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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Toujours le temps qui court..

So go the French lyrics to the music many english speakers will know as Could it be magic as variously interpreted by Barry Manilow, Donna Summer and Take That! It was in fact written by Manilow but based on Chopin's Prelude in C Minor, Opus 28, Number 20. Now, in the french version it tells of how time passes quickly and things change.

It could be the theme tune to my time thus far in France. In the course of almost 8 months I have lived in the countryside with one partner, 2 parents-in-law, 2 dogs, 4 hens and 2 canaries, found and bought a house in Lille, moved into it and am now living in the splendid isolation of being 20 minutes from the centre of a city of some 200000 people in a conurbation of some one million souls. I do not mean to be dramatic nor I intend to mean that I am lonely - far from it. It is early days and not having yet secured any clients for my coaching business means I spend at least half the day alone, though now I have both an internet connection and a phoneline and an office, things can only improve.

There was never any serious expectation in any case that everything would fall into our laps: the cost of alterations and improvements to the house would well exceed the budget we fancifully had, lack of amenities, motivation and communications have held me back from earning a crust, the grindingly slow way in which anything happens in France have given us some frustration, but all will be overcome. None is insurmountable. Some need to be rescheduled.

The possibility of planting lavender in the garden at 1630, looking forward to harvesting the cherries from our own tree, eating a crop of our own strawberries (make that the crop!) have added to the quality of our lives and helped reshape our approach and attitude to everyday living. I noticed on the plans we received yesterday in connection with recovering the kitchen roof, that we have perhaps the third largest garden in the area. Some responsibility!

We have welcomed guests to our humble abode such as it is set in a traditionally industrial quartier which has a good and honest feeling to it. There are troughs and hanging baskets of flowers in the centre of Hellemmes, unspoilt and unstolen. When I think back to the saplings snapped for the drunken fun of it along Wimbledon Broadway I know we have made an excellent choice.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Salad v Leaves, the joys and benefits of words.

This is the meal I have just eaten:

Dressed sliced avocado with tomato
Potato omelette
Mango with soft cream cheese

This is the meal I have just enjoyed:

Ripe slices of avocado and vine tomatoes dressed with lemon and extra virgin olive oil garnished with chives
Spanish tortilla made with red onion and organic eggs served with a salad of oak leaf leaves lightly dressed in a lemon and Dijon mustard vinaigrette and sprinkled with roasted seeds
Ripe mango pieces spooned with fromage blanc and finished with a sprinkling of demerera sugar and walnut halves

As they say in the USA, go figure!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Not just a bowl of cherries...

I started writing this post last week but was not pleased with the way it had turned out. It seemed a little preachy, a little proselytising, a bit too touchy feely, even for me. In the interim I have been devouring Alan Bennett's superb collection of recollections and diary excerpts - " Untold Stories", and his writing had given me a push in the right direction. His use of language eg not being afraid to use less than modern constructions, good grammar, anglo-saxon derivations (you know what I mean) when it makes sense to do so, fills me with admiration and is a joy to read. Most of all he writes in a very detailed and yet very economic way. He doesn't get carried away with flowery prose but uses words carefully and for their very specific meaning or specifically for their double entendre. Reading Bennett makes me proud to be an adequate user - of the English language that is - and encourages me to up my game.

So it was I determined to rewrite this piece and to make it less pretentious and more accessible.

Following my sojourn in London, one of the very first things I noticed on my return to Hellemmes, was something noticeably red, or rather obviously red things, half way down the garden. I hurried, indeed precipitated towards cherry tree where its fruit were almost fully ripened indeed some have already cascaded to the ground and lie like so much colourful punctuation in the grass. I found one that appeared to be ready to eat and enjoyed it, not so much for the flavour - OK but nothing fabulous - as the fact that it was from our our tree in our garden.

As I made my way back towards the house, I sensed a superb fragrance in the air the source of which soon became apparent: the honeysuckle had blossomed. I had wondered whether we would have the prolifically flowering kind or the less generously endowed yet more fragrant one. There was no doubt now that this was the latter. I looked around and took time to notice properly the burgeoning geraniums, the cherry tomato plants ladened with maturing fruit, the grace of the new olive tree and the beauty of the hanging basket crammed with petunias, fuchsias, and verbena. In my rush to get to the cherries I had missed these equally wonderful plants.

I wondered to myself how often in my rush to get to the cherries in my life I had managed to to bypass the equally intoxicating perfume of the honeysuckle, and the summer scent of tomato? I promised myself that I would give time to more than just the seemingly important, the most obviously "urgent", and to try to keep everything more in context, to give the positive at least equal billing with the negative.

Life is rarely, if ever, just bowl of cherries and even cherries have stones.

PS Having now spent time harvesting, not only is it really hard work and very difficult, but half of the fruit, despite looking lusciously dark are in fact beginning to rot. Appearances can deceive!

Summer in the city - a visitor in London.

I have recently returned from a few days in London preceded by a day in Brighton attending a family wedding. People seemed rather impressed that I had come "all the way from France" and were taken aback when they found that their journey was in fact longer and more complicated than mine. Total time taken including waiting time, four and a quarter hours. Actual travelling time just under three hours.

Brighton was as belle as I have ever seen it and the crowds not overly spoiling of the atmosphere on the Friday when I arrived. The sun blazed from a cloudless blue sky and I was enjoying myself. My lodgings were with friends close to the station - I was warmly welcomed into their very lovely flat, and the wedding took place amidst the splendours of the Royal Pavillion and then afterwards at the, less salubrious yet more than adequate, Old Ship Hotel.

London was perfect. I had lost much of my love for the capital with the passing years and the frustrations of working and paying the price of living there. Without those ties this glorious city regains its attractions and sees them enhanced when clement summer weather allows for looser, and less clothing and sitting outside eating and passing time with friends.

My grateful thanks to all who welcomed me, gave me shelter, food, drink, company, time, cards and presents - an iminent now passed birthday - and a very welcome plaster, during my sojourn in the city where I had spent the whole of my adult life until last year.

As the Eurostar sped me homewards to Lille I looked forward to getting back to my new reality and confirmed to myself that the reason I had enjoyed London in June so very much was simple: I didn't live there anymore.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Wishy Washy

Thanks to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross whose wonderful words were echoed back to me this week with the quotation:

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within”

Now isn’t that so true and wonderfully put?

Perhaps the fact that Blogger is not accepting pictures at the moment brings me to another stained-glass window moment. Not having images to help me bring this piece alive I guess I shall have to work extra hard at making it sing from the page.

As I wait for the weather to break - as surely it must - and the humidity soars, I am reminded how we can find learning in everything if we look hard enough. Indeed, there are many lessons to be drawn from everyday life. For example, I feel there is something of a parallel to be drawn between washing machines and the way in which our lives seem to be set to the fastest possible speed or cycle where everything needs to be done now or sooner and the latest is passé before most of us have had an opportunity to try it out. We bought our new shiny machine some while before moving into the house as I could never imagine not having one, nor going to a laundrette, so, as with dishwashers we consider them to be an absolute necessity. Ours boasts AAA energy features that I don’t understand but imagine to be good for the environment, and a host of programmes that I will most likely never use proudly displayed on a little screen. We just missed out by one model on having a machine that speaks to you! I am rather glad of this though it is fun to imagine quite what it might say to you. Is it advice? Approbation? Information?

If like me you are not very interested in washing machines and only know that you must have one then you probably use the same basic programme nearly all the time and others very occasionally. How like life this is: we do the same things week in week out never making big changes nor learning new things.

I had always assumed the faster the spin setting, the better as it meant a shorter drying time. I was wrong and now I know that clothes need far less ironing when spun at lower speeds. Think “drip-dry” (not that is giving far too many clues to my age). This is a lesson to us all. Rather than take life at a breakneck speed perhaps we should just slow down, take our time and enjoy not developing so many wrinkles! How much nicer is washing and life when done more slowly.

Over to Kate Bush: -
Out of the corner of my eye
I think I see you standing outside
But it’s just your shirt
Hanging on the washing line
Waving its arm as the wind blows byAnd it looks so alive
Nice and whiteJust like its climbed right out
Of my washing machine Washing machine Washing machine

Go on, laugh! I have obviously had too much time away from the real world. However, we are back online with phone connection, TV till it is coming out of our ears – though I seem to have gone off it except for our fave Plus Belle La Vie
We even managed to watch it on this very computer whilst eating pizza yesterday evening thus achieving my wish to always sit at table whilst eating but not missing the goings on at Le Mistral.

Monday, June 05, 2006

In the meantime...more nosh.

Heavens to Betsy a week has passed since my last post! Here I am back in Rumaucourt having escaped the house where I was playing a game of musical rooms (and chairs): it felt as if every time the music stopped there was less space for me to "be" in. The reason is mundane enough ie works continue but on a sporadic basis so it is not worth reinstalling rooms in between. Consequently there is plastic sheeting everywhere and even the garden was out of bounds as the rain continued to fall from a leaden sky.

So to the countryside where there is also an internet connection.

The news on the phone is getting better: we have a line, somewhere. It all seems potentially sooper dooper with access to different options via the internet and the promise of two boxes of jiggery pokery due to arrive any day. We even have a phone number which, interestingly, begins 0870 as it is one we could take anywhere in France were we to move and stay with the same telephony provider. Telephony, now there's an interesting word. I remember the good old days when we just had telephones!

Sadly I cannot share my photos - yet - as I do not have the right cable to download them onto the computer, but yesterday was another gourmet Sunday and this time we spent most of the afternoon outside. Papa was keen on a barbecue and indeed it was the right weather for it. Parasols and sunloungers seemed to fill the courtyard and everything looked very jolly. If you are semi veggie though, BBQs are not your best friend. Luckily I thought about giving a little colour to some large prawns still in their shells as a starter with a v tasty sauce craftily concocted from mayonnaise, cumin, turmeric and lemon juice. Papa was the only person profiting from the charcoal for his main course and sadly the first effort turned into carbon whilst we weren't looking and the second attempt fell on the floor. No idea what it was as meat hold no interest for me, but the dogs did well out of it! the other hand he had put together a most delicious mixture for our main dish which was cod en papillote. On top of the filets, or maybe they were cod loins (whatever they are) he had piled a mixture of soft goat cheese and creme fraiche, and surrounding the fish were diced tomatoes and a medley of different fresh herbs from the garden: thyme, parsley, chives and rosemary. It looked divine (picture to be inserted at a later date) and tasted heavenly. Which is were we came in, thank you Betsy.

Toodle pip for now.

Quick update 11 June - photos (when Blogger lets me) of the fish and the bulgar wheat salad (previously unmentioned and so delicious it was nearly all gone before I could take a photo!).