Thursday 30 March 2017

Three things

We need less things, or at least we need to use the things that already exist on this over-cluttered planet.
When nipping into the hyper-market this morning to buy a packet of yogurt culture (yes, intelligent stuff, yogurt) I felt a familiar panic creeping up on me. This one store on the edge of a small town in France, (one of about 36,000 according to Wikipedia) has an aisle just for yogurt about as long as a bus. All those pots - all that plastic . . . and then there's the 'bits and bobs' aisle, even more scary; the stuff you can't even eat - just made for . . . I don't know, looking at, removing dust from - large silver apples, hideous giant retro wall clocks, a thousand 'make-your-life-easier' plastic kitchen gadgets . . .
Any car-boot sale or 'vide-grenier' you might go to will be full of this crap, so why not buy it there for a fraction of the price, or perhaps don't buy it all.
The vast world treadmill we are on, producing all this unnecessary junk must somehow be ceased.
I know nothing of business but it seems to me that if all the people currently forced to make plastic Santas holding signs saying 'this way to the North Pole', Frankfurter slicers, glow in the dark toilet roll, pistol-shaped ketchup dispensers and all the rest of it were to be employed making parts for solar panels, cladding inner-city buildings with mural vegetation or making recycled paper, or . . . a billion other actually-needed things it would be a lot more useful and less soul-destroying. Like I say, I know nothing of business, but I do know about the satisfaction in coming across good quality second hand stuff.
Last week in our local recycling emporium I found this lovely little sofa for twenty euros: tad dusty but really comfortable and plenty of life in it yet.

And today's finds in the junk shop after reeling from the supermarket's football pitch of stuff, two perfect-nick old teapots for a euro each.

Monday 27 March 2017

Looking over the edge of the nest

It's like watching swallows trying out their wings: launching, bit wobbly, oops, return to the watchful eye of the parent bird, then try again: a little bolder, a little more confidence and then they're off . . .
We've been watching our son trying out his various wings for some time, drumming in a band being the real debut of detachment although he was, and still is happy to return to the comforts - food, familiarity, dogs, etc, and hopefully, us.
Come the autumn, it'll be for real. Him on his own in a flat in a city (luckily not too far away). We've were graced with an extra year of him to-ing and fro-ing as he undertook a foundation art year in our local town, and thus I/we feel a little more prepared for the . . . departure.


I've talked to several friends about this phase of life with mixed responses from: 'A year on, I still go and sit on his bed and sob, occasionally, to: what a bloody relief . . .
I hope I won't be doing the former and I certainly won't be feeling the latter; hopefully an emotionally healthy point in between with probably the odd pang of worry . . .
Going to look at art colleges with him has brought back many memories of my own forays out from the family nest in Muswell Hill. I think I did all of them on my own as Mother wouldn't have had the luxury of time to accompany me, being on her own and working full time. I do vaguely recall staggering around Exeter with a huge falling-apart portfolio of my stuff and hating the interview. Luckily the one at Farnham was good and I was accepted onto the film and photography course there. Why I mention this is because I never thought at the time, (being young and over-excited about my new life in my halls of residence eight-square meter abode) about what my mother was going though - only child leaving home after a very close relationship of seventeen-odd years.
I have a clear image of waving her off after lugging my wardrobe-sized Wharfedale speakers up to the flat - 'Bye Mum, see you . . . sometime, soonish'. She might have gone and howled in a lay-by, or driven back home and downed a few pints in the local (unlikely) or maybe she managed to control it all, got on with her life and half-listened for the phone, without realising, the flat now so much quieter.
I never asked her how it was for her. Maybe I will on my next visit back although her mind is fairly unlikely to recall much now being mostly on its own planet elsewhere.
Maybe it takes the same thing happening to us to fully appreciate the emotions connected with this detachment. I don't suppose our son will think too much about it, as it should be, but I hope the years we have spent together will leave him with a residual desire to come back and take up his place in the family once in a fairly often while.

Checking out the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Nimes; one of the three colleges applied for.

Thursday 23 March 2017

Human voice

While posting something on Facebook earlier I watched (as you do - err, what was I doing . . .) a video posted by a friend. The choice of song isn't something I would particularly listen to but the voice is extraordinary goose-bump wise.
The twenty-two year old from Kazakhstan, Dimash Kudaibergenov has an incredible octave range, and happily for him, he's lovely to watch too.
Someone has kindly made this collection of extracts of people's reaction to his singing - worth catching especially the girl's reaction at around 8.42 . . .
We are all moved by art, ballet, sunsets, orchestras, films, books, cake, etc, but perhaps a truly unusual and frisson-inducing voice unites most humans.
It was especially interesting to me to find this as I recently wrote a short story that features humans' emotional reactions to singing.
In the story, Dog, an Earth-visiting alien slowly pieces together but possibly never understands human behaviour. Befriended and given shelter by a young woman called Ruby, our hero is left in her flat while she goes to work. After trying all of the fridge's contents and exploring her book collection he takes a bath.  When his saviour returns and hears him singing in the bathroom she reacts in a way that surprises him.

I like this so much that I stand and try out all the modulations, tones and possibilities. Jars and bottles rattle. The water surface undulates against my legs.
As I reach the top note that I can see – blue with shimmering edges – the bathroom door opens. Ruby stands with the open-mouthed expression again. She has dropped her bag. Tears run.
I stop the singing and the sound continues, flailing itself against the tiles.
Taking a cloth from a pile, I step out and wrap my lower half.
“Forgive me, did my phonic experiment alarm you?”
She says nothing but steps forward, even lunges; grasps me and fastens her mouth to mine. Hot colour swarms in my head. My tongue dances in her mouth as her hands slide over my wet skin.
She pulls away suddenly: “Oh . . . I don’t know quite what happened. Sorry.”
I think about this gift: “So, that was a kiss?”
“It was . . . but I don’t usually go about seizing and kissing people – well, at least not without knowing them for a while.”
I pull her back to me: “Would you mind if we did it again?”

Monday 20 March 2017

Healthy obsessions

One of our daily dog walks is called: 'going up the top,' the top being an open plateau of vine fields above where we live. At the end of the gravelly, winding lane is the wine domain and at the back of the building, what was a field of scrubby grass. Over the last two years I've watched with interest this gradually change to an intricate and wonderfully eccentric garden.
I vaguely know the owner of this patch (excellent accordionist with her family group, Rodinka) and have stopped to throw a casual 'bon courage' or 'come and take some of our baby cactus plants', but yesterday I went and had a proper chat about the garden and asked if I could take some photos. She was surprised but pleased.

So, today I went up with a basket of cactus and the camera.
There is a BIG story which she says she will relate to me over a beer soon at their 'fete de Printemps' (spring) but a very shortened version is that she arrived twenty-three years ago from Czechoslovakia with her partner and seven-month old baby in the same van pictured here in the garden. They had been playing music for a theatre troupe, liked the area and . . . never left. I have yet to learn how the van came to its resting place and look forward to finding out.
I asked why, after so many years, had she suddenly started to create the garden and she said it was after the Cypress hedge got burnt. She'd cleared some stuff away, cut back some plants and then it just started - grabbed her, a gardening obsession: plants, recycling, using stuff from the wine domaine - old wood, pallets, unwanted bricks, tiles, etc.

Beer bottle edging - (two bottles a day)         The Van


Now spring has arrived the the artist-gardener-musician is often out there from six in the morning till eight at night, creating, playing and experimenting, with no particular plan but with an inherent and marvellous skill in green-fingered improvising.


Friday 17 March 2017

Marking time

How often do we realise we are in The Now? In The Present Time. I suppose I register it a few times a day, maybe not always.
We humans are always busy thinking about what should be done, what might happen, what should have happened, what we didn't have time to accomplish; looking forward to something - holidays, Christmas (arg) life-marking events, weddings, a new car, a new dog . . . and so on, forever. But what of all the days that merge into a continual blur of time?
Within our own blur of days there are certain routines - very occasionally broken due to visits elsewhere or work, etc; routines that mark the days progression and bring me back to the Here and Now. Breakfast is probably the most resonant time: twenty minutes or so when at least two of us are at home, dogs waiting for crusts, smell of coffee, fried egg on toast . . . we probably talk about similar things to the day before - state of the world, which art college our son will be off to in September, the behaviour of the chickens already chorusing for scraps outside.
A calm and comforting time that I always wish to extend as much is possible - bit more hot milk, half a slice of toast . . .
It's the point when I wash up the old orange coffee pot ready for the following morning that I realise I'm in The Moment, and where I hopefully will be the following morning, rinsing the same pot and starting the day.

       Prized 70s coffee pot given to us by friends who knew we would love it

Thursday 16 March 2017

Living with someone else

And not just with my husband/lad. I assume as with most writers, my current main character inhabits my head quite a lot of the time, including during sleep.
I woke this morning to realise that, Hamish - second-hand bookshop owner and failed poet - needs to actually live somewhere else other than Bound's Green, London, due to certain distances between his various haunts. So, most of the London mapping I had done on my last city wanderings were in fact inaccurate and he should actually be living in Camden. Of course I can travel around the city on Google Earth but it's not the same; I need (and want) to walk the roads he would walk, take the buses and visit the shops he would go in, at least the ones that are still there (book set in 1985).

Time-warp barber shop in Muswell Hill, which Hamish could go in as his lover (taxidermist) lives above her premises on Duke's Avenue (currently a chemist's shop but as taxidermy shops are rare even in London I've had to relax my rules a little)

Monday 13 March 2017

Feeling stressed? Watch this.

I don't think I've ever heard anything narrated in such a calmly and deliciously articulate way, even if the owner of the voice is talking about possible sheep-death caused by brambles . . .
I came across this while researching a plant that ensnares sheep in Peru - I had imagined a triffid-like bit of flora that lances out a green spiny limb and drags the unfortunate animal into a gaping mouth but actually it's similar to the bramble bush in that wool-clad animals will wander while feeding into a patch of the thorny plants and become entangled.  Any further wriggling to get free will make it more captive until . . . well, the end, sadly, through starvation or bird attack, etc.
A clever bit of evolution - a sheep-sized bag of ready made fertiliser at the foot of the plant. Ugh.

Friday 10 March 2017

Serpent dog

I often look at our beautiful second-hand greyhounds and wonder at their sheer noble elegance and grace.
This is 'Bali' half dog-half serpent (musical instrument or snake) after leaping from the car this morning into a field of early spring flowers.
Someone who came to see us yesterday told me that the English cousins of these dogs are let out onto the moors of Yorkshire when deemed to be too old for racing to wander like ever-thinning silhouettes, muzzled so they eventually die from not being able to eat . . . I knew about the horrors of what happens to the Spanish greyhounds (which ours are) - hanged, starved, beaten etc, but I hadn't realised there was a UK equivalent cruelty.
I think we will always be accompanied by two of these marvellous, gentle and good-for-the-eye hounds. A drop in the ocean perhaps but at least we can bequeath the gifts of good food, regular walkies, the sofa, and love on a few.

Wednesday 8 March 2017

We will never time travel

Husband trying to re-connect the small, boingy overflow pipe that was blocked with a happy bacteria colony

Some days you just realise how unlikely it is that we as a race will develop more than we have when sinks still have to be unblocked by unscrewing a filthy plastic bit of plumbing that is impossible to get at and superbly easy to get cross-threaded - and that's the French system. I seem to remember the UK version being even more challenging.
I doubt that every home will have a robot that will cook, stack the dishwasher, answer the phone and unblock your sink, or that we will live on packs of space food and be able to tune into what everyone is thinking - or at least I hope not.
I sometimes wonder if we should have stopped and taken stock in the 1970s; about the time that cassette recorders were wildly exciting and plastic hadn't completely taken over the planet - but then I would be writing this in a notebook and no one except me and perhaps a few bored friends would ever see my musings . . . I wonder if there's any wine in the fridge. Yes, wine, cheddar and an episode of something comforting.