I have absolutely no notion why being given ephemeral as a prompt should have me thinking of C S Lewis. Maybe my mind is back a little in Oxford and with the daughters I raised there on a diet of, amongst so many other wonderful books, his magical volumes. But this picture is about as ephemeral as it gets for me. Taken from the roadside in the early, early morning a week or so ago on the way to Grenoble you see the church at Polignac sitting in the clouds and you just know that the moment had to be captured because otherwise it would be lost. But as the great man said … there is better ahead. He, of course was a devout Christian and speaks of the Heaven awaiting him. For me that heaven is of our own making here in this life.
Just as a point of interest C S Lewis died as he lived, quietly and without fuss, on 22nd November 1963, his death (and that of Aldous Huxley the same day) eclipsed by the assassination of a THAT President Kennedy. I remember 23rd November 1990 when Roald Dahl died. A young pop singer died the same day. It was certainly tragic, she being only in her twenties, but the BBC devoted a full report to her and gave one of the outstanding writers of any time just a few cursory seconds. I was incensed into complaining. It is the only time I have ever logged a complaint with the BBC. Of course my complaint changed nothing but for me it should never be a barrier to a voice that it will not tangibly change anything. The irony is that 52 and nearly 25 years later the same would not happen on the occasion of either death. Because I think it fair to say that like so many great artists, both are more popular now than they ever were in their lifetimes, though famous both certainly were, when breathing. Life is an ephereral thing all round, I would say.
PS: Lewis wrote these words in a letter (since published in ‘Letters to An American Lady’) to an old lady whom he never met though they corresponded for a decade. Mary, as one is probably minded when frail and running out of steam, was speaking of the end of her own life. In fact, he wrote the words just five months before he himself died. Ephemeral indeed.
I think I may need to apologise. I’m sure the prompt ‘Fresh’ is supposed to encourage me to find a perfect picture of Spring but to me it just had to be linked to the line from Paul Simon’s song. Maybe I’m not quite there in terms of Spring … it tends to be very brief and sudden here, as I noted last April in my post ‘You can cut all the flowers…’ It’s barely marked at all before Summer, in all her verdent green and technicolour splendour, steals centre stage sometime in May. We get flowers, of course but it isn’t the English Spring I was used to before moving here. And the snow is still coming at us. Not much – I admit this picture was taken in the last days of February but it just seems to fit so well … I love the bright relief that fresh snow lends a landscape.
The chapel is called Notre Dame de la Fonte Sainte and sits in the Pays de Gentiane at about 1230 metres. It is a place of pilgrimige marked by many crosses on the road that leads to it, almost as though the visitor should crawl on his bare hands and knees, wearing a hair shirt and do the stations of the cross. We felt much like staggering pilgrims having ascended from St Hippolyte, gotten lost and trudged through over-knee snow. The Bean was stoic, asking to be put down when Two Brains tried to assist her in the most challenging parts, so that she could snow-snorkel her Olympic finest through the fresh drifts. A racketer that we met at the high-point was visibly disgusted that we were putting the little creature through this misery and it was only later that we realised the bornes were in fact strategically placed to view the Chapel below from. Perhaps we should repent – I think that’s what the Catholics who built the place would bid us do but I’m afraid we just laughed and enjoyed the moment. And the view of this little gem sitting in her fresh white heaven was surely worthy of every taxing step even though we had shunned the carefully sculpted viewpoints …..
PS: The song is ‘I am a Rock’ and, like the voice of those lyrics, I seem to be rather wanting to wall myself in more than usual at the moment but I would like to say that in addition to ‘my books and my poetry to protect me’, I am hugely grateful for the support given by those that read my posts. Thank you and I promise I will stop being gloomy Eeyore very soon.
As we drove back to the village on the first Saturday in March after a sojourn in the south, I spoke to the animals. No, no – I am not effecting delusions of Dr Doolittle, but I did speak out loud in human to all those creatures in our woods and fields – deer, red and roe, boar, foxes and badgers, rabbits, hares, weasels and stoats, martins and all manner of other little furry things and of course their flying feathered friends too.
What I said to these enthralled creatures was that they now have 6 months grace – 6 months to have babies and enjoy their lives peacefully without having to hide from Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam and all his other gun-toting mates, because the season is officially fermé. Hunting here is a sport, and I do not begrudge those that take part, in the main, despite the fact that I am disrupted, and I can explain why.
When I lived in England I actually took part in hunting as a keen rider in my tens and teens. I was blooded and it made me physically sick. I did drag hunting where the hounds follow the scent of an aniseed trail, on Exmoor, far more happily than I followed the hounds on the scent of a fox in my home counties. I also did Beagling whilst a student in Oxford following the Oriel College pack. You run after them. And in wellies, wearing a waxed coat and layers of jumpers and jeans under, it is frightfully good exercise. The beagles were pretty useless and when a rabbit appeared it could cock a cheery snook at them safe in the knowledge that they would run precisely the polar opposite way to it and we would see its bob tailed cotton wool adorned bottom disappear down the nearest hole as we huffed and puffed behind the joyous pups tearing the other way. The pub was, of course the main lure and I can say that mulled wine and home made scotch eggs are pretty damn gourmet delightful at the end of a cold chase. I was also regularly invited to ‘beat’ as a teenager to earn a bob or two. I always declined. I think that hatching eggs, feeding chicks and releasing young birds when barely old enough to fend for themselves, only to invite a load of chinless city boys in Jermyn Street tweed fancy dress waving their Purdeys as they loose off at the birds being frightened out of the undergrowth in the face of a platoon of ‘poor’ folk swiping the bracken with sticks, some of them the same people who fed them only a short while before, is about as sporting as putting propellor driven flippers on an Olympic swimmer. Just my personal thought but those heaps of dead pheasant destined for tables in restaurants in the West End having hung by their dead claws for a week made my skin crawl. And don’t get me started on the illegal hare coursers – contentious? Moi?
Cut to France. Many years ago, our habit was to take the month of January as holiday. We ran a cheese shop, my then husband and I, and we would take the car and drive down to a little village near Arles in Provence where my parents in law had a cottage with views over le Moulin de Daudet to use the cottage next door which conveniently belonged to an old school friend of ma belle mere as a base and take off for a few days at a time. He had lived in Ariege so we invariably headed into the Pyrenees, staying in Carcassonne en route and ended up searching for somewhere that we could stay. This particular occasion, my firstborn daughter was not quite 2 years old and everything but everything was shut. The locals, then as now, take January as holiday from running shops and restaurants and hotels. Eventually we happened on a hotel with lights on and I was despatched to ask if they had rooms. The husband worked on the theory that hoteliers in general were more likely to take pity on me (a woman) than he … this was the late 1980s and he should have been born in the 1780s but that is another story. The very kind Madame said indeed we could stay but we needed to be warned that tonight was the night of the Pompiers Ball and it coincided with the end of the hunting season … I quipped that I supposed the new season started in a couple of days and she nodded the affirmative perfectly gravely. In those days it is true, the French shot anything that moved and gave themselves little down time from their blood-lust presumably just because they could. We ate in the hotel restaurant that evening and the bar was full to bursting with flack-jacketed men and their wives in Sunday best attire downing shots of the local eau-de-vie before devouring plates of civet de sanglier (wild boar stew) and staggering cheek to cheek under a glitter ball to the strains of the local accordian band. Simultaneously the pompiers, suited and booted with their WAGs in their evening finery were also swigging with gay abandon, stuffing a different menu and about to trip the light fantastic around the floor when the two functions came together around 10 p.m. Many moustaches lubricated liberally made for merry hell as the night wore on. We ate a decent supper and contemplated a difficult night with a toddler unable to sleep due to the fascinating racket downstairs and took a collective and sensible decision to do in France as the French do. We would put a little vin rouge well watered in her beaker, and relax the beast. She slept like a top. We didn’t – the noise was deafening, the roaring of firemen and hunters, their squealing epoux joyous, was a sound that will haunt me forever. In the morning, we ate a decent Sunday breakfast and hit the road. The tot in the back-seat grew horns that would grace an angry bull and became the tyrant in the car-seat … this baby had the mother of all hangovers and we learnt the hard way that a good night’s sleep with an infant has a payback which is painful. She bellowed at us to ‘dup’ (shut up) every time we opened our mouths and commanded us to ‘doff’ (switch it off) when we tried to lull her with music on the radio. That baby is now 28 years old but it is fair to say that I bear the scars of that morning after to this day.
These days there are rules and hunting is well regulated. Numbers of hunters are in decline overall though interestingly the numbers of lady hunters (that is ladies that hunt rather than men hunting ladies – for those I have not got stats at this time) are increasing. No-one may hunt without a Permit de Chasseur and to get your permit you must pass both a written and a practical exam. If you fail either you have to start the process all over again.and the species hunted and the numbers permitted are set by individual departements according to ecological need and once set the individual communes will decide amongst themselves the ratios and divvy up the numbers between them. The departements also have the say-so over the specific dates of their season so although it will generally run from the start of September to the finish of February there will be slight variations. To the ill-informed the fact that there are 24 species of mammal and 64 species of bird permitted to be hunted seems excessive. But in context there are actually 119 species of animal and 529 species of birds in France. Incidentally roe deer are semi-protected and you must have a specific licence to hunt them.
You may remember that I walk a lot. Hunting encroaches on my walking, it is true but I try hard to co-exist with the hunters and I will generally, in Winter, not walk in woods on a Saturday and on a Sunday will time my walk to coincide with lunch (12-2:30 approximately) to avoid being mistaken for a fine trophy (though one would hope that being a 6’ biped might be a clue). The Bean wears hi-viz. Last year I, wet behind the ears as I was, bought what I could which gives the effect of a shetland pony wearing a Budweiser Clydesdale’s mac and it was fairly difficult for her to move freely without tripping over the edges.
This year, she has a new number. German made it is the Porsche of active canine attire. In fact police forces across the world equip their dogs in this very harness. Hers is bright orange and has its generic branded strips but should I chose to I can attach panniers so that she can carry emergency equipment … she would consider this to be cheese, biscuits and meat, I imagine.
I wear hi-viz arm bands and a determined chin.
Although I am interrupted, it is the walking that has given me the greatest insight into hunting in this area. I can’t speak for the whole of France just for my coin perdu but these are my observations told through the power of stories, which is my way.
For now, I live on my own mostly (with The Bean, of course) in an apartment in a reasonably sized village in the Sumène Artense at the north-western corner of Cantal. My neighbours are a young couple, he indigenous to the commune, she from Lozère just south of here. He is a farmers son and works hard on his fathers farm. At weekends he hunts and he has a beautiful dog who lives indoors on the farm to help him. The relationship between the two is quite lovely to watch though the dog is carted about in a cage on the back of his jeepster.
Once he had gotten over the unexpected oddness of living next door to a Spanish Cow speaking Englishwoman he took to telling me when and where to take care at weekends. He is happy that we walk and doesn’t want a wounded neighbour gasping her last on his conscience when he could have helped. Most weekends are absolutely harmless given the precautions that I take but when la grande chasse is en cours with the boys from Toulouse and Bordeaux and Paris loosing off liberally and with little skill in his words ‘they will shoot at anything moving’ then it is better for me to stay away. The idea of The Bean’s head adorning a trophy on the salon wall of a buffoon in Paris is rather too much to bear. And there are a number of people shot each year in France. Better not go down in the woods those days for fear of the wrong surprise.
Last year, we were out walking – the Brains, the Bean and I and we bumped into our neighbour out for a walk in the wilderness with his dog. The dog shamed The Bean with its impeccable manners and he warned us to stay cautious as there were hunters around. Moments later we came across a man and his dog. A red setter and the only example of that breed that I have ever encountered (my mother had one called Jane and we were brought up on stories of her famously frantic antics) who was trained and calm and sensible. The man stopped and chatted. Gentle he was. And he showed us the woodcock he had been stalking for three hours before finally bringing it down. It is a testimony to his quiet charm that I was able to look at the little dead creature … I have a long established phobia of dead birds on account of our bonkers Swedish au pair when I was aged four … another time. The dog, softest of mouths had run through a good 100 metres into the dense woods to pick it up and bring it back. It wore a ring on its ankle. He must account for every single bird he kills or risk being outlawed and unlicenced.
This year, The Bean and I went walking at a high volcanic pond hear to Riom-es-Montagnes. We started our walk at lunchtime and had partially circumnavigated the pond (l’Etang de Majonec) which you would be forgiven for calling a lake … it is quite large, when we heard shots.
We saw vehicles bearing the placards that the hunt was taking place and we altered our path.
To get back to the car, however, we had to go the way we had come and by this time it was peppered with orange vested old men bearing shot-guns. Now, I could have been indignant and feisty but I chose the softer path. This is after all France and I am not French. The elderly gentlemen I spoke with, quite peturbed by my presence, explained that the hunters were everywhere. I said that I support them but that I did rather need to get back to my car. Carefully he showed me the alternative. I did not need to argue. I do not need to fight. I prefer not to hunt but the fact is that this is a hunting place, that the people have lived their lives through here, that they now abide by rules set down for them to follow and that above all, I am the stranger, the visitor.
Of course it should be noted that there is good and bad in every situation. I am not keen on coming across caged dogs when out and about with The Very Free Bean. Dogs who live for the hunt. Who are fed scraps of meat by their owners and kept hungry for the kill. These dogs are as unfortunate as my Achilles (named so that I could shout ‘Achilles, heel!’ with gay abandon) who was found wandering in my little Oxfordshire town a victim of the pikies who wanted him to course hares. His taste for blood was akin to mine so he was frankly useless and was left to starve. He lived happily with us, never losing his ability to stalk an unsecured bin until his death 4 years ago. Hunters can be good and hunters can be bad in any culture. But I prefer to let them prove they might be the good guys before I condemn them. And in the spirit of the against – a little story …. walking last autumn I struggled through un hameau where the signs proclaimed the hunt. The Bean and I found it hard to find the way marks but eventually after much toing and froing we got there. And lo (as they say in the Bible) we came upon a chap shoveling muck. I asked if I was going the right way. He nodded. I asked him if the dog (rather beautiful, incidentally) was for hunting. He jutted his jaw and shook his head violently as he proclaimed ‘non! je deteste le chasse …‘ I simply smiled and nodded and patted the dog – sometimes actions speak louder than words.
Driving home, I spoke to the animals. I told them they have some freedom now and that they should make the most of it. I also told the fish to take cover because as the hunting season finished, so the fishing season started …..
PS: I was brought up to talk to and as the animals … my daughters will confirm that all dogs have a voice and that we can all ‘do the dog voice’ as taught by Granny … possibly certifiable, certainly eccentric but what we do have is respect for our four leggeds.
The title is ‘Wall’. I have a quiet obsession with walls. When I meet someone new I have to own up to to this compulsion fairly quickly to explain my conversation discursively tailing off when I spot a lovely piece of brick work or, even better, a good effort at a dry stone wall. I want to learn how to do it. When I was a little girl our brickie was a displaced Glaswegian called, predictably, Jock. He used to come and speak unintelligibly and make walls in our garden or for a new garage or such-like. The house had been built for Mr Lyle known for his savvyness with sugar, to-wit Tate and Lyle. Edwin Lutyens had an influence in its design and construction and Jock was loyal to getting it right – not just any old bricks, not just any old cement. The right stuff for the right place. He was a tiny man with a large family living in a little house on a not so pleasant council estate some distance from us. He taught me by osmosis that one should never ever judge a book by its cover. He was a good man with a skill and not a deep pocket and looked after his own as best he could. A man of extreme moods, the world was either bright and sunny or dark and repellent. I liked Jock and was happy to carry him a mug of stewed tea laced with 7 sugars and whatever mother had made for elevenses or tea (we were ‘posh’ so that was cake or scones, his ‘tea’ would come later and would be what we called ‘supper’). Simultaneously, being a horse-mad youngster, I spent much of this formative period on a pony out in the wildest parts of Britain – moorlands, highlands and sparce wastelands and I developed this love of walling.
So when I saw this challenge, I was all over it. And I sifted through and through the hundreds and hundreds of pictures of walls that I have and gave myself a headache trying to choose because I stubbornly refuse to use more than one that evokes the prompt each week. Nose-face-spite. But then, just as I was throwing my toys out of my pram, spitting my dummy and generally being childishly unpleasant, something so right cropped up out of the blue driving home from Grenoble at the start of the week. A wall on a wall – a man-made stone castle, now decayed, toothlike atop the rocks, imperious and impervious to the elements and ever driving off the scurmisher as they remain standing firm. Nature – 1, human beings – 0.
PS: The title is from Paul Simon and picked because he says in that song ‘I built a wall around me’ which has always echoed favourably with me. Give me a wall any day …. keep em out for I embrace my hermitude.
And I got a wall around me That you can’t even see It took a little time To get next to me
And one last thing …. in answer to the request to find out more, I have discovered that this is actually Chateau de Crussol in Ardeche …. I believe the border with Drome is the Rhone which skirts Valence over which the ruin still watches
February was all about the snow here. It came thick and thicker and The Bean snow-snorkelled through the soft stuff and danced niftily on the icy crusts of the more exposed drifts. For me, it was the ministry of silly walks as I picked my way over the compacted stuff only to sink thigh high and have to heave my seemingly hulking form onwards (note to self … get some rackets). We still have snow on the mountains, of course but it’s mostly gone lower down. For now. It’s only March and it may return. The snow poles will stay where they are for several weeks more. This picture was taken walking at Lac de la Cregut in a break between blizzards the vivid orange of the sign, all of a sudden given beauty by the monochrome pallet created by the snow and the sky, a lighter shade of grey before the clouds begin to tinge with yellow against pure lead ready for the next dump …. You can see lots of other responses to the title ‘Orange’ in the weekly photo challenge just here
PS: The title? Anthony Burgess, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ – slightly more than tenuous but I like it.
The weather recently has been a roller-coaster so it was no surprise that driving to Grenoble yesterday, setting off before dawn that it was in fog reminiscent of a threadbare coat … thick in places, worn so thin that you can almost see through it in others. Headlights are difficult in such conditions … the light bounces back at you if they are lifted but doesn’t give much help when dipped and other peoples, particularly the lorries that are sharing the road at that silly hour of the morning are distracting and tiring on eyes that are still struggling to come to terms with working efficiently when they should still be shut in slumber. The drive winds perpetually and scales up and down the steep gorges. I won’t deny that I was ragged when we got to Polignac, and my reward felt just … the fortress sitting on its rocky table rising out of the feather mattress of softest white clouds below it was spectacular. I thought of Joni Mitchell as she looked at clouds from up and down and wondered if she had ever seen this ice-cream castle in the air. She should. It is heavenly. Reward, by the way, is the title of the Daily Press photo challenge this week … you can see all the other interpretations here
PS: It’s a standing joke between HB² and I that whenever I take the wheel on a long journey the weather conspires against me. Two Brains drove the second half of the journey down in bright sunshine and on the way back last night the sky was clear. Until Brioude when we swapped and the fog engulfed me and only lifted for the sky to spit hail-stones that bounced on the road like a shower of polystyrene balls.