Tuesday, 16 May 2017

A different path...

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail"
Ralph Waldo Emerson

I've often found his words inspirational and, at times, I've followed his advice. Smart man, Emerson, as was his fellow Transcendentalist, Thoreau, to whom I was introduced almost twenty years ago by the most mixed-up, maniacal, mad man I've ever encountered; an American, one of the guys with whom I worked in a remote, separated-by-time-zones, US-team, kind of way, so I never came face to face with him, which is probably a blessing really.

I digress...  

Different directions, new paths, making tracks...
That's the theme round here.




I am preparing to go back to Brittany and this time, unlike the last occasion when I moved across Oxfordshire to this current rented house and decided it was A Good Idea to work until 6:30 pm the day before and to start packing at 2 am on the morning of the move, this time I am going to be organised and efficient and save myself from the almost-breaking-down that happened then.




So, there have been quite a few trips to Streatley to deliver books to my friend who, having read the ones that interest her, takes them to her local pub to be sold in aid of the Air Ambulance.

I've culled at least a hundred so far, many of them cookbooks, and am now viewing the shelves in the bedroom with a growing sense of alarm because, goodness, how did I manage to acquire quite so many new books in the last seven years?

Yes, reading a hundred last year may have contributed to the hoard. 




And then there are the clothes...
You know how it is, the several different sets of clothes:
1. Worn regularly, a small subset
2. Several sizes too small but won't throw them out in case I lose weight
3. Sentimental items, silly to keep the top I wore when I was pregnant twenty-five years ago that's decorated with a picture of a baby and the legend 'Under Construction', my first ski suit, etc
4. Expensive, smart items I'll never wear in the Breton countryside but should I ever become a famous author and be invited to go on a book tour, well, I'll be sorted
   
This is the result of having been born at a time when Britain was still recovering from rationing and my parents were poor as church mice.

Waste not, want not...  




And the food cupboard in which I appear to have been stockpiling tins in readiness for a coming apocalypse. That's genetic with me, my father was a Safety Adviser and always ready for any eventuality, my mother was a Yorkshire woman and never trusted life down south, my grandparents lived through two world wars and I still have the tin of hot dogs that I bought in preparation for the New Millennium Meltdown.

I am, and always will be, one of those people who cannot stop buying dried pasta and bread flour when three snowflakes fall on my house, or bottles of water and tins of beans when I read another ridiculous Tweet from Trump and picture him with his fat little fingers on America's nuclear arsenal.




I am lucky to have the conservatory/sunroom in which to start piling the boxes.
And yes, those large boxes under cover outside do contain my new bed (first new one in thirty years), and garden furniture and deckchairs and new pictures, statues of dragons, throws and rugs, because I have no idea how long I will last and I fully intend to make each and every day fun and to be comfy and happy back in my French home.




It will be all new to me.
Not the house, of course, that's been mine for nine years, and not the friends and neighbours because ditto, but the moving back alone and the new occupation as a freelancer and the new attitude...

And there's the rub




The new attitude.

You see, I've done it before, this walking away from the stresses and strains of the corporate cage. I did it in 2006 and it didn't last long.  I came back, voluntarily, happily, enthusiastically, and walked right back into the Rat Race Rat Trap.

And it almost killed me.
Again.

And even now, after a year of sick leave, I am still finding it really difficult to extricate myself from the world of IT and cyber security and bits and bytes and malware and evil people.
And this recent business with the ransomware hasn't helped.

And even now, two years after my cancer diagnosis, I am still finding it hard to stop stressing and worrying even though I'm well aware of the harm that's doing to me.
And negotiating a settlement from my employers isn't helping.

So, yes I will take a new path, and yes I will make new tracks, and yes, it will be a different direction, but if I am not capable of changing  myself, well then I'll find that wherever I go and whatever I do, I'll just end up back where I started.

Stressed and sick.

And that will not do at all.
N'est-ce pas?
  



Saturday, 13 May 2017

Among the flowers...

But first, someone who I follow on Twitter tweeted a picture of  a posy of flowers that it is customary for the people of Ireland to leave on their doorsteps on April 30th to protect the household from harm. I'm not sure why May Day is any more dangerous than other days but I like traditions and so began to observe this one myself.  




I know, I'm late to the party.
Been a lot going on round here...
Studying to teach, learning new languages, brushing up on my French, beginning the process of defeathering this nest in preparation for another flight to France.

And then there are The Ragazzi, the pets, the swimming, the painting, the life that seems to become stressful at times no matter what steps I take to try to avoid it.
You know how it is guys.




And in between I've been doing a lot of walking.




It's been a nice spring so far.
Plenty of sunny days and not too cold, not too hot, I do like moderation in my weather.




The apple trees on the edge of the green have blossomed.
Honestly, if I could bottle the scent of apple blossom I'd fill a whole room with it and keep it forever.
It is so beautiful.




Recently I took the dog for an early morning walk.
We were alone on the green no-one else in sight, so I spent a happy thirty minutes flitting from flower to flower, smelling the perfume, admiring the blossoms, enjoying the moment.




Carpe diem.
Eventually the other dog walkers appeared on the green and it became busy and I felt I had to stop playing with the petals and inhaling the scents and wandering aimlessly among the apple trees.




Of course I could have ignored them, carried on in my own little world.
I quite like retreating to my little world, do it often now that my time is my own and I am not an office lab rat anymore. But someone shouted out to me, "You'll not be here to pick apples this year then?" and that kind of broke the spell.

It's true, of course, when the apples ripen and the walnuts fall I will be somewhere else. And that's a little sad but, "When one door closes, another opens..." and I do not plan to spend too much time looking back when there is so much to look forward to.




And as lots of people have informed me that they're coming to visit me in Brittany I daresay someone will bring me an apple, if I ask nicely.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Joyeux premier mai




It is May Day, and while The Ragazza makes merry in Oxford, where she has been celebrating since dawn, I am drawn to previous years and especially my first premier mai in Brittany.

I'd been looking forward to it since, let me think, 1995, the year I embarked on my degree studies with the Open University and the first French module, Cadences, which was educational, lots of fun and which introduced me to the French festivities.

On May Day in France it is customary for the local school children to come to your door selling bunches of lily-of-the-valley because in addition to this being La Fête du Travail (Labour Day), it is also La Fête du Muguet (Lily of the Valley Day).

The flowers were brought to Europe from Japan in the Middle Ages and the Celts consider them to be tokens of good luck. On  May 1st, 1561, Charles IX of France was presented with a bunch and thus began the French tradition of giving lily-of-the-valley as good luck charms.




The shops sell the flowers now, but in past times people would venture into the fields to collect them to sell to make a little money, on May Day they did not have to pay sales tax on the earnings . Le ramassage du muguet, 1964

So, armed with your lily-of-the-valley, preferably bought from the school kids rather than the supermarkets, you venture forth to find your friends, give them hugs and the customary cheek kisses, and a sprig of flower, for good luck.  




I'd hoped to be back in Brittany for le premier mai  so that I could take part in the festivities. I should have lily-of-the-valley flowering in my garden ready to give to friends because the ones I buy at the door fill vases and jam jars on every windowsill, tant pis they'll have to wait a while longer. I daresay they'll benefit from another year of being left to grow.




Since in the 'language of flowers' lily-of-the-valley signals a return to happiness, I wish you all a joyeux premier mai and much happiness for the coming summer months. 





Sunday, 30 April 2017

Arty with Acrylics....


It's sad that so many of us cease to play once we become adults. And that our day-to-day lives and work and worries kind of get in the way of having fun and, most importantly, of being who we really are. Or perhaps who we really should be?

One result of last year's time out - it happened when I was sorting through a box of photographs taken in Finland with The Rags - was the realisation that I had lost my joie de vivre. It's understandable, I suppose, after being sick and all those tests and treatments and the hours spent at the hospital, but it was not good. Not good at all.

So, I looked at the picture of me wearing a crazy Finnish hat which, incidentally, I still have and of which I am very fond, together with my famous furry Finnish boots, and I thought back to how I felt then and I wondered how to feel a little like that now.

And the answer that came to me was to dig deep and re-discover the feisty, rebellious, smart little seven year old I once was. And that led, wonderfully, to the Icelandic horse-riding trip because, hey, feeling like a seven year-old but with the freedom of being an adult and without the pressures of work and family, well, the world becomes a magical and exciting place!

The result is that I've been having all sorts of fun, playing and exploring and, sometimes it must be said, running wild. And recently I bought myself a little easel, some acrylic paints, some little canvases and a set of brushes and, after staring at a blank canvas for a couple of days and feeling scared to spoil it, I 'had a word with myself' as the Irish would say, and picked up a paintbrush.




I had in mind that flower meadow near Paimpol that a good friend, Catriona (herself very artistic and spiritual) and I visited nine years ago, probably almost to the day, I may go back to A Mouse in France and re-post that one soon, it was one of those perfect days that I remember with a smile...

Anyway I had that in mind when I started and painted the canvas...
  



and then I walked past that green canvas for another day before picking up the brushes again...
and every so often I painted a different flower...
and slowly it emerged...




And last night I decided it was finished.
Not perfect.
Not how I had imagined.
But finished and, at the risk of attracting ridicule, I am rather fond of my little painting.

Because the most important thing is, I had fun.  




So that makes it a success.
N'est-ce pas?

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Creative with Chillis


Being creative with chillis...

Or, making sweet chilli sauce, because living in France where curry is not really A Thing, and the Breton version of ready-meals are not really My Thing, and because that made me start cooking more than I had previously which was, to be honest, quite a lot but then I started cooking as much as possible from scratch because then I would know exactly what was in the food that I was eating, even before health issues kicked off and made me even more aware of  the benefits of good nutrition...

And because cooking is creative and being creative is good for the brain...

And fun...

And don't the fresh ingredients in the photo look gorgeous? Almost like an oil painting by JMS of whom more will feature in later posts... 

And I am reminded of Tracy, with whom I once worked, who was a skilled artist and once, for an 'A' Level Art course, produced a set of works featuring tomatoes and peppers using many different media and techniques and styles that was so good I was deeply impressive. And envious.  

So, Sweet Chilli Sauce:




Ingredients:
2 large red peppers, skinned if you can be bothered, I can't
3 red chillis, I used 4 and it was HOT
4 de-seeded little tomatoes
5 cloves of garlic
Nice piece of  peeled fresh ginger
See above








Place the fresh ingredients in a blender and blend.

Like this....



















Then gather:

6 fl oz white wine vinegar
1/2 lb sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar












and pop it in a pan with the blended fresh ingredients...
bring to the boil and then simmer quite hard for 25 minutes until it's been reduced to a thick, glossy, gloopy sauce...




and then pour it into sterilised bottles and seal.




et voilà

The sauce that I made today is eye-wateringly hot and so will probably be used in a stir-fry with a lot of olive oil, or drizzled over salmon steaks while they're roasting in the oven.

That's the thing with cooking, it's never the same each time that you do it and you never know what to expect.

A bit like life, really.

Circuit training green-style


Yes, the title is a play on words. 
Words are My Thing now that I am working to extract the IT from my DNA, no mean feat after forty years working with technology but I am making progress. Some days I do not even think about cyber security and malware and complex code written to steal an identity, the contents of a bank account, a digital life.

Working on the mind, and working on the body.
In the nine years since I returned to the corporate cage my body has aged considerably. Cancer aside, all of that time sitting at a desk has not been good for me and added to the stresses, well, I am not fit and healthy. 

Time to address that.

And where better than the Green Gym outside my house?  




So most morning (and some afternoons, depending on who is around and how much I care to exercise in public and surrounded by over-friendly dogs), I step out in my now-customary black trousers and white T-shirt, and enjoy my exercise al fresco.

Starting with the old wooden bench which is a perfect height on which to step up and down, thus working the muscles that support my knees which are, after years of skiing and riding, quite without cartilage and which were, four years ago, threatened with replacement. I am keen to hang onto my body parts for as long as possible so I work on my leg muscles a lot.




Moving on to the sundial. It was built and decorated by the people of Drayton to celebrate the new millennium. During the summer evenings the local youths often hang out here, as  can be witnessed by the empty beer bottles, cigarette ends and general rubbish that they leave behind. I usually arrive armed with a carrier bag and while others are tutting and shaking their heads and complaining, I set to work to tidy it up. And then I do my calf stretches on the wall, while checking out the horses and ponies in the neighbouring field.




And on to bench presses...
Unless one of the local chaps is sitting on the bench, in which case I usually stop, sit and chat with him because socialising is an exercise that is good for everyone and he always teaches me something new, or shares with me some story from his long and well-lived life.




This is followed by another old bench. This one is by the pond so as I stretch my hamstrings and do some step-ups, I can check out the year's tadpoles and look for newts and even, as I once did, gaze with awful fascination at a large leech hanging out in the water.




And if that piece of gym equipment were ever to be occupied, there is another one nearby.




I love ballet.
Not to do it, you understand, although I surely would if I could, but to watch with wonder and admiration the fitness of the dancers and how supple and toned they are. And so I do a few exercises at the barre and have, in a box in the conservatory where I am storing my belongings as I pack for my return to France, a ballet barre of my own to be installed when I move back. But it won't be as nice as this one, I think.




Pausing to smell the flowers...




And onto the running track.
It is not long, my running track because I am still working on strengthening my heart and lungs after the tumour treatment which, in the course of killing cancer cells, clobbered my heart somewhat and reduced it to 50% capacity. So I run slowly along the track.




If you look closely you can see the nearby cycle track.
In truth it's the road to Sutton Courtney but it's popular with pedallers at the weekend.




And onto the next running track where the dog is usually ahead of me and waiting.




And to the bench for a five minute meditation, sometimes ten minutes, if that feels right. Often interrupted by the chap who has the allotment closest to the fence who likes to take a break from digging and chat. And here to so some leg raises which are really good for arthritic knees.




The dog also meditates...
His ancestors are from Tibet.




A shortcut through the organic food hall where, in summer, I am often handed a lettuce and a few vegetables, this happens to me wherever I go, not sure why, I certainly do not look as if I need feeding up.  




To the almost parallel bars, where I stretch out and consider trying to push myself up by my arms but wisely decide I am not ready for that yet. Note the notice board on the telegraph post and the old pump that reminds me that we all age, some of us more decoratively than others!




And so, back to the green and a cool-down as I walk under the walnut trees and back home,
It took me a while to get used to people seeing me working out in public like this. And as luck would have it, it's usually the more serious-minded, less fun-loving locals who catch me at it, but I have learned not to care what people think of me as long as I am kind, decent and honest so...

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Different rivers...

All my life people have been saying, "Never go back".

And I suppose they're right, if 'going back' means trying to return to a time and a place in the past and expecting it to be unchanged..

So why am I 'going back' to Brittany now?
Well here's the thing.
I am returning to Brittany, but I am not going back.

So much has happened since that stressed-out, exhausted little Mouse arrived in France all those years ago, so much happened while I was there, and so much has happened since I left, that I can hardly recognise myself as the same person. So I am not going back, a different version of me, an older, wiser, more worn me, is going to have a new adventure in a place I know.

As someone once told me, "You cannot step in the same river twice".
But I think you can return to the river to paddle your canoe in new water.
Does that explain it better?