Saturday 29 September 2012

What are cats for. Number 3,876

Actually I've probably only asked myself this about two hundred times, but a bit of exaggeration on a wet eve seemed like a good thing.
Here is our cat lying in his favourite spot when it is over about 38 degrees – now a fading memory...
I've just been painting out our sitting room and noticed on every door frame at about a foot, a strange dark grey mark of about six inches. It dawned on me after a while that this was in fact a fine collection of cat grease deposits. UGH.
You know that thing they do, banging their head into your leg, or in this case a doorframe, and then rubbing their head and body repeatedly, tripping you up generally and purring like a small furry traction engine. 'I love you.' No you do not. You like the idea that I am standing in the kitchen wondering what the hell to make for lunch and therefore you have an opportunity to go 'Mioauowwww, and rub your grease all over me and the furniture.
Cats are always there at the most impossibly annoying moment. You have just tipped a mop bucket of rancid water all over the clean tiles, or are trying to stop a kitchen fire from forgotten toast, and a small cat appears and goes: 'Miaow.'
There are good things. Err . . . Oh yes, he does catch baby rabbits, (sad, but actually useful) and rats, and then leaves their entrails for you to step in as you blearily look outside in the morning to see what the weather is doing. Maybe not so good . . .
What else? I do like seeing him running along our road to greet us, and the special extra low miaouw he emits when we leave his territory.
Ah, I can hear him at the door now. He will come in and make a fuss until one of us gives him something. He will eat two nano particles of it, then walk away flicking his tail in disgust, then a dog will come along and hoover it up. Then he will come back and go 'miaow' as he has forgotten that food was put out five minutes ago. Arg!
I probably would miss him though if there was a cat shaped space in our lives.

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Optimism and Paint

You would think after twenty years or so being involved with choosing paint colours, etc, for photography room-sets that I would have a pretty good idea of what was what.
I always fall into the same trap of looking at the minuscule rectangle of colour on a tester book in the paint shop and thinking 'yeah, that's good, naaah, don't need a tester pot, let's just go for the hideously expensive two and a half litres — it'll be fine.'
It never is, and I never learn. Now we have a fence and three gates that look rather like we are trying to hide some military installation. AND the woman mixed up another pot yesterday incorrectly, so we have mostly the military installation and a bit of a gentler fence, say part of a holiday camp.
Actually I looked at it all this morning again: if you squint a bit and the light's not too strong it looks rather classy - sort of posh Chelsea front door colour. Perhaps it's a state of mind thing anyway. Actually, someone once told me, and I can't think that this could be wildly inaccurate, that everyone sees colour differently, and that quite a lot of men are colour blind, especially when viewing red and green.
Hmmm. could test Mark here. 'Hey what do you think of this section of the red fence then?' Mark is mainly pleased that it no longer looks like it hasn't been painted for forty five years, which was probably the case, and is possibly indifferent that it is green, red or Barbi pink.
Dogs are supposed to see in black and white, so they are probably seeing it as a dark grey, a little less depressing than the slightly darker grey than it was before, and the boy person wouldn't notice if there was a fence or not.
Anyway, my back's given up at the moment so it remains two dark-olive green gates, one light aqua as I used an unidentified pot in the shed as undercoat, half a dark bottle-green gate and a section of green-blue plank which is so rotten that it needs replacing.
Optimism yes. Being a person who generally is optimistic. . . I always think tedious DIY projects such as this will take a few hours, perhaps a day at most. I fail to take into account preparation, even if it does involve a quick wipe of loose paint with a rag, weather, protesting body parts, and French shop opening hours.
Perhaps the end is in sight today, then I have to move onto the front room, currently being insulated against winter. A nice deep orange wall colour? Tester pot . . . naaah.

Saturday 22 September 2012

Dust to dust

I'm trying to help Ezra read one of his set books: the Victor Hugo classic 'Le dernier Jour d'un condamné.' It's a fascinating reflection on impending death. There's a quote about thirty pages in, roughly, and I mean roughly, translating as, 'all men are condemned to die, albeit with some sort of a delay.' I've been thinking about it ever since and it was particularly relevant today.
I went to say goodbye to the dear friend mentioned a few posts back. Someone who should have had a very long delay, or less oddly put, a much longer life.
It was a beautiful quiet little ceremony in the middle of the woods next to her house: just the sound of gentle breezes in the trees and some late summer grasshoppers. Before the scattering, I spent quite a long time in her house looking at the elements that made up a life. The things we accumulate, the few treasured items that might depart with us: photos, a talisman, a favourite book, a pressed flower from a poignant time.
I always get pathetically emotional at any funeral. Even if it had been someone I met once in the post office, my eyes would have become blurry with tears. It's something about the finality of the coffin, or the container of ashes; probably more so with the latter. That small pot, containing what was or still is in some way, someone we knew.

Thursday 20 September 2012


After going on about the Greek shop the other day (blog post back one) I remembered another favourite shop. In fact this probably was and still is the best shop in North London, possibly the world.
Martyns of Muswell Hill. We used to go in here a lot. Mum would buy tea, coffee and dried fruit, and I would stand by the ancient coffee bean machine by the window and breath in that fabulous aroma of roasting beans. Actually, I'm not sure if it was roasting them, but the smell was intoxicating. It was a sort of metal barrel that turned like a washing machine drum, with a hiss hiss as the beans clattered around inside. I was an inquisitive child, so I can't imagine I didn't ask what it was the machine was doing. I've just forgotten somewhere in the fog of time . . .
I returned to the shop about a year ago on one of my 'wandering around bits of London' trips, in fact I've probably enthused about it before. I was so utterly relieved and thrilled to see it was still there - that I may have danced on the pavement, but I can't remember that either.
The interior was still dimly lit; still the wonderful coffee smell but infused with other scents: vanilla, tea, dundee cakes and probably some good quality dust on the top shelves. The little cellophane packets of herbs and spices were as I recalled, and even the women serving seemed the same? Another generation perhaps.

I think the last memory I had of the shop before my recent trip back, was going in there when I had just nagged my mum to distraction about buying a pair of yellow platform sandals to go with my pink hipster flares. We bought the tea, coffee and prunes and then went to have tea and white buttery triangle toast in 'the lantern cafe' now sadly gone.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Late summer

Or is it Autumn yet? Mixed days of glowering cloud and surprisingly hot sun. Grape jelly has been made, lemons are gearing up for being yellow in January, and these mad hibiscus flowers are making their blousy appearance - much to my joy and that of the big black bees still buzzing around like small private planes.
All those Autumnal jobs are gathering on the horizon: bonfire's curling blue smoke in the chilly evenings and endless cutting back of straggling plants. Chutney, jam, chimney-sweeping, investigation of last years old woolies.

A few more weeks of no socks, and breakfast on the terrace —  I hope.

Sunday 16 September 2012

UK snapshots 2

I wanted to include this image in the last post, but blogger wouldn't let me.
The Cathedral of Tescos. These buildings must cover about forty percent of UK soil now.
'Helping you spend less' . . . I don't think so. I went in to buy a new digibox for mum's T.V and came out with: the afore-mentioned box, stationary, tea, a Mexican spice pack, a film, socks, crisps, baked beans, rice pudding, and a bag of past-their-sell-buy-date limes. "Helping you spend far more than you anticipated.' Thanks.
I know I didn't have to buy these things, but that's how supermarkets work. You are suddenly in an over-lit planet of consumption; all around people are wheeling trollies stacked higher than a serve- yourself salad bowl in Pizza hut. Oooh, those look nice, I suppose it might be good to buy some more of that, supposing there was a war before Monday.
I remember the first supermarket in Muswell Hill. Sainsburys. I went there with Mum when it was first open in 1833 or sometime. She said I could choose a yogurt. It was a difficult choice between Eden Vale strawberry,  Eden Vale banana, or Eden vale toffee. I went for the latter every time. How lovely it was with its little layer of toffee flavour something on the top.
That was it. REALLY. Now Sainsburys has a yogurt isle as big as Shropshire in each store, with more choices than raisins in a Garibaldi — actually, several packets of them. It's not right. It has to change. I want Eden Vale back; I want to limit the shopping time to ten minutes rather than thirty-five minutes of fondling exotic packaging, and being torn between 'Sainsbury's irreproachable' and 'well, if that's really all you can afford' ranges.
I liked the Greek shop in Muswell hill when I was a kid. That's my idea of a shop. All dark, teetering piles of interesting tins and boxes. Have you got a pack of shoe laces? Yes he would mutter, and disappear for a few minutes, returning with a dust covered pair of Rasta rainbow ones. Fab.
The most exciting time in there, was when they opened a box of bananas and found a black widow spider, not even consistent to EU sizes. Ah, those were the days.

Limoux still has some interesting small shops, not quite as fascinating as the Greek shop, but individual. I hope they can survive in the face of the FIVE large supermarkets we have lurking around the outskirts of the town.

snapshots from the UK

A mossy tree from a favourite walk near mum's home. One of those real English woods: damp, canopies of beech and undergrowth of rhododendrons.

Milk bottles. I'd forgotten all about them. As welcoming on the doorstep as a fat purring cat.

Friday 14 September 2012


Brilliant piece of human observation. Oh . . . they've got one, err, maybe I should then . . .The salesman, so accurate, especially the bit where the buyer decides not to take the upgrade. Sure . . .no problem, the tone of the voice, spot on.

The sellotape doesn't work too well with the turnip upgrade though.

Friday 7 September 2012


I'm off, back to see mum, leaving these two in charge.
The nag list has been written, and may be ignored: the plant part is getting evermore complicated. Only I know where Bert the struggling trumpet vine seedling is and all the other little plants I have attempted to protect against ravaging wind and sun. There's only so much information I can give out before Mark starts to glaze over as thoughts of other more pressing jobs to be done enter his head. I may write of UK things, but maybe not as I can't upload photos, which seem to be integral to these ramblings. I'll see. A B.T

Thursday 6 September 2012


Music can effect everything even housework.
I have favourite well-worn 'tunes' I put on for the morning whip round with brush and mop.
If everyone else is out on the school run I usually put on a CD of a live OKGO concert: something about it just makes stuff like sweeping less tedious. Somebody, Mark probably, has hidden the CDs or there is some new cataloging system I'm not aware of . . . anyway this morning it was Philip Glass.
Best mopping music: Radiohead, if you feeling a bit manic, Skyscrapers by OKGO as seen in older post, if you want to pretend you are in some majestic tango grapple with your own special mop.
Bluegrass for cheerful hastiness, the blues, if you are melancholically resigned to it, or late 70's early 80's minimalist music with a driving rhythm. Dear Mr Glass I'm sure you didn't compose this for housework efficiency but it really is the best.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

September preoccupations

Our wood delivery came yesterday.
Due to me be being . . . stupid, when Mr Belamie had phoned re the delivery, I ordered twice as much. Their truck appeared at 9.00 am loaded with a vast quantity of wood. When it became clear that I had made a mistake they were obviously not going to want to take it all back. I could have broken down and wept, pleaded . . . stupidity, or just bravely said, 'hey, we'll be well ready for winter this year then,' which is what I did.
It took all day to arrange the wood pile, including earthing out the very deepest recesses of old rotten stuff that had been home to many munching things. I am proud of it now: we even have graduated sections of kindling from dried lavender to small fig branches.

Mr B told me that snow has already arrived at high-ish altitude in the Ariege. He has never heard of this in September, so I'm glad the wood is sorted - hope it's not going to be quite as cold as last year in February . . .

Monday 3 September 2012

Fairground snaps

This is my least favourite time of year in our town.
The fairground arrives and installs itself in all its neon splendor for a week. Having said in a recent post that Ezra had lost the urge to throw money away on the cakewalk machines, he suddenly found it again.
We all went down 'en famille' to the throbbing streets. Candyfloss, soft toys the size of cookers, and rides guaranteed to make your intestines want to come out and explore for a while.
Ezra dutifully fed a couple of euros into the machine and this time it spat out a plastic card saying you have won a thousand points. Excitement! We were rabid with it, until we realised that a thousand points would reward you with . . . a small plastic slinky to play with on the stairs.
He also tried firing at cans and won a plastic bead-shooting plastic gun in a plastic box which failed to work on returning home. I was impressed however that he immediately took it apart and used the springs for something else.
We somehow avoided buying chips, watched ten minutes of the fete band that were playing to a small crowd on the main road, and wandered home thanking the Lord that that was it for another year. Except Ezra wants to go and try firing a gun again . . . well, he is fourteen and a half, testosterone and all that . . .

A few pictures of the stalls. A woman praying amongst furry smufs, duck-hunting game, toxic waste outlet drinks stall, and a weird shack where there was some dodgy roulette type thing going on — straight out of Havana.

Saturday 1 September 2012


The time of dawdling tractors is upon us again, and the queues of irate drivers trying to overtake the grape-laden vehicles, as they make their way to the squashing plants.
Chez nous, (our house) it's a small affaire - a couple of bowls of green and purple muscat grapes. Each year Mark says: "hey we could make our own wine!" and I say, "what's the point when we are surrounded by excellent producers."
My only memories of my fellow student's efforts were bidons of foul-smelling cloudy stuff which would be brilliant for maintaining a car battery. It was often drunk at the end of some sordid party in the days when we still didn't remember what it would be like to wake up and find one's brain had been taken away in the night jumped on and put back the wrong way up.

Instead of faffing with bidons and syphons and all the other equipment, we pick the grapes, leaving some for the blackbirds who feast on them with enthusiasm, and make grape jelly, pink as a Barbi evening dress, and fantastic on toast on a cold winter morning.