heaven) was it really necessary to invest a large amount of our savings on the real thing?

After looking at the electric stoves with a wry smile and raised eyebrow Mark agreed it might be the best option. I ordered it and the van magically appeared two days later. 'Will we be able to get it up the stairs' he had said as we went to sign for the box. I reminded him it had cost around 100 euro so was unlikely to be made of cast iron. The box was very much smaller than we had imagined. The 'stove' too - about the size of an average hotel mini bar. And it was made of plastic. Plastic! I'm sure the ad said métal noir - black metal. I just checked. It does . . . not sure how they got around that one. After laughing a lot and agreeing it was the naff-est thing we had ever bought we took it upstairs, screwed the legs on it and plugged it in. 

The fire has a heat and flame option or a just flame option. The heat setting is actually pretty efficient and quickly 'takes the edge off' the glacial air temperature compared to the oil heater which sits greyly emitting a slight warmth after about half an hour. But the weird thing is how comforting the just flame option is. The mind, (or at least mine) appears to be taken in by this little flickering pretend grate of 'logs'. Even though I know our purchase is future landfill (and I am ashamed to have added to this nightmare - it almost never happens!) I'm happy to have bought it, happy to have saved an enormous amount of money, and even feel quite fond of it and its little whirring sounds.



   


Saturday, 14 November 2020

Making do, exchanging, and farming methods.

A couple of weeks after we arrived in our new locality I tracked down all local suppliers of organic fruit and veg. Jean-Paul's place is a short bike ride away from us and his veg is simply incredible. He, his brother and mum have been honing their craft for the last 40 years here, sadly increasingly surrounded by monoculture as local farmers let out their fields to the big factory farm corporations. Their work is hard, and I know - or know fractionally - as we have been helping out a bit, but the satisfaction at the end of a day must be better than what the average factory farmer experiences. 

Our farmer neighbour has decided to let all his fields to a massive supermarket-supplying company based miles away from here, so vast machinery is brought, the fields flattened into sterile lines, mountains of sand and fertiliser imported and eventually crops such as mâche (weird, small salad thing) are sowed by special tractors after which another wheeled machine puts in metal bowed struts, after which plastic is stretched over, (by machine) after which another machine punctures the plastic to inject a dose of insecticide/herbicide... and so on. It seems an awful lot of effort/waste/environmental damage so that people can eat tasteless small bunches of leaves (which most French leave on the side of their plate anyway).

Up the road, Jean-Pauls place is a seemingly chaotic jumble of fruit crates, old poly-tunnels, tools, chickens, antique tractor parts, horses, germinating seeds in trays and his patchwork of small fields striped with carefully tended crops - currently, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, various types of cabbage, lettuce, the end of the tomato crop, coriander, parsley, beetroot, leeks, a few late strawberries, fennel, celery... all of it non-treated and mulched with leaves, mowings and horse dung.


                             Not J-P, or his crops as it was raining when I went to take a picture

Recently, when buying veg, we mentioned we'd like to once again have chickens, after leaving 'the Gladys' at our old house (with the new buyers caring for them). Jean-Paul said there were four sister chickens available and so we prepared the hen area: a fenced pen and part of an outbuilding with an old sideboard re-purposed as egg-laying place with straw-filled fruit crates. Mark made a ladder out of found wood from the out-building's window down to their pen. The making do element was further extended to repairing the glassless window with one of those see-through plastic 'lampshade' dog collar attachments to prevent hound-extremity scratching. I was slightly peeved as I'd already re-purposed it as a leaf collecting device. A minor detail.

We went round to the farm at dusk when the chickens would be sleepy and he bagged the four up, literally into a large heavy duty potato bag and invited us in for an apero. We sat in their kitchen and drank herby spirit of some sort and discussed chicken behaviour, making ponds and the inevitable end of our particular civilisation. When retrieving the bag, Mark asked whether he would like cash or an exchange by way of work time. He opted for the latter and two days later we were pulling carrots in the sandy loam that makes up J-P's fields.

Carrot pulling is very satisfying; a gentle rocking and twisting motion but not too hard or the carrot will snap; then a determined grip on the top and out it slides sandily from the carrot shaped hole. Or not. These are highly organic legumes and a few develop into whole carrot citadels which take a little more work to extract. We filled wooden crates for two hours. Mark pushed them back to the farm headquarters discovering new muscles, after which I learned the art of broccoli cutting with a scarily sharp knife.

We left at lunchtime feeling happily tired with a bag of misshaped carrots, broccoli, and herbs for drying above the fire. That was just a few hours but added to the large amount of gardening later . . . well, we slept very heavily. I now regard carrots, broccoli and radishes (from a previous morning's work) with a different eye in supermarkets, thinking of the physical work involved, or in the case of the plastic bags of salad, the amount of machinery involved.

The chickens, being wilder than our previous flock, have ignored our re-purposed sideboard, outbuilding and window and have taken to roosting in one of the nut trees, as they did back at Jean-Paul's farm. And that's fine, although we may have to hunt the eggs as he does - alerted by the chicken's egg-laying song as he put it. Rather poetic. 


Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Celebration

A minuscule one of importance only to me, but a celebration none the less. Having just reached 90,000 words in my latest novel, the ending is in sight - which then just means an astronomical amount of re-writing as the plot is so convoluted that I am lost in my own literary maze, without Google maps, or even a small mangled paper version. 

It seems to be the way I work though and I know there are great authors out there who experience the same 'method'; Steven King for one, of whom I recall saying his characters just develop without his control, and Will Self who plows through draft one without stopping and then starts on the grand re-write. Writing for me is like my own experience of playing chess; I can't think more than a move ahead as my mind starts wandering about - considering lunch ideas or wondering how we could improve the chicken enclosure/our income (ha) etc.

Below, an extract. Marion (main character who is currently in Pendingville after her demise while trapped the back end of a panto-horse) is on a Heaven taster-trip with acquaintance, Quentin Faraday, an ex- very successful and egocentric - conductor. Their normal conversational exchanges seem to be alarmingly altered.

“Good morning, dearest friends, oh, and you have brought new acquaintances with you. How simply delightful.” 

The receptionist's voice was pure Merchant Ivory film. Or perhaps she really was from a 1870 English country mansion. Marion imagined her dressed in silks and brocades rather than the neat white uniform.    

“Sorry to be inquisitive but can I ask what year you came from before Heaven?” 

 “Not inquisitive in the slightest . . . 1856.”

 “And you chose Heaven after Pendingville?”

    

“Indeed. I was, what my guidance officer referred to as, fast-tracked to Heaven as my life had been deemed to be one of unerring faith and charity.” The woman paused to refasten an escaped curl of red hair that had become dislodged from its neat bun. The small act completed she smiled at them all in turn. “If you would care to follow our friends they will introduce you to the celestial cleansing boudoirs.”


Marion was led by to a cubical lit by electric candles and decorated with garlands, buddahs, holy Marys, Shivas and a host of other effigies. Incense drifted. A soundtrack of tranquil streams, four chord piano and bird song played. Slight panic enveloped Marion, a feeling that she could easily forget to return to the meeting point if she became sufficiently immersed in this unfamiliar territory. However the massage table did look inviting. 

At the woman’s invitation, Marion stripped off her garments, took a shower in the en-suite room and returned to lie down and be subjected to oils, flowers, gentle pummelling, recitations, badly sung Gregorian chants, sips of honey water and confirmations that Heaven was the place to be, eternally. Her internal response was to scream, peel herself from the table and run away as fast as possible but she found herself uttering niceties, singing along and agreeing that this was, certainly, was the place to be.

    Some hours later Marion left the building oiled, limp and with holy chanting alive in her ears. Quentin was sitting on a rock looking out over the ocean. She wandered over to him hoping they could join in some healthy sarcasm but it seemed not. He glanced up at her and patted the rock, his words hesitant, brow momentarily furrowed.

    “. . . Christ, urg, ahh . . .” His brow softened as if an internal mechanism was forcing the action . “I mean, well, what an experience. Did you try the honey water?”


Marion’s words emerged somewhat differently to what she was thinking. “. . . Yes. Sublime, wasn’t it, and you must have loved that beautiful music, the string section, panpipes, stream, waterfall, choir,  rainstick, birdsong . . .”


He spat his response after a pregnant delay. “. . . Yes! Divine! And the chanting . . . so relaxing.” His eyes appeared strained, hands jerkily conducting an imaginary orchestra with a twig. “Do you recall where and when we came in – not that I’m looking forward to leaving, oh no, quite to the contrary!”


“Yes – over . . .” The gates seemed to have disappeared, or they had perhaps been escorted further than Marion had recalled, “there, somewhere. But as you quite rightly say, not really important. Did your assistant tell you about the concert later?”


Quentin’s eyes bulged a little. “YES, he didFour harps, child choir, bagpipes and guesting, Klaus Wunderlich and . . . Liberace!”


“Really? The Liberace.”


“And, the Klaus Wunderlich.” Quentin sobbed momentarily, “sorry, I’m just a little emotional. It’s going to be so . . . wonderful. And then there’s the macramé exhibition to go to and the cupcake icing contest.”


Marion nodded, the action automatic. “Yes, wonderful. I’ve always wanted to learn macramé and cupcake icing will be a very valuable skill to acquire . . . by the way, have you seen the others since you left the cleansing?”


“Only one. That guy called Nigel – VAT inspector. He was dressed in orange robes and chanting like those people in Oxford Street . . .”


“Hare Krishna.”


“Them, yes.”


“Was he happy?”


“He appeared to be, yes, wildly.”


“How wonderful. I expect we’ll see them at the concert.”


Quentin dropped the twig and bunched his hands into fists, his voice squeaky as if trying to force words to emerge. “Marion?”


“Yes, Quentin?”


His hands relaxed and hung limp over his knees. “. . . Nothing. Hungry?”


“Not really. I had a low fat cream cheese and fresh herbs rice-cake sandwich after the massage. It was really lovely.”




Sunday, 8 November 2020

Why isn't this a film...?

People keep asking me this... especially after watching a rather excellent interview with me by Adrian Matthews on the subject of Londonia. (Magira online magazine). I don't know, well, I have a fairly clear idea, not a great time to produce a book as an unknown author and expect to be grabbed by a film company to be sure, however prescient the novel is; and no doubt 40,000 (or so) other film pitches are being made every day to all companies, plus the uncertainty of our current pandemic-gripped situation/ impending end-of-world scenarios.

Anyway, if anyone who happens to see this IS a film producer or knows anyone who is, perhaps watch and/or share this interview. Sadly, I can't seem to post it directly from youtube but here's a link until I figure it out, or not... 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92_MjRtw3mE


Londonia is published by Tartarus Press. Link to the right for info.


Sunday, 1 November 2020

Feeding one's soul

by feeding the birds. A tiny act of something positive in a troubled world. 

After reading that garden birds' legs and feet can become entangled in the 'fat ball' nets that we have bought in the past I recalled my mother making fat and seed feeders from butcher's suet and seeds - melted fat, in a small pudding bowl add the seeds, a length of twine to suspend it and let it cool. Of course back then no one sold fat balls in nets or otherwise that I can recall; it was probably something she remembered  her mother doing with leftover fat from the Sunday roast.


                                                              Mark's lard and seed bird cakes

When we bought our rather posh bird table from a lovely little bird-obsessed outfit on the outskirts of Angers the guy told me also to be wary of the nets as the common 'green ones' contain virtually nothing of any nourishment, the yellow ones, slightly more and the orange variety, better. And you if you buy them in bulk then there's a massive plastic pot to add to landfill (plastic recycling . . .) Better to go for the home made version. Coconut shells can also be used to 'house' the mixture, and vegetable oil can be used if wishing to avoid animal fats.

More home made items today in the form of Sumac 'lemonade' and Sumac spice. The former worked well and required nowt else other than picking the flower heads, soaking them overnight, draining off the slightly amber/pink water and drinking it - pleasant, slightly citric flavour. The spice failed as I think I made the heads too wet but will try again next year with younger flowers.


Interesting how the 're-confinement' or 2nd lockdown is alerting my foraging and 'make-do' character traits - probably along with many other folk. I noted the abundant nettles, plantain, and dandelions out on our allowed dog walk earlier. Nettle soup tomorrow, found salad leaves, gleaning the local fields for overlooked squashes and beets...