In chaos there is fertility
At various points in my life I have described myself as a ‘cat herder’. Herding cats being, if you are idle enough to dwell on the issue, a thankless and almost impossible task. At times it has been part of my job and at other times it has been part of my role as a mummy and surrogate mummy to whoever was clinging to whichever of my children (and there were usually multiple clutches of them) at that particular time. I find that a combination of drill Sergeant Major and free-wheeling hippy chicky does the trick a treat.
In the summer of 2015 I was asked to reprise this role – to give a one off performance of ‘The Cat Herder’ to an audience of lightning fanciers and experts and interested amateurs from all over the world in Aurillac. Aurillac is the capital (or prefecture) of Cantal and is known throughout France as the coldest town in the country. This is because the weather girls and boys on all channels and in the newspapers always have the lowest temperature on any day listed as Aurillac so therefore it must be true … hold that thought.
The meeting was to last two days and HB2 and I plus The essential Bean arrived the night before and checked into our dog friendly hotel. Not an issue since so many hotels are dog friendly in France and in fact most cafés and restaurants bat not the merest graceful eyelash at the dog dining with you. Particularly tiny dogs like ours. This makes The Bean fully portable and no hindrance to our lives whatsoever. Since we were eating en masse with the entire posse of delegates and organisers we left her snuggled in her basket dreaming of Bean things and enjoyed our evening immensely.
The following day I hit the ground hell for leather, checking everyone in, making sure those that hadn’t paid in full before the event opened their moth-eaten wallets and placed their owings in my ultra-efficient paw, setting up the refreshments and generally acting the part of the elegant swan to perfection. Swans, we know, paddle frantically but invisibly and glide their impeccable glide with an unparalleled serenity. Hold that thought too.
The fly in the ointment was the fact that this gleaming conference facility, the pride of Aurillac and contained in their Centre de Congrès had a large and prominent no dogs sign – one of those with an emphatic diagonal line through the offending pooch. We asked if they really meant it. For example most of the newly refurbished small airports in France have these signs but you will find there are hounds and houndettes strolling around unpeturbed in all of them – in fact The Bean is entranced with airports in France because she tends to be fêted royally by passengers, crews and sundry workers alike which she considers, quite understandably, is her right. They did mean it. They really, really did mean it so we had no choice but to leave her in the hotel with me running up and down stairs at frequent intervals and hightailing it to our staying quarters to air her. Believe me this was not the plan – worrying about the dog whilst herding all these cats was unequivocally NOT the plan. Unfortunately the might of Two Brains’ intellect was one of the star attractions of the show so he was required to sit and look brilliant and wise throughout all the presentations and ask pithy questions in English and French of the presenters. Me, I’m just the tea girl. I know my place. Cast your mind back a couple of paragraphs. Aurillac is the coldest place in France so leaving The Bean in the hotel room was no more than a mere inconvenience, surely. Except that it isn’t at all cold (well in winter it can be pretty nippy, downright chilly and even positively freezeling because it is in the mountains) … in fact the daytime temperature those two days hit 45°C (thats 113°F). So quite warm. Not thermal underwear weather. Not knitted mittens weather. Not even nylons weather. And certainly not weather to have a dog cooped up anywhere and mostly not in a hotel room which unlike the conference facility did not boast even a ceiling fan, let alone air conditioning. I have seldom passed such an anxious time. We got through it, of course we did. I found a little square round the corner with nice shady trees and took her to sit (and be fêted by sundry locals) every hour and I kept her watered. I think brittle would be the best word to describe me as I herded those cats to perfection for hours on end back and forth to the restaurant for lunch and dinner, dolling out the refreshments which they seemed to destroy like a plague of locusts in minutes flat at every break and all the while smiling my rapturous smile, inclining my head graciously, gliding my silky glide, giving of my famed shimmy and schmooze and wishing I was somewhere else entirely.
The end of the conference, the end of the longest two days of my entire life, was marked with a gala reception and the guest of honour was the fourth most important man in France. The Mayor of Aurillac who has a particular interest in Science was also on the guest list. And of course all the delegates from all over the world. They were each presented with a lovely box of Cantalien goodies and the food laid out on the long tables looked achingly beautiful – salver after salver of exquisite bite-sized confections savoury and sweet, and the champagne on ice waiting to be poured by the equally exquisite and immaculately uniformed team of young servers their beatific faces never flickering from that porcelain expression that sits between inscrutable and the merest flicker of a smile and had clearly been drilled into them by the rather forebidding and hawk-like bloke in charge. I don’t think he had ever smiled. I don’t think he actually had ever wanted to smile, for smiling surely would be a foolish fripperie and not something to waste ones life on when one had important functions to preside over and guests to skillfully intimidate if they fell short of ones exacting and giddyingly high standards – none shall pass but the most hallowed and they shall be obsequiously attended to and with aplomb so that all the lesser mortals need only look on and dream that they too might one day be so elevated.
We waited and we waited and we waited. The tired delegates, most of whom were not French did not understand why we waited. And to be frank neither did I. I asked the hawk-eyed witherer and I swear he dessicated me on the spot with the most epically condescending yet oh so fleeting glare of my entire life and, lips barely flickering as he murmured his patronising finest, he explained that in France you cannot start proceedings until the guest of honour arrives. And the guest of honour was the fourth most important man in France. I went wearily downstairs with Ferdinand (a rather goat-like German who had been part of the organising team for reasons that escape me). Ferdinand is a ladies man. He flirted tirelessly and I ignored him tiredly. Every so often I went upstairs to report that I had nothing to report. We waited and we waited and we waited and, if I may be candid the heat, the lack of food (I had been serving refreshments, not eating them for that is the Cat Herders remit) and possibly dehydration which would have certainly been rectified with a glass of bubbly but the bubbles couldn’t be popped without the all important presence of the fourth most important man in France. I became silently hysterical and not a little delirious. And then I spotted him. A man on a bike weaving his purposeful way towards the building. He dismounted and removed his bicycle clips placing them in the breast pocket of his, admittedly rather elegant whisper grey shirt and chained his bike carefully to the front of the building and smoothed down his undoubtedly snazzy designer black jeans. I usually pride myself on picking up on clues. This day my inner Marple had abandoned me – presumably a victim of evaporation brought on by the heat. He entered the building. I spoke up. I admit I shouldn’t have. Hindsight is not wonderful. It is painfully embarrassing. I asked him, with a little twinkle of irony in my tone if he might be the fourth most important man in France. No, he replied. I’m the mayor of Aurillac. The ground failed to swallow me up and Ferdinand who up to that point had been an irritant became my hero as he swept the aforementioned and understandably disgruntled mayor up and took him up the equally sweeping staircase. Minutes later Ferdinand reappeared and as if by magic, so did the enormous black car bearing two of the most glamourous and chic women I have EVER seen in my life and the fourth most important man in France. I remained stoically silent. I may never learn but I seldom repeat the same mistake in the same evening. Seldom I said. Not never. Fortunately this was a seldom night. Ferdinand greeted the VIP and his entourage and then introduced me ‘this is Mme B – she’s the head of diplomacy for the organisation’ …. levity has never been more welcome.
And don’t ask me who this fellow was … I never discovered. He’s the fourth most important man in France – why on earth would I need to know more than that …. after all I’m just the Cat Herder and I know my place.
I offer you this little bauble as my entry to this weeks WordPress Photo Challenge titled Chaos and you can see all the other fabulous entries here.
The compulsary PS: You might be wondering given the story above why I have picked this picture of random rocks. I have a logic. The picture is of a Chaos Basaltique in Cantal …. the area is volcanic and strewn with reminders of that heritage in such formations which are left over when the basalt columns known coloquially as ‘Organ Pipes’ collapse and fling their broken pieces seemingly randomly in rivers of brittle rock. I love stumbling on them. This one is at Landeyrat and was the high spot of a most enraging hike two years ago.
The title comes from Anaïs Nin …. it appears in one of her umpteen journals – she was prolific, writing every day in volume after volume from girlhood until her death. The chaos in the picture is fertile with plants and lichen and mosses so her words seem to fit nicely. And I happen to agree with her … chaos can be fertile – as a seasoned Cat Herder, I should know.
Later, Osyth added this bonus in response to a question from a reader as to what a Cat Herder actually is:
Awesome! I mean, I would not of liked to be in your shoes. I do not do good with a lot of people in formal settings, but it was certainly a great read. I can only imagine the chaos!
I used to call it the shimmy and schmooze and by entirely shutting off my conscious mind I do it quite well. This does not mean I like it as you will imagine!! Thank you so much for your kind words – as always they mean a lot 🙂
That sounds about what I do when I have to!! Have a wonderful day sister.
On another note, I just finished a book, that you might appreciate; “French Women’s Confidence Secrets” by Margaretha Montagu. I’ve been following Margaretha’s blog https://equineguidedgrowth.com, longer than I can remember. Of course I had to read her new book. I was not disappointed.
Oooh! This I need to find – the blog and the book … sounds right up my street- thank you, dear Maria 🙂
It is good! Margaretha is a soul sister. You will like her.
I’m just going to pour a coffee and search her out …. we soul sisters have a duty to cleave together 🙂
It is indeed most fertile as it yielded this post! You had me at ‘a combination of drill Sergeant Major and free-wheeling hippy chicky’, perfectly summing up my own mothering style. A finely rendered portrait of French chaos indeed. May I ask for further clues of the identity of the 4th most important man in France?
I’ll ask Raymond (see story of Red Pig) whose conference it was for enlightenment ….
I wouldn’t mind knowing that either. I mean, it could be useful to know if the top three cop it altogether.
I have to ask Raymond (of Red Pig story notoriety) …. I was entirely dead from the neck up by that point so nothing was sticking – in fact I nearly keeled over after a couple of sips of the blessed bubbles! I will enlighten further in a later post. There is more to come on this one ….
And you’ll have to enlighten me as to what exactly a cat-herder is. I can be a bit thick sometimes.
Cats are notoriously single minded and uncooperative creatures so the idea of trying to herd a gaggle of them is impossible. The term, in my case, refers to trying to make orderly a disorderly group of people, be they children, teens or grown up boffins who should know better! This says it rather well https://youtu.be/Pk7yqlTMvp8
Clever film—and funny 🙂 I think I’d rather herd cats than people.
When I was in my last corporate job which was for the first and last time in my life in the Finance Sector and involved a lot of Investor Relations, I regularly used to send that clip to various colleagues who were being tried to the limit by their human charges from wherever in the world they were – this is where I truly perfected the smile and nod!
Our eldest’s first serious young man was/is a ‘commercial’ whose job was not so much selling his company’s products as entertaining their customers. This seemed to involve trips to low budget exotic third world countries to have a wonderful laddish time in bars, swimming pools, with lap dancers and other entertainers. The big rupture came when the scales fell from daughter’s eyes and she realised that she had only been assuming he hated these trips—in fact he loved them.
Methinks HE doth protest too much?
He was just a lout underneath his expensive education 🙂
I’m well versed in the type, I’m afraid. I’m glad your daughter saw the light – it will illuminate her future choices, I am sure.
She’s with a very nice chap who is all set to chuck in his good well-paid job to take a chance with anything at all in Ireland. Greater love hath no man.
Good – this makes me happy. It’s one of the trickiest aspects of parenthood – having a child embroiled with a lover who is clearly not right for them or as so often is the case who is just pursuing their own selfish agenda.
Husband is very suspicious of him. Can’t believe they’re as happy and on the same wavelength as they seem. He has a very short memory…
He’s a man and he’s her father. It’s his job. And complete anathema to most women and particularly mothers!
My dad liked husband, my mother disliked him for the same reasons 🙂 My mother was suspicious of happy couples. there’s no pleasing some folk.
My father was hugely tolerant and vaguely disconnected. My mother thought the first husband was immature (correctly) the second was odious (correctly) and mostly loves the third (a source of relief since her disapproval is vile to encounter).
Even distant mothers can make their disapproval felt. I’m glad she likes this one. I somehow can’t see my opinion being either sought or taken into account. That’s a sort of relief.
When we married it was in France in the village we have our appartement. We invited her, of course and we offered to make it easy and free for her to get there. She declined. She then threw a second reception for us in England. I wore my wedding dress again and felt quite pretty. I arrived at the venue and she was sitting waiting to hold court ‘oh here’s the star of the show’ she shouted. I opened my mouth to gush my thanks and then realised my eldest daughter was behind me her with her dog ‘the star of the show’ ….. I know my place 😉
She sounds as though she’s set herself up as the matriarch and loves it. We have those in my family too, but holding court has been on a more modest scale.
She longed to be the matriarch and has embraced her role wholeheartedly. It gives her pleasure and so long as I don’t cross her it gives me peace.
Power. Some are born for it 🙂
And others suffer for it 😉
I absolutely loved this! A brilliant piece of writing, so evocative of the way inner chaos and outer serenity can sometimes co-exist. And it made me laugh – always a good thing 😊
This makes me happy …. I really want people to have smiles and laughter (even the poker faced Major Domo at the Reception) in their day! So glad you enjoyed it Clive and thank you for the kind words 🙂
Fiona, you had me laughing out loud! Richard and Jeanine who are staying with us wondered what on earth was going on! I too admit to being a tad curious as to who the mystery man was.
Say hello and send love to Richard and Jeanine, please do! And John of course and the menagerie …. I’m so glad you enjoyed this. I will ask Raymond (you’ve met him) for formal identification of the fourth most important man in France ….. love to you too, of course! Xx
You cannot keep us in this sort of suspense, so who is the fourth most important man in France? I googled it, but Google was frankly useless.
Lovely story, exquisite writing (as always). I look forward to all your posts, you have such style and such interesting things to relate.
On the “cat herders” note, I used to describe myself as that in the job I quit this year 🙂
Do you know I thought you would recognise the Cat Herding …. funny how one picks up little signs from another’s writing. I’m so glad you enjoyed it and thank you, as ever for being so kind to me 🙂
My mothering style leaned more to completely hippy-dippy, interspersed with the odd meltdown (ask my children) but I admire Drill Sergeant- Major in anyone else.
As for organising that ? My own attempts at strict organisation of major events have always fallen down somewhere. Again, ask my children……………
I used to say that work prepared me for being a mother and being a mother prepared me for work. I’d have drowned if I didn’t have an inner Sergeant Major …. but fortunately they mostly remember the hippy these days. As for the conferences – I used to do far worse but boy was that Googly a bugger …. The Bean and the heat added not a frisson more a frying!
I have some inner SM but it didnt really come out till my early forties because life threw so much s**t at me and I was WAY too nice, easygoing, people-pleasing and nonchalant in my youth.
I’m sure Trev loves that SM l😂 I’m a bit of a pushover really – witness even agreeing to do the event and now it looks like there is version two slated for next year but that’s fine – it all adds to the spice and fun of life in some way. And the Maire of Aurillac is REALLY tasty (but keep it to yourself 😉)
Did I say there was an” &” in the middle you great minds think alikey you?
I couldn’t possibly comment 😂
Osyth, your stories are always wonderful and have me right there with you with your enchanting and fascinating words. What an event and task you had on had, but as usual you handled it the way Osyth always does – with grace. LOL, appreciate you very much, you always bring a smile to my face – thank you dear. Happy Monday to you, hubby and The Bean! 🙂
Terry, you are so kind to me! I’m really glad you liked the piece …. it was a horror show really but it worked out well for the Lightning Research Laboratory which my husband is aligned to so I felt the job was worth it really. Unfortunately it was such a success that they are doing another next year ….. guess who they will ask to shimmy and schmooze and guess who finds that little N word almost impossible to say. Watch this space but meanwhile have a gorgeous Monday (the calm before the storm tomorrow, I’m guessing 😉)
I am sure you will do great again next year. Maybe if everything works out – I will come give you some help! Yes, the calm before the storm – tomorrow is the big day! 🙂
Hold that thought …. I would love you to come and help if you are able! We can shimmy and schmooze together 😂
A fertile post indeed – such entertainment from a dire situation.
Thank you so much, Derrick!
Chaos gave birth to a mirth filled post. Well done.
Thank you so much Bernadette – we have to laugh, don’t we? If we didn’t (although I swear that poker-faced Maitre D had never heard of the word) the alternative is far to hard to bear.
> salver after salver
> He flirted tirelessly and I ignored him tiredly.
> whisper grey
I thought you made this one up–then I went to Google Images. Cha-ching for you!
Well thank you so much! I feel like I’ve just opened my essay book and got a gold star!!
I knew you’d get it! All of it!
Your writing is wonderful, and I thoroughly enjoyed your descriptions of the event and the people. The way your words dance and twirl across the screen is delightful! 🙂
Tonya, you are so sweet and kind! I’m delighted that you enjoyed it …. get such pleasure from your blog, it’s lovely to know I give a bit in return!
Thank you. 😊🌻
Wow! What an image you painted in my mind. I’m laughing out loud with Mr. Vinny looking at me like I’ve flipped my lid!
This makes me happy! Welcome to France. And I will welcome you to France some day …. and I love the thought of Vinny giving you hard stare and wisely wondering if he should be calling for help!!!
What a treat to read and enjoy on a rainy Monday morning. 😊
So glad you enjoyed it …. I felt it was time for something more light-hearted. What with tomorrow looming for the electorate here and the eyes of the world twitching in unison ….
I have to believe that sanity will win and that the American voters will do the right thing. I’ll be “twitching” in anticipation.
My husband commented a couple of days ago that whatever the result there will be a huge number of very angry people on Wednesday morning. I’m afraid the ticks in the box (his own included) may only be the start ….
‘The fourth most important man in France’ is such a perfectly French notion..I’m laughing out loud here. thanks.
So glad you enjoyed it …. I’m not sure the fourth most important man in France would approve of all this jollity though 😉
Good posts, beautiful blog.
Welcome to see my creations:
Thank you so much – it’s so kind of you to take the time to stop by, read and comment. It means a lot 🙂
you’r welcome friend
Oh! and of course I’ll take a look at your blog when I have a little time to do it justice later today!
What a brilliant story this is Osyth.. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to attend a conference again without thinking of the delegates as cats… Puuurrrrrfect Post! x
So please you enjoyed it, Wendy …. it gave me great pleasure to write it actually – a bit of a respite from the real chaos of the election here!! x
It’s a really great post and I can imagine that you need a break from the election… I can’t get over how long and drawn out the American elections are… it seems bizarre and I dread to think what will happen regardless of which candidate wins…. xx
I hope you’re ok after the election results Osyth… a bit of a shock but I’m sure it will all work out in the end… We’re probably all in for a rocky ride over the next couple of years I suspect with Brexit and now Trump… Time to batten down the hatches! x
IN the immortal words of Sister Juliette of Norwich ‘all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well’ …. I shall be back in France from December for several months and witnessing their Presidentials – it seems to be a habit this year! Thank you so much for thinking of me …. stunned me! Xx
Ahh – you’re very welcome and I’m sure Sister Juliette has an ear to listen in the right place… So she must be right! Good luck with your trip back to France.. x
Hi. This is more of a PM, in response to a comment you made on Helen’s blog. I worked with a homeless group in Los Angeles. They had mailboxes for homeless people — a plaçe to put on job applications, to send the cell phone bill, etc. It made a big difference. Mollie Lowrie at LAMP, formerly Los Angeles Men’s Place. She had dozens of practical ideas for bringing homeless people in off the street. I can’t say enough good things about her. I hope she’s still there.
At the moment I have no status here in the US and I err on the side of caution even in terms of volunteering. A friend of mine runs a not for profit here in Massachusetts which works with the poorest in the State and IF it turns out, as it probably will, that I am here for a longer time from next summer I intend to use my Green Card to the good and work with a local group. I would be really interested to get advice from your friend. Perhaps when we are in France, in any event, you and I could meet up or chat by phone. I think you have much to share which would be relevant to me and I hope I have al title that is relevant to you. Namaste 🙏🏼
I can assure you that if know at least one, ahem, person who would have become so overheated by the exertion and stress that, well before the fourth most important man in France could have appeared, I would have melted into a small…well, maybe a large, puddle which could have accommodated any number of swans! Enjoyed your story! Jo
Thank you so much Joan – for the smile that brought and for taking the time not only to read but to comment on my drivel! 😊
…not drivel at all!
…I’ve herded some cats at times as well…
🐱 🐱 🐱 🐱 🐱 🐱 😊
Love the whole post, can relate to the drill Sergeant and hippy chick! Had to laugh dearest xxxxx Excellent writing as always
So glad you enjoyed it ….. particularly the reference to my mothering ‘skills’ xxx
I could totally relate. No matter what your write about, I find I laugh, almost cry and smile! xx
Thank you so much, dearest Lynn …. that absolutely means the world to me 🙂 xxx
Love your story….you have way more patience than I ever could…I would of snuck the bean in….just sayin….LOL
Believe me, it was tempting. So tempting! Just back from Provincetown on the Cape …. now they KNOW how to do tolerance for small feisty but oddly cute dogs …. it’s possible she’s been adopted as the official mascot for next weeks Leather Guys Festival of New England 😂 😂 😂
now that sounds like a good group of chaps…pun inteneded…lol
Great pun …. and they are!
The elegant swan does the combination of drill Sergeant Major and free-wheeling hippy chicky, smiling my rapturous smile, inclining my head graciously, gliding my silky glide, giving of my famed shimmy!
Utter class! Not only do you describe chaos with the elegance it deserves… you actually make me want to live chaos!!
I trust the whole experience made you stronger… even if just for a day or two!! 😉
PS – Viva la… whatever! I can never match yer PS’s of French quips… 😛
Haha – stick with me …. I’m an expert at chaos! Thank you so much for the lovely, thoughtful and very flattering comment. I’m so glad you enjoyed my twaddle!
Brilliant writing. Really enjoyed the read. The style of your writing is amazing.
I think you underestimate your importance in the world and how you impact others, Fiona. Your story was real and so fascinating. Smiles and hugs xo
That is extraordinarily sweet of you …. I am as I am and just grateful that you and others enjoyed my story for after all what is life without giving a little pleasure to others x
Loved this story and the huge grin it gave me. The video was the icing on the cake and eliciting much needed laughter on this end. I enjoy the tender ‘irreverence’ I interpret in your descriptions of French façon d’être that are so familiar to me and that I haven’t been around for years. You capture the humor of the culture in a way that makes me smile every time. I love your detailed description of the mayor’s arrival. How with few words I saw him so clearly.
This piece landed as a much needed breath of fresh air! Thanks
That makes me very happy …. that the fates conspired to have me write this at a moment it would help your spirits. I send you warm wishes and the hope that whatever is bringing you down is temporary. Keep smiling, my friend. Namaste.
Smile going out your way. Thank you
Received and to be treasured – thank YOU!
A few years back, we discovered some strange looking but very useful coats that keep dogs cool–you soak them in water, they soak up the water, and even though it’s counterintuitive to put a coat on a dog in hot weather, they keep the dog cool. I think they’re called cool coats, although I wouldn’t swear to that. After that, the dog is free to help herd cats, although the cats won’t appreciate it.
Ellen that is SO useful …. thank you from me and thank you from The Bean …. truly thank you!
Happy to help. Very happy.
I am terribly impressed with your cat herding skills. I am a real cat herder… 🐈
Real cat herders are to be revered 🙂
Thank you so much for the pingback – it is most appreciated 🙂