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Posts tagged ‘The Man with Two Brains’

Truly ‘t is a rare bird in the land

Those of you familiar with my nonsense will know that I refer to my spouse as The Husband with Two Brains or HB². But he has another moniker, one that arose when he wasn’t even in the same country as the protagonist, let alone the same room.

Some while ago, probably 6 months after I moved to France, I was taking coffee with Raymond (adopt French accent, for he is indeed a proud Frenchman). Raymond came into world of HB² quite by chance some 20 years ago. A knock on his office door, a frantic colleague needing help with someone he suspected to be a Frenchman who had appeared uninvited in the lab. Under gentle interrogation it transpired that Raymond had spent all his savings on a single air fare to New York in pursuit of an Astronomy Professor that he particularly admired. He being, at the time, a student and general helper at the Astronomy faculty in Nice. Picked up by the Police wandering aimlessly, he somehow persuaded them to put him on the Amtrak to Boston from where he found his way to Harvard and there the story brought him into my husband’s orbit. Struck by his tenacity, his extraordinary affinity with the night-sky, which is akin to the ancient astronomers who first mapped and tried to understand the world beyond our globe, and touched by his desire to learn, my husband took him in and found him work in his lab. Eighteen months later he returned to France to complete a degree having finally accepted that to be taken seriously in the world of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Cosmology and all the attendent highbrow orbits he fancied dabbling in, he must have a degree. Since that time, Raymond remains devoted to Two Brains and I would suggest with some reason.

Back to the café where I had enjoyed a coffee and a chat with the same Raymond and asked his advice. I was concerned about my husband at the time for reasons I now fail to remember – living lives separated by 3,000 miles nurtures anxiety, or at least that has been my experience. As we stood to say our au revoirs, Raymond clasped me by the shoulders and, as he faire les emphatic bises (the air-kiss-kiss we do in France but with supplementary vigour to impart fortitude), declared that my husband is really un cochon rouge – a red pig. I queried this with a smile intended to make me the fool and a gentle ‘quoi?’ and he repeated ‘il est un petit cochon rouge’ – so in fact not just any red pig , but a small red pig. My husband stands almost 6′ and though of light and lean frame is not one to ever be described as little, particularly in France where most men are of, let’s say more concise hauteur. Including Raymond. To be doubly belt and braces sure that I understood him Raymond then announced in English ‘he is a red pig, a small red pig’.

Later that evening on the phone to The Brains I asked him, having Googled colloquial, slang and vernacular French all afternoon in vain. I enquired in a roundabout Winnie the Pooh sort of casual way what calling someone un cochon rouge or indeed un petit cochon rouge might mean. The answer came back ‘red pig or little red pig’. So not helpful at all. Accordingly spurred by what had now become an obsessive need to understand, I made a full confession, including sharing my troubled mind over he who owns both brains and was subjected to a stunned and complete silence. The identical stunned silence it turned out that Raymond employed a few weeks later when asked what he had meant by calling The Brains a red pig. He claimed he had said ‘un petit cochon rose’ and meant that my husband is more sensitive than he lets on. Less macho, less girder-built. I can firmly report that he did NOT. No sir. Not. At. All. I heard him entirely distinctly and he called my husband a little RED pig. Of course it has stuck. It begged to and would have been dreadfully rude to ignore it.

Therefore, when staying in Boothbay Harbor, Maine as recommended by my blogging friend ‘The Weird Guy with a Dog’ whom I wholeheartedly urge you to check out, and confronted with this wingèd porcine outside a pretty store selling eccentric ironwork, I was minded to abduct it but made do with a photograph for now. I perfectly intend to own it when we have a house to put it on – after all who can resist such a wondrous hog, seemingly dancing in the air, gleeful cheeks a-puffing, perky ears a-flapping and that tail uplifted with such blithe abandon. Nothing at all like my husband but portraying perfectly the joie de vivre I suspect we all aspire to and with the added advantage of telling you which way the wind blows. It is a rapturous porker, a piggy I will dream of until I return to make it my very own. I was inclined to share this story by the Weekly Photo Challenge prompt this week ‘Rare’ – if it piques your interest, you can see a sensational selection of entries here.

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PS: The quote is Martin Luther, Priest, Scolar, questioner and reformer ‘A faithful and good servant is a real godsend; but truly ‘t is a rare bird in the land’. Raymond has been a good and faithful servant to The Brains these more than twenty years and as you will discover when I write more of him is surely one of the rarest of birds you will encounter in a lifetime. Actually Luther was uncommonly fond of his rare birds giving the accolade to wise princes and even more to upright ones. That would probably apply today though to politicians rather than princes, I would suggest.

I’ll be your dog!

On a beautiful day nearly two years ago, The Brains, The Bean and I set off for a walk that starts in the wonderfully named St Poncy (if you are English this will make you smile – my American is not good enough to know if Ponce means the same in your vernacular). Along the way three became four and this is the piece I wrote at the time – I hope you will enjoy it.

Half Baked In Paradise

We walk.  The Bean and me and HB2, when he is here makes three.  There are 340 marked PR (petit randonnees) across le Cantal and I have set myself the ideal of walking all of them.  In keeping with the rest of France these are marked walks, mostly circular and varying in length and difficulty.  The simple colour coding system tells you if it is easy (blue), longer and more difficult (yellow) or very long and varying in difficulty (green).  One weekend recently we decided to drive to the far north east of the departement (a drive of about 1.5 hours) and do a nice long green walk.  The duration was estimated as 4.75 hours for the 14.5 km.  We packed a picnic of cheese and bread and tomatos and set off.  The day was glorious – sunny, hot and with a fair scattering of the fluffiest white clouds dancing…

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Two Lymes and a Lemon

In the words of Cyril Raymond to Celia Johnson at the end of ‘Brief Encounter’  ‘you’ve been a long, long way away’ – I won’t flatter myself with his next line ‘thank you for coming back to me’ but I have been a long way away and I’m very much afraid that I HAVE come back to you ….

It’s been a bit of a saga so here is a précis before I dive back into stories of house hunts and refurbishments and hikes (though one does figure here) and generally half-baked meanderings.

Here goes:

  1. June 17th The Two Brained one is diagnosed with Lyme Disease after breaking out in purple patches all over his normally unblemished body.
  2. June 19th He whisks me by circuitous route, lest I guess the ultimate destination, to France.  Grenoble to be precise.  You may remember I have a particular affection for Grenoble
  3. June 21st To the courthouse …. I’m not in the dock and neither is he but I do have another installment for my book ‘The Lying Cheating Lives of Others’ and there will be more of that in later blog posts – a road yet to be trodden but one that I think y’all might enjoy
  4. June 22nd – home to our little nest in Northern Cantal for our Wedding Anniversary.  There is nothing nicer than to be in the village we were married in three years ago drinking a toast ‘à la notre’ in jolly nice French champagne
  5. June 23rd – up early and on the road to Marcolès to find out what progress on the house.   There is progress but it would be wrong of me to spoil the surprise so I will leave you in suspenders til the next installment
  6. June 25th – back to Lyon to drop off car and take a flight.  HB² is confident that a) I love surprises so will not look at my ticket b) I can’t actually see it without my glasses and c) I’m so excited that I will miss the only announcement for our flight.  Therefore I board a plane not knowing where I am bound
  7. June 26th – I wake up in Edinburgh, a city I know quite well, where my grandmother was married in 1918 and where I hounded my elder brother when he was doing his PhD because I could and mainly because he had a ready supply of male friends for the 18 year old me to make cow-eyes at.
  8. June 27th – I pick up a call from my vet who is boarding The Bean.  The words ‘there is nothing to worry about, but ….’ instantly make me worried.  A lot worried.  Because it turns out that The Small But Feisty one has also got Lyme.  Be still my pounding heart.  At least she is in the right place and they say she is responding well to treatment.
  9. June 29th – We decide to walk up Arthur’s Seat.  This is an extinct volcano within the city.  My aforementioned and extremely long-suffering brother lived in a very pretty district at it’s foot and we walked up often.  Actually he used to run it.  At his wedding his best man’s speech began ‘I first suspected that my flatmate might be mad when he asked the way to Arthur’s Seat for a run on a bitterly cold, wet and windy day…. I showed him and some time later I realised it wasn’t a case of might be mad,  he clearly was mad as he set off down the lane in a storm with a rucksack full of boulders on his back’.  He is still that same animal.  In those days there were a few walkers some with dogs and that was about it.  Today it teems with tourists making their way up, taking selfies and mostly wearing entirely unsuitable footwear (flip flops, fashion sandals, even the odd pair of heels) for what is a moderate hike up hill-paths rather than pavements.  We took the road less travelled and benefited from stunning views unencumbered by the masses.  The German girls hogging the peak did move over when I utilised my famed loud and I don’t care who knows it, voice and we duly stood for a moment or two before setting off down again.  All was well and I was lost in thought (mostly quite bitchy thoughts about the unsuitable nature of other people’s footwear) until almost at the bottom, not on a remotely steep bit, I slipped on shail and heard an audible crack.  The crack was nothing to my blood-curdling bellows and the air took on a blue hue as I cursed my way thorugh the early moments of what is actually a severe high ankle sprain coupled with 90% tear to the anterior calf muscle.  I must thank the lovely man from Canada who stopped to help The Brains wrestle me to my feet, the equally lovely café who served delectable lime and coconut cake (I was in shock – I needed sugar) and the wonderful nurse in Minor Injuries at the Western General Hospital.  Later as I limped into a taxi my husband asked how I felt about the last bit of his surprise – did I think I could manage it.  Could I?  I would walk through the fires of a spewing live volcano to do what he had in mind.
  10. June 30th – Two trains to Liverpool for lunch with youngest daughter and two more to Oxford to stay two nights with my mother who had one last surprise – my younger brother flown in from Bahrain to spend an evening with his big sister.   In  life, the real luxuries are the little things.  The thoughtfulness of my husband, the opportunity to see some of my family.  Secrets and lies can be quite beautiful – four of the most precious people in my world kept them and there is no sin in that.
  11. July 2nd – we collect the delighted but subdued tiny dog from her Boarding Vet.  She has anti-biotics and is making some progress.  Lyme Disease is a nasty nasty thing – sometimes, it isn’t easy being Bean.

So there you have it Two Lymes and a Lemon.  Here are some nice pictures from the Scottish leg of my odyssey and afterwards I will treat you to a PS:

The promised and entirely necessary PS:  Yesterday, I visited my lovely Cambridge doctor for a formal verdict on my leg.  He sympathised with Two Brains having to live with with a caged and beligerent tigress with cabin fever and asked how he is doing (he is a specialist in infectious diseases so had been asked for his opinion when The Brains presented with what appeared to be Lyme).  He commented that it was remarkable that HB² had been running the morning of his diagnosis  with Lyme.  I explained that our daughters and others are convinced he is, in fact, one of The  Men in Black.  The doctor seemed spookily content to agree ….

And for those unfamiliar with the achingly heartrending last scene of ‘Brief Encounter’ – here it is:

… with great love

The world feels particularly alarmed at the moment.  The U.S are afeared at what their election will bring given that one candidate is a proven loose cannon  and the other a proven liar.  Last week a woman who I knew for a short while as a colleague was savagely and barbarically shot, kicked and stabbed to death whilst going about her work as a Member of the British Parliament, serving constituents who had elected her for her talent and energy and goodness and days before that a twisted maniac massacred 49 innocents just being themselves in a Gay nightclub in Orlando.  Today my country of birth opted by a slender margin to exit the European Union and exercise it’s right to navigate the world in splendid isolation.   All of these things are quite shocking to digest.  I need not and will not comment – my opinions are of no interest to those taking the time to read my words but I do have something that I hope might strike a different and more harmonious chord.

I am currently in France having been whisked here by a circuitous route to delay my guessing the destination by HB² (my husband) so that we could spend our wedding anniversary in the place we were married three years ago.  Today I am sitting at my table in the place I call home.  My world is rosy.  I am fortunate.  This week along with the delightful, other things have happened in my personal life that could certainly anger me, engender hatred and lead me to feel that the best thing is to curl up in my cave and live my life as a strange old hermit (complete with splendid false beard).  But being the cussed optimist that I work at being, I know that I am better placed and better off endeavouring to find value in the way things are trying to effect other lives as decently as I can.  Last week, the extremely lovely  @Turtleway whose beauteous blog you will find here graced me by beginning to read every post I have ever written.  This is either brave or foolhardy but in any case  remarkably flattering.  She asked me in response to a post I wrote about Oradour sur Glâne in France, which was the object of a genocide in the dying days of WWII how we can avoid hating when we come across atrocities.  Which we do almost daily with modern news transfer being as rapid as it is and Social Media rampantly passing on the attrocious and the marvellous in an entirely unfiltered manner.  I thought for some days before I replied and then I said this:

‘The first thing I must say is that I understand hatred. But it was my youngest daughter, then aged about 10 years old who asked me to stop using the word ‘hate’ because, she said,  we should never actually hate anyone or anything.  By definition it is a cankerous emotion. She is now 21 and her views have inevitably become a little less pure but she remains true to the essence of what she said. For my part, I feel that hating and being angry are well and good but that they don’t resolve anything, they do not bring back the dead, they do not comfort the bereaved and they do not heal the wounded. In fact they probably feed the perpetrators. And I refuse to grace wicked, evil people with anything that might make them feel anything other than the odious bile that they have become. So I try instead to count my own good fortune and to understand what I can do to help. I am a highly emotional person by nature and tend to ricochet between highs and lows without warning. My own balance is maintained by seeking out the good in every situation and by attempting to not fuel the fire with a whirlwind of anger but rather to damp it with the dew of decency. Different people use different mechanisms. I must stress that I am not perfect. I feel anger and rage and bitterness and fury and sometimes I let those feelings begin to tarnish my insides. But I try to remain mindful and conscious and to take a beat and if necessary many many beats whilst I get to a mechanism that can quash the negatives and allow the positive energy to release so that I can be of some use. This is not forgiveness, this is not excusing this is simply trying not to become dissolved by fury and outrage but rather to evolve by maintaining a stance of dignity and warmth of spirit.

The world we live in is full of hatred.  Today Social Media is positively crackling with rancor and bitterness or exultation and self-congratulation depending on which side you take at the result of the self-proclaimed ‘Brexit’ vote.  It turns into yet another reason for people to sling mud.  I choose not to.  I urge others to join me.  I hope one day you will.  And to paraphrase John Lennon, the greatest of pacifists, the most gifted of men, diabolically slain so many years ago by a twisted soul, maybe, just maybe one day the world will live as one.’

Here are two little beetles simply working together, spreading their beetle love and working as partners to further beetlekind.  This ties in nicely to the photo challenge this week of which  here you can find lots and lots of far more admirable examples  And yes, using a picture of beetles when referencing a Beatle is entirely deliberate.

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PS:  The quote comes from Mother Teresa of Calcutta – ‘None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.’

I’m strong to the finish cos I eats me spinach

Actually this bad boy is more usually made with  Blette which is chard if you aren’t speaking French but if you can’t get that you can use Epinard which is Popeye’s best friend.  In my experience it works well with both.

It’s called Pounti and is one of the absolute signature dishes of l’Auvergne region and in particular le Cantal.  I give a recipe below.  This is not a food blog so it is just my own favourite method and not cleverly photographed. For me, food is for sharing with those I care about so the food posts on my blog are just that – food for you to sample if you care to share.  I was entirely put off by the description offered by a French friend who is a vegetarian which might explain her reluctance, when I first stumbled on it. However, I braved it in Salers a day or two before The Man with Two Brains morphed into The Husband with Two Brains and became rather wed to it before I was wed to him.  Salers is one of ‘les plus beaux villages de France’ and as such is very much on the tourist map.  It’s population is tiny (less than 350 permanent residents) but it positively teems in summer and the shops and eateries and drinkeries thrive.  From Toussaint to Paques (November 1st to Easter) it is pretty well closed except for the boulangerie, boucherie and a couple of braveheart businesses.  Medieval and with buildings, including the church, hewn from volcanic basalt it is certainly worth a visit but it is a fine example of a place that absolutely lights up in the sunshine and seems to don a rather gloomy shroud in less than clement weather.

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This is not lightweight, fashionably clean-eating food.  This is hale and hearty prop-up-the-workers in the harsh elements food.  It’s a loaf and is generally served warm or cold.  If you have it in a  restaurant, it will be artfully cut or made as pert little individual cakes and served with a zingy salad often as a starter but also as a main at lunch.  It is hefty enough not to require any starch on the side.  At home, we served our first attempt two years ago cut into little squares as an appetiser with the appero at a lunch party.  Our friends eyed it will a little apprehension but didn’t spit it out and as far as I could see didn’t hide it in their hankies nor handbags either.  And we loved it and gave each other surrepticious self-contratulatory looks from across the room.  As one does.  The rest of that particular loaf (it was large and I have since invested in a smaller tin and halved the quantities for fear of onset Pounti-fatigue on day three) we sliced and took on a long and lovely hike the following day.  Treating it as the Cantal equivalent of a super-succulent meatloaf, I suppose though my English reference point would have to be Pork Pie.

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Here are The Brains and The Bean replete after their pounti picnic

Now before I begin, I must warn you that the ingredients list looks odd.  But hand on heart, it is really delicious.  Think of it as that marriage that you secretly sneered to self would never EVER work and yet as the 2 in 3 fall like  skittles by the wayside and prove the statisticians right, it glides effortlessly along with only the merest of bumps in it’s road and melds into the collective consciousness as a mysterious but undoubted triumph.

Ingredients:

  • 300g Chard (leaves only – use the stalks in a gratin or sautee) or spinach but in either case chopped fine
  • 1 large or 2 smaller onions chopped equally fine
  • A big bunch of parsley – about the size of a fat head of brocolli. This is much easier to find in France than elsewhere so feel free to play with other gentle flavoured herbs and use dried if you need to. Chop what you have fresh, you guessed it, fine
  • 300g Sausagemeat
  • 6 eggs given a light beating
  • 300g flour. Traditionally it would be buckwheat but white flour is generally better behaved
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder unless, of course your flour is self-raising though the comedy value of using both might be worth it for any idle onlookers
  • ½ litre milk – mine is semi-skimmed (2%) but feel free to use your favourite – it won’t make any difference to the result.  In fact some recipes call for a couple of dollops of creme-fraiche in addition to milk but I stop short of that addition
  • 300g stoned prunes (stones removed not drugged for the avoidance of doubt)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6
  • Grease and flour a 2lb loaf tin or terrine. And line it too if you think your container needs it – I’m all for safety first
  • If your prunes are the ready stoned, no soak variety you can now look self-righteous but if not, you need to stone them. My wandering mind now has visions of lining them up and hurling rocks at them. and set them to soak in warm water (or Armagnac if you feel extravagant)
  • Once you have finished all that chopping, its a question of mixing all the greens and onions in with the sausagemeat. Squidging with your hands is really the best way and oddly satisfying though I’m not certain I should be admitting to that.
  • Mix in the beaten egg and milk – alternating so it doesn’t get too slimey – this is another opportunity for some cheap comedy as getting it wrong can have the whole amorphous lump  skating like Bambi on ice out of the bowl on a skid of raw egg
  • Seive in the flour (and baking powder if using)
  • Season with salt and pepper and add dried herbs if needed to replace or bolster the fresh parsley
  • Turn half the mixture into the tin and cover with the pitted soaked prunes
  • Cover with the rest of the mix and place in the centre of the pre-heated oven.
  • Keep an eye on it – you may need to turn the oven back to 180C/350F/Gas 4 if it seems to be getting too brown too quickly
  • Bake for a 45 minutes and then test with a skewer.  If it comes out clean it’s done.  It will probably need an hour in all

 

If you halve the quantities, you will need a 1lb tin.  I know that sounds obvious and possibly even a trifle condescending but sometimes my meager brain needs a little nudging and though I am sure you are not so afflicted, I would not want to be responsible for any disaster.  The baking time will drop by a third.  If you choose to make individual loaves or little muffins, the baking time will drop to half.

PS:   I remember being desperately disappointed a few years ago when I read that the original Iron Rating made for Spinach by German scientist Emil Von Wolf in 1870  was mistaken.  His decimal point was misplaced leading to a caluculation ten times higher than it should have been.  The mistake was not discovered until the 1930s.  So although it is high in those essential folates, it is not actually any higher than any other green  vegetable.  Poor old Popeye – I wonder if it was the placebo effect.

Coup de Cœur – Part Four: Whistle While You Work

An occasional series chronicling the tale of the renovation of a former medieval watch-tower in southern France …..  Part One is here, Part Two is here and Part Three is here   The events in this episode took place a little under three years ago.  How time flies when you’re having fun, n’est-ce pas?

As often happens once you have overcome the initial excitement of something or other and reality cloaks you in its slightly constricting mantle like a heavy woollen duffle coat a couple of sizes too small, or a pair of pinchy stiff leather shoes, you need to knock on the door of fortitude and ask for her help.

This was the moment to be gracious to Lady Tenacity.  We were SO thrilled with the news that the house was empty and once back in France hightailed it pell-mell down the road to Marcolès from our present home further north.  In fact our rented flat is in the far north-western corner of le Cantal and Marcolès is in the far south-western corner.  It’s a two hour drive each way but it’s a really lovely two hours passing glorious views of the Monts du Cantal and diving into deep tree lined gorges and delving through glacial hills. It never fails to delight us.  In the back of the car, making life less than comfortable for The Disgruntled Bean were the various accoutrements of operation clean-up.  We picked up more en-route and The Bean became ever more peeved.

Thus began the most relentless and mostly thankless of enterprises.   HB² took up a floor-board in the attic which is planted in our collective imagination as being a wonderful tranquil master bedroom and serene relaxing place when the house is eventually finished.  He discovered that our predecessor had used sawdust for insulation.  It doesn’t work.  That was abundantly clear.  The house was, is bitterly cold.  Of course the fact that the same  happy fellow had ripped several of the radiators off the wall in his spiteful retribution against those that dared to buy the house that he wanted to sell doesn’t help the refridgeration factor but the ingenious insulation wasn’t productive either.  And in places it had provided a gleeful nesting place for some or other rodent.  One that had made it’s hideaway complete with a variety of different flavours of nut.  Mercifully it was not in residence as we set about getting rid of the wood filings.  We took out something near to 30 bags from the attic. The black full sized dustbin lining bags not, for clarity, little carrier bags for shopping.  It was back-breaking and necessitated wearing a mask and goggles and the white hooded clean suits that a friend had donated to the cause.  I felt like a Ghost Buster but without the joy of a Marshmallow Man to distract me.  About half way through the exercise, husband returned to the US leaving me to continue the clean-up, now with a looming deadline brought on by a discovery to be shared in a later post.  It was winter, it was still a four hour round trip and my romantic little project began to pall noisily.

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As a bit of light relief from the attic, the husband had braved the cellar.  Despite the valiant efforts of the town ouvriers there was still ample room for improvement.  Another 20 or so bags of rubble and wood and general stuff from centuries of life came out.  But what was revealed was magical.  So magical that it is worthy of a post all of it’s own … and for that you will have to wait.

Meanwhile, Madame Balai (Mrs Mop) as I was rapidly re-branding myself was cleaning the whole place through.  The dirt of ages dissolved under my unrelenting mop and bucket and  whirling micro-cloths which I brandished with all the skill of a champion cheerleader.  The rather horrible floor on the ground floor looked marginally less horrible and the stairs and wood floors on the first floor began to look quite majestic.  I cleaned the curious loo which sits at the top of it’s own staircase complete with red carpet which I’m afraid we consigned to a black bag all of it’s own for percieved and probably, let’s face it given the abhorrent provinence of the previous occupants, solidly sensible reasons. Bizarrely it has a window to the rest of the house which begs many questions which I have not yet had the pluck to ponder.  I bravely tackled and proudly conquered the bathroom.  The loo in there is not fixed to the floor which gives an added frisson of excitement to those brave enough to use it and the bath is the very same bath that was given it’s own fanfare by the previous owner as being big enough for three, something I care not to dwell on having met him.  And I cleaned the shower on the first floor.  This was genuinely a labour of love.  The shower is a particularly odd feature of the house being on a podium in what has been the master bedroom.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for the facilities-in-a-bedroom approach favoured by many chic boutique hotels and will indeed have a tub and a pretty sink in the master bedroom of the finished house but this is simply incongruous standing with all its plumbing displayed to the world like a brazen flasher and has no virtue except for a dollop of comedy value.  However, whilst we go through the process of renovating and restoring and generally swishing and swooshing the house back to the triumph it deserves to be, a working shower is helpful.  I donned protective gloves, mask and goggles for the job because when I lifted the slats and revealed the tray it had clearly and absolutely NEVER been cleaned.  I removed the sludge and hairy deposits of the antecedent thoroughly and zealously dredged the drainhole and can categorically state that I have seldom, if ever, been so fully disgusted.  And I have lived a little.  Indeed, I may still need some sort of therapy to truly achieve catharsis.

Now you will gather, I hope, that my husband loves me.  And to show his love that very day, he announced that a refreshing shower, after all my hard, and victorious toil in conquering the swamp pit, was just the thing he needed.

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I left him to it and took The Bean for a stroll round the village.  As I was walking back to the house I had a thought.  I ran it past The Brains on the way home a little later.  As casually as I could.  I just wondered.  Foolishly I was certain.  But I did wonder.  If he had remembered to close the shutters on the window whilst he was showering.  Since the shower is right in front of the window.  The relatively large and low window.  Of course he must have.  Mustn’t he?  No?  Well that was an eye-full for the town then and in particular the very elderly lady opposite  …. remember the house has absolutely no land to buffer it.  I’m frankly amazed that M. le Maire hasn’t had complaints.    Or maybe he is just too polite to mention it.  I cringe at the thought that maybe the town ladies might be anticipating regular matinee and evening performances.

I didn’t count the number of times I went down, with the increasingly testy Bean, to clean.  It was many severals.  And it was groundhoggishly tiresome in that everytime I got it looking spruce, I had to drag more bags of rubbish and rubble through the spick and spanness and my fragile effect was royally spoiled.  But all clouds are silver lined in world of me – you just have to keep those peepers peeled and embrace the good when it falls in your path as it invariably does.  One of the shiney pieces of silver in this story is the man at the déchetterie or waste disposal point if you will.  He has the most amazing view of the mountains from his little wooden hut and he takes his job very seriously.

Actually in my experience most of the people that work at such places, with or without breathtaking views are thoroughly nice – or at least they are in England and France.  I have always been treated kindly by them.  And this fella with his bella vista backdrop is no exception.  He helped us with bags and bags of wood dust and yet more of rubble and some of indescribable and unspeakable impurity and always (having asked where we were from on our first foray) said emphatically ‘vous êtes de Marcolès, non?‘ he being in St Mamet-la Salvatat, the next commune over.  It rather feels as though being from Marcolès in some way explains our undoubted lunacy.  I like him.  The Brains was less enthralled though when swinging a large and heavy bag of wood-dust into the vast metal skip, it split above his head and spewed shavings over him in a comedy moment of epic proportions.  Or at least my laughter was epic.  He remained stone-faced.   In fairness, I did not escape unscathed … as you can see from this fetching picture of me complete with dirty lines effecting comedy whiskers.

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When the walls were washed down, inevitably, given the age of the paint, much of it flaked off.  The Bean should be less cantankerous about the place if she takes the time to notice that one of the slivers that snowed down onto my lovingly tended (a thousand times so far) staircase is an exact silhouette of Her Beanship.

PS:  Of course the title is Snow White who righteously contended that if you whistle while you work the task will be easier, speedier and far more pleasant.  It may be relevant that I can’t actually whistle ….

lumière magique parmi les nuages de notre destin…

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Sometimes, not often, I grant you but occasionally, I AM lost for words.  To find that the lovely and gifted Melanie had dedicated this post to me left me dumb.  It is a beautiful piece, written as she ever does, straight from the heart.  What prompted her was knowing a little of my story.  The story of Two Brains and I.  Separated by 4,000 miles and with the clock ever ticking, we both thank Melanie for thinking of us and for giving us the most precious and ever-lasting gift of words and pictures.

PS:  I’ve just thought … since I am struck dumb, this can be my Wordless Wednesday contribution, it being Wednesday as I write!

lumière magique parmi les nuages de notre destin….

Going to the chapel of love ….

DSCF8702I didn’t celebrate le fete de St Valentin this year.  Actually, I don’t ever celebrate it.  I always understood it was for wannabe lovers to declare their interest (anonymously) by the sending of a card or a gift to the object of their desire.  At school, a post box was positioned in the foyer and we could pay 5p to post a card which would then be delivered on the big day to the classroom of your crush.  You could send as many as you wanted, so some (admitedly including ever-hopeful me) would hedge their bets, all unsigned, the handwriting disguised and finished with a flourishing and mysterious X.  On the day, the cards would be delivered by a crack team of first years and I would affect nonchalance when year after year there was no card in the pile for me.

Clock forward all these decades and Two Brains is my Valentine every day.  Last summer we walked a glorious walk in the Cezallier to a little Chapel, originally built in the 13th century high high on a rocky outcrop looking over the Vallée de la Santoire and the Plateau du Limon.  Battered by the elements it was in a sorry state when in the 19th Century it was entirely rebuilt but houses a bell dating from the mid 1600s and a confessional of similar age and a truly resilient Madonna dating with the original chapel.   And the name of this lovely place – La Chappelle de St Valentine, naturally.

This piece is written in response to The Daily Press challenge to publish a photo demonstrating the Rule of Thirds.  You will find all the other entries here

PS:  The Victorians started another tradition which remained popular until the mid-20th Century.  The Vinegar Card was basically a chance to wittily, waspishly, waggishly and entirely socially acceptably slanderously rebuff, dismiss and humiliate the recipient.  I’m not ashamed to admit that in the past I could have sent one or two ….

You want the moon? Just say the word ….

In my quest for discipline and structure I have now decided to join the Weekly Writing Challenge.  This week, by the skin of my teeth the subject is Irony.

Let me tell you about the duvet situation – We have one of those adaptable popper-together-clever duvets.  It means we can sleep comfortably in all seasons.  I bought it when I lived in a balistically cold farmhouse and winter set in.  It is stuffed with Hungarian goose down which makes it light and pliable to snuggle into.  When we moved here it was summer so we put the lightweight cover on our bed and the heavier one on the guest bed (it is the only duvet we possess and of course we intended to buy another but so far … well, so far, we haven’t).  Now we are entering our second winter and winter is winter here in Le Cantal.  Snow is guaranteed above 700 metres and we expect some by the end of this month.  But guess what?  The winter duvet remains on the guest bed (and we expect guests during the winter) and the summer one is on our bed meaning that my night attire is less allure and more velour.  The siren Two Brains married only 16 months ago is a distant memory as I pore longingly over catalogues of thermal bedsocks.

The duvet dilemma got me to thinking about things that people will consider normal but which are infact ridiculously ironic.  For instance that dinner service.  The expensive one you lusted over – perhaps your friends and relatives gave you pieces as wedding presents or perhaps you treated yourself and knocked a hole in your bank balance which took a long time to mend just because you could and you wanted to.  Either way, it sits in the cupboard to maybe come out for high days and holidays whilst you use the cheap stuff which you don’t like so well, doesn’t match and doesn’t send that little thrill through you when you look at it.   Or your best shoes – the ones that you only wear for hatchings, matchings and despatchings and are scuff free as a result of never having been worn but for the same reason are acutely uncomfortable and when you do put them on you crave, after a while, the old pair that is falling apart but which actually fits your foot like a foot-glove.

Now, before you think I am insulting your intelligence, let me tell you that I have the most wonderful example of irony straight from house of Two Brains.  Settled?  Let me begin.

There is a special place in Hawaii where there are many observatories.  It’s called Mauna Kea.  It’s a volcano and it divides the ‘Big Island’ into sunny side and rainy side.  The air is clear and bright and the stars, well the stars shine like you will probably never see them shine, even in a heavenly place like Cantal which is also clear and bright but just not so high and mighty.  One of the observatories is the SMA (Submillimetre Array) and Two Brains is its Director.  Some while ago the combined boffin power of the force that drives the SMA decided to invest in a new Receiver Set – one to be put in each antennae (there are 8).

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These receivers would work at the shortest wavelengths.  They were cruelly expensive, costing the sum total of all the other Receivers used in the Array combined.  But cruel as the cost was, the atmosphere is crueller – it turns out that the shorter the wavelengths the more signals are absorbed except in a totally crystal clear atmosphere – and that, as Clever Hans would tell you is like finding a needle in a haystack – possible but not at all probable.   They tried and tried and in the end, after much head scratching they decided to let go.  So the most money was spent on the most useless equipment.  And if that isn’t ironic I don’t know what is.  But let’s face it – for us mere mortals who beat ourselves up about spending too much on a food mixer only to find that a hand whisk is just as functional and less time consuming to put together and wash, it’s a teeny bit heartening too.

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PS:  The title comes from my favourite movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ … “You want the moon, Mary – just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it” – amongst all the ironies in my life the real irony is that it is wonderful when I care to stop and look …

 

<a href="http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/oh-the-irony/">Oh, The Irony</a>

Life is too short to stuff a mushroom!

So said the glorious self-proclaimed ‘Superwoman’ who is Shirley Conran and I have to agree.  However, it is also true that if I live to be twice the age I am now I will never tire of stuffing mushrooms.

Oddly enough, as a child I was frightened to the point of being phobic of fungus. It’s called Mycophobia in fact and happily I grew out of it (except for a disastrous relationship with a man called Mike but that really is another story).  Who knows why I was so scared, but my evil older brother was quick to use toadstools to ward me off if he didn’t want to play with me. On one occasion, along with one of his best friends he trapped me in the narrow passage between our old wooden garage and the laurel hedge, dark and dank on one of those musty Autumn days, by luring me down to ‘see something amazing’.  I was about 5 so imagined a lollypop tree at the very least. They blocked the entrance as I ventured in to find the wonders of which they spoke, so that there was no escape when I came across the giant clump of festering fungus in my path.  I was found some time later, a gibbering, sobbing wreck by my father who presumably assumed I was playing quietly somewhere on my own.  I don’t believe in Karma so do not connect in any way the fact that the friend was later the sole British survivor of the Estonia Ferry disaster, with the torturing of an innocent by fungus.

Today I can be found happily examining the huge variety of fungi that we find out walking, photographing them and poring over our books to find out if they are edible.

In August, walking high above the Vallee de la Santoire in the Cézallier paysage of Le Cantal, we found the most enormous mushroom.  It looked like a pancake and was roughly the diametre of a big one.  We photographed it.  The following day, our young neighbour happened past with an armful of the same whoppers … I asked him if they were edible.  Oh yes, he replied – they are Coulemelle and they taste really good – especially the young ones.  His girlfriend (who hails from further south in Lozère) was later heard shouting down the phone to her mother ‘he’s brought me a load of enormous flat mushrooms …. what on earth do I do with them?’.  Despite the fact that I prefer not to be branded a nosy neighbour I listened intently and made notes.  On checking our book they get three chefs hats which is as good as it gets – the edible fungus equivalent of a big fat gold star.

Coulemelle (Latin name Macrolepiota procera) grow a long stem with a distinctive frill some way up.  The young plant has a rounded cloche cap which eventually opens up into a large flat beret.  They look very sturdy but in fact they are delicate and on picking will quickly start to wilt underneath.  The gills (lamelles in French) are almost tissue soft.

When Two Brains arrived from the US for his present stay, we walked a walk I have not done for a year even though it is only a ten minute drive from home, on account of the fact that there is a kilometre stretch on the road and The Bean behaved deplorably the last time and had to be carried.  Low and behold on our way we found a Coulemelle.  Just one and quite old so we decided to make it into soup as instructed by those we had spoken too or evestropped on.  You can also include them in a stew the same sources reveal.  My first attempt at the said potage and I can report it was edible but the flavour so delicate as to be barely discernable and my choice of thyme to season overwhelmed the mushroom.  Overnight, though it developed and the second bowl at lunchtime the following day was improved if not memorable.  And we didn’t suffer any ill effects.  Which was a big hurrah!

A week and several walks later we hit the mother-load.  These little lovelies tend to grow on their own – or at least apart from one another, not in sociable clumps.  We found a baby all by itself and then in a barbed wired field taunting us, an adolescent and a fully mature stonker.  Two Brains hesitated but surcumbed to the look of longing on my face and braved the field like a commando seeking a hostage.  The Bean watched anxiously but mercifully beloved master returned unharmed and triumphant.

The next day, a single speciment close to home and the cook-up was on.  The baby made a lovely omelette – and the curious thing is that the taste is stronger than their older siblings.  The big boys went into a soup thus:

  • Remove stalks and discard (I expect they are perfectly edible but I didn’t)
  • Cut the cap into thin spears
  • Sweat a largish onion (and if you must a clove of garlic but personally I think that is too strong) in a small knob of butter or about a dessert spoon of olive oil
  • Chuck in some parsely stalks, chopped
  • When the vegetables are softened, add about a pint of milk and the same of water
  • Simmer for 45 minutes adding a good tablespoon of chopped parsely half way though
  • Blitz with a blender and stir in a good dessert spoon of cream or crème fraiche and eat with the smug look of someone who is eating something delicious that cost next to nothing

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So there you have it – my first recipe for virtually free soup.  We are no experts and as tempting as it is to go into a fungal frenzy we are taking one genus at a time and learning about it.  And we have our gloriously irreverant pharmacist to assist where necessary because this is France and that is all part of the Chemist’s service.

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PS:  On the same walk we picked up a huge quantity of Chataignes (sweet chestnuts) of which more in a later post including some tasty recipes (assuming we survive the tasting) …