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Posts from the ‘Trees’ Category

Those that keep silence, suffer more

This year my husband and I agreed to spend Christmas apart. Fear not, this is no dramatic announcement of impending divorce, but rather a reflection on the bloated airfares during the season of goodwill. In due time, I will tell of why we presently live one on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, but for now I will keep my council. It was my very own idea and I feel that it was a worthy protest, though I imagine it was inconsequential to the point of silence to those responsible for pumping up the prices with such unfettered glee.

Unwilling to risk being peeved by my own decision, I settled on a different solution to the celebrations than sitting in solitary splendour brooding over a meal for one all the while being eyed meaningfully by The Beady Greedy Bean.

In France, as in many other countries, la veille de Noël (Christmas Eve) is traditionally the biggest celebration. A large and lengthy meal with your loved ones culminates in the stealthy arrival of Père Noël (insert your own word for the snowy bearded wonder with grandeose paunch and snazzy white fur-trimmed scarlet suit) who soundlessly leaves gifts around midnight. It is a time of great joy and festivity for most but for others, to many others, it is a sad, solitary night, a time to dwell on past pleasures and the knowledge that there is little solace in the idea that the sun will rise again on the morrow. I speak of the old and alone. Those whom, for whatever reason, have no-one to care for them, those that subsist on tiny incomes and those that tend to be invisible to the masses. So I signed up to assist the Big Christmas Eve dinner laid on by a wondrous charity called Les Petits Frères des Pauvres. Translated as ‘Little Brothers of The Poor’ you may recognise the international federation it belongs to. If you don’t, I urge you to check it out for yourself. If you feel so inclined.

Donning the compulsary Bonnet de Père Noël, but fortunately no beard nor plumping suit, I had three seniors to collect from their homes, because I had also volunteered my car named Franck. I had one gregarious gentleman (aged a twinkling 98 if you please) and two lovely ladies (87 and 89 respectively). I delivered them to the venue, parked Franck and then joined the, incidentally mostly millennial, gang to serve dinner, play games, sing songs and greet Père Noël bearing gifts at midnight. Before we started and after we had seated our table after table of venerable guests there was a silence to remember those who fell serving in the Résistance. Grenoble is one of three cities and two villages awarded the Ordre de La Libération at the end of The Second World War and it is hard to describe how moving it was, that moment of respect standing head bowed amongst those who were directly touched by the indescribable bravery of those who refused to be cowed.

It was 2 a.m when I finally took my exhuberant and energetic charges home to their still silent dwellings. We had sung songs I knew and others I didn’t, played games that had to be explained to me and others that were comfortingly familiar and danced polkas they foot-perfect, I flat-footed. I feel tremendously priviliged to have been allowed to join in and to give beaming cheer where otherwise there would have been the bitter chill of loneliness in a world that too often scurries past rather than observing, for a moment, and perhaps acknowledging that, if we are deserving of conviviality and gaety and levity and simple companionship, then they surely are too. The waning years of human life should not label the bearer untouchable and past your sell-by date and fit to be cast into a metaphoric bin as though your odour is no longer tolerable.

I was motivated to share this moment by the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge labelled ‘Silence’ and as ever you can view, if you feel disposed to, the far more meritorious entries to the gallery here.

The picture was taken in Massachusetts in February 2016. Of course the United States has seen far more than it’s share of snow this winter season and the fat lady is not ready for the final song yet. I imagine, amongst all the chaos and hardship such weather induces, there has been that sense of muffled stillness that snow produces. That softly muted quiet that I love. Because silence can certainly be golden. It can also be heartbreakingly heavy.

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PS: The title is taken from C S Lewis that wisest, gentlest most considered of scolars. He said ‘I have learned now that while those that speak out about their misery usually hurt, those who keep silence hurt more’ … I recommend to everyone that, apart from the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’, you should read his work more widely and that his letters, published in several volumes to the many he corresponded with contain much wisdom, whatever your beliefs or views on faith and spirituality. That aside, I did, of course that morning in the woods, feel that I had stepped into the kingdom of Narnia.

There is a second part to my Christmas which I will chronicle separately in due course

And your bonus: The Tremeloes singing ‘Silence is Golden’. Although Frankie Valley and his Four Seasons recorded it first, this is the version as an English girl that I remember best.

A learned fool is more a fool

 Mr Clarke had the unenviable task of being my ‘Form Tutor’ in my last two years at senior school.  Mr Clarke, an undeniably smart man, only taught the top two years.  Those that ostensibly really wanted to learn his subject.  English Literature.  We, being witty as well as bright called him  ‘Forsooth Verily’ by dint of his superbly Shakespearian air made more acute by the fashions at the time … softest suede desert boots that made no sound, not even a whisper, as he glid across the high-polished wood floors, velvet jacket fitted to his slender form and what here in France they would call a ‘foulard’ of embroidered cheesecloth casually draped around his neck.  His beard was deliberately bard there is no doubt.  He had the delight of teaching me and the double wham bam no thank you mammy of being in charge of what would these days be called my ‘Pastoral Care’.  It is fair and truthful to own up at this point in my too rapidly ageing life, that I was a handful.  Twice a day, at it’s start and finish, the group of us that formed Tutor Group 6SB congregated in the library, for this was his domain.  This was his exhalted place.  This was his book-lined empire.  We did our prep, we swatted for exams, sometimes he led a discussion, sometimes we rehearsed an assembly.  I say ‘we’ but I might reasonably admit that I had a habit of being less than engaged with the process.  One fine afternoon he asked me to please, for goodness sakes please, concentrate on the work in hand and added that I was ‘vacuous’.  This provoked an inevitable barrage of ‘what does that mean, sirs’ from the tiresome object that was me.  He suggested, quite reasonably that I might look it up in the dictionary.  These vast volumes lined the bottom shelf of his cave and I remember sitting cross legged finding the correct tome.  Quite askance I read the all too obvious definition.  He of course implied that I was ‘as a vacuum’ …. absolutely bugger all going on in my head.  Mr Clarke was a very smart man.  So acutely embarrassed and humiliated was I that my reset button was pressed toute de suite.  Later that summer I would open the envelope with my all-important A-Level exam results and be really proud of what I had achieved rather than quietly ashamed of wasting what ability I had.  Thank you Mr Clarke.  You sealed my future with your withering remark.  You made me face the fact that given the gift of something of an  intellect, it is honestly the height of fatuous rudeness not to at least try to use it wisely.

I give you this little story as my offering for the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge ‘Dense’ of which you can find all the suitably solid entries here.  My picture, taken on Sunday on la Crête de la Molière, seemed rather apt – the dense cloud trying it’s hardest to mask the snow covered Massif de Belledonne, the tree who has seen it all before, now old and weathered, battered and broken but stripped though it is, it still stands sentinel surveying it’s realm.

DSCF1188PS:  I remember in my salvo of protests asking Mr Clarke if he was actually and really telling me I was dense.  He replied that he most certainly was not.  For density implies that there is a good deal of matter in the cranial caverty and he rather prefered to leave me in no doubt that there was nothing between my ears whatsoever.  Stinging.  Really it was stinging.

The quote is from Molière’s ‘Les Femmes Savantes’: ‘a learned fool is more foolish than an ignorant one.’  I would postulate that this is inarguable and that if we are to be learnèd we would do well to use our learning wisely throughout our days.  Even those jolly days of miscreant behavior before we step blinking into the light and have to be vaguely growed-up.

A beautiful and terrible thing

You may recall in a post from a couple of months ago entitled Two Lymes and a Lemon I told our collective tale of woe.  To recap The Brains and The Bean were both being treated for Lyme disease and I had taken a fall on little more than a gentle stroll up Arthurs Seat in Edinburgh.  The Lymes are doing well, though those familiar with the disease will know that it is the hidden damage that is hard to quantify … there may be none, there may be much but life, in our collective opinion (Two Brains and I have pulled rank on The Bean and made the decision for her) life is too short to worry about mightbees.

But.  Big but. It seems little old attention seeking me has been less fortunate.  My leg continued to give me grief and it became apparent that I have something called Foot Drop (which sounds like the Dropsy so loved of Shakespeare but is in fact a condition that means I can’t lift my foot.  So my left side wafts with my usual elegance and grace (no, really) and my right side has a high step and flop-foot  like a bizarre half human-half duck creature).  Eventually, having travelled to France for a couple of weeks and back to Britain for a couple more weeks with the Agèd P and returned to Massachusetts, I was able to present myself back with the Doctor who was clearly concerned that I was still having problems and indeed those problems had increased.  So I had an MRI.  Actually I had two, because I’m greedy …. one for the ankle and one for the calf.  That thing when your Doctor rings and opens the conversation with ‘you sure did a number on that leg’, that thing is the unwanted herald that you know  the news isn’t going to be an invitation to pop the cork on a good bubbly.  And it wasn’t – a fractured tibia at the ankle, a severe tear to a tendon and muscle down thereabouts and a fully snapped ligament. And moving up to the calf a further fracture to the fibular and somewhere in the whole mess a squished perineal nerve which is the thing that sends the messages to your foot to move up and down.  Hence the one-sided duck-walk.  I’d prefer a cake-walk.  For now I have to settle for a comedy walk since it appears the ligament (its the one that joins the tibia to the fibular) may be responsible for the fact that my foot is increasingly insistent that it needs to, really and honestly needs to, veer outwards giving me a gate that amusingly resembles the waddle of a penguin.  An odd bird indeed, that 6′ penguin-duck-bird.  One specialist has given me a prognosis of running again next summer, tomorrow I see a second.  What will be will be but the whole damn sorry scene does bring to mind Dumbledore in Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone ‘The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing and should therefore be treated with great caution’.  I really, really wanted the truth but it turns out not THIS actual truth.  Heyho.  So many worse off.  Too many.  Far too many.  And I dedicate this piece to all of you.  You know who you are Terry and Clare and Kerry and AJ and Kat and I’m sorry I can’t do links because my Mac has decided I’m moaning too much and has malfunctioned to take the attention away from my whingeathon.  Next stop Apple Hospital.

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I picked this image for no particular reason except that the tree that has fallen into the water is absolutely perfect and it’s reflection entirely unblemished, the water itself seemingly unpeturbed.   Which is probably how I appear.  Deceptive these appearances can be, don’t you find?

PS:  Since the author of Harry Potter (J K Rowling like you didn’t know) is a resident of Edinburgh and the taxi driver who took me to the A&E there sang her praises loudly as the most remarkable woman who gives so much quietly, it felt appropriate to use a quote from one of her characters in my title.

Mirror was the Weekly Photo Challenge a couple of weeks ago …. this is my belated entry