Sunday, 16 July 2017

Making hay...

The weather in Brittany is a constant source is surprise to me, it can change within hours from cold and wet to a veritable heatwave and then back to winter again. This can be challenging and sometimes depressing when plans have to be put on hold because a storm has swept in from the Atlantic, but I have learned through experience that what cannot be changed must be accommodated....

Or, make hay while the sun shines and when it doesn't, write books
Or bake bread
Or, learn a language
You get the idea?

And when the sun returns, well, this is how I spent a day last week when the sun shone in a beautiful Breton-blue sky and wanderlust and a longing for the sea overcame me....

Le Sentier des Douaniers

Walking towards Plouman'ach
In the company of some (mostly) French visitors, several of whom were tanned, fit and in running gear which, considering the blistering heat, was very impressive, a few couples had kids in pushchairs or in back carriers and some more senior folk used sticks to help them on the path.  

I have a book at home in which the more famous rock formations are described and named; the bottle, the sorcerer etc and while I can see the shapes and while I do agree that they could be described as such, to me they are all animals and everywhere I look I see whales and dolphins, crouching cats and eagles.

I would need to take you along to see the rocks through my eyes...
And perhaps you would need a more vivid imagination or, perhaps, a glass or two of Kir to help you.

And I readily admit that some days I see nothing but a pile of rocks.
Albeit pretty and pink but still, just rocks.

And on those days pretty pink rocks are more than enough, especially when the background is a blue sea under a cloudless sky.

Of course the dog sees the same animals in the rocks that I do.

My dolphin...

Here is the famous bottle. Me, I see a baby whale.

Well, I did see a giant cat's paw, I'm sure I did!

We clambered down the rocks to dip our toes in the sea.
I really, really wanted to swim, and I had worn my swimsuit under my skirt and shirt and brought a towel in case the opportunity presented itself but there was nowhere safe with the tide low.

One of the boats carrying holiday makers on a trip to Les Sept Iles. When friends and I did that trip a magnificent sea mist descended and we were unable to see the Pink Granite coast from the sea.

The lighthouse is somewhat famous. Most people take a picture of it. The house is a private residence, I can't help wondering if its location makes up for the annoying sightseers constantly passing the sign on the gate that declares 'PRIVEE'.

In the past the feet of so many visitors trampling on the plants caused a great deal of damage and that led to soil erosion and that led to the plants dying and ... vicious circle.

Some years ago it was decided to take steps (no pun intended) to restore the environment and teams of volunteers worked hard to install signs asking people to stick to the paths and not to cross the low wires onto the heather, grass, wild honeysuckle and orchids and....

They have transformed the Sentier des Dounaiers.

Last attempt to convince you, please tell me that you can see the ape's face in this picture?

No? OK then I'll let you see your own shapes....

We walked for two miles and were hot, tired but happy.
And I got my swim.

We had to go to Trégestal to find somewhere safe for both me and the dog.
The sea was warm and the tide was coming in and it was lovely, just lovely.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017


On Sunday I went to Gouarec with friends to see a play performed by La Troupe Arlequin.

It was a 'hilarious farce set in the 1950's' in a failing English boarding school and narrated by the headmistress, one Dr Mildred Sponge, so we, the audience, were an unruly class to be interrogated and given a dunce's cap to wear between scenes.

Fantastic amateur cast...

Here you see the games mistress, Violet Bodkin talking to the philosophy teacher, Prof Wisteria Crouch at a table in the staff room.

A couple of baddies, the American property developer Herber B Sloophanger and his wife, Wilhemina. He wants to buy the school, tear it down and build houses on the land.
Definitely the baddies but are they all that they seem?

I thought that the art teacher was over the top in his take off of a Frenchman. Turned out he is French!

The school chaplain was a hoot! The Rev Pottington Willis. I think she was my favourite character.

And this chap, Crumble, constantly forgot his lines and arrived on stage at the wrong time and that added to the humour, especially when two of the cast argued with the prompt about their lines. Needless to say, the prompt worked very hard!

I did work out Who Dun It. By a process of elimination and because she did not appear on stage until the final scene, a cunning ploy!

There was afternoon tea too, this being an AIKB event.
I could have had a cupcake too but egg mayonnaise sandwiches, a little quiche and a cream and jam scone were more than enough to munch on.

So, a new experience for me and a fun Sunday afternoon in Brittany.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Night walking

The wonderful thing about being an adult and living alone, aside from having the debit card PIN number and being able to buy as much salted caramel chocolate as I like, is being free to do whatever I darned well please.

When I was a child I felt imprisoned in my bed at night. Bad dreams, dangers lurking in the shadows, monsters under the bed and night terrors all made me flee from my room, only to be caught, slapped and plonked back in bed with the blankets tucked in so tightly I almost couldn't breath, and a dire warning from my parents of the consequences should I dare to leave my room again.

The terrors have taken shape and form. I now know why I was too terrified to stay sleeping. Now, on nights when the terrors are particularly vicious, I leave my bed and I roam the house and courtyard like a phantom. I am even tempted to walk the streets of this little French village, except that I don't want to disturb the dog.

So here I am, at my new 'workstation' by the open window to the courtyard. The outside light is on, the air is very still, a few moths fly past from time to time, everyone else is asleep but I am awake and if I am patient and sit still for long enough I may see the dahlias dancing under the stars.

Do you think?


I think that history will look back on this era not so much as the 'Have It Alls' but rather the 'Want It Nows' and I, for one, don't think this is a good way to be.

You see, the trouble with having high expectations and wanting instant gratification is that they are bad for us. They wouldn't be, if we could control our desires and accept that sometimes we will not receive all that we may wish to receive instantly, at the click of a finger, or of a mouse. If we could stay patient when life is not happening at MIPS speed and learn to live more in the moment than in the next few minutes.

Our brains may be built for high-speed processing, our neurons may fire fast, but I don't think we've yet evolved to cope with the technology we all take for granted. Which reminds me of some code I wrote some, oh, thirty-five years ago, for one of the early online computer systems that the company for whom I was Chief Techie was developing. It was a brand new computer installation, an IBM 3441, probably less powerful than the laptop on which I am typing now, but back in the 80's it was impressive. Too impressive. The first systems had almost the whole central processing unit to themselves, there were so few of them written and tested, and I was worried that the users accessing them would become complacent and greedy. That they would expect such high-speed results even when other systems had been installed and the mainframe was working harder to service hundreds of online users. So, I wrote some Assembler code to run in CICS to interrogate the programmes returning results to the users: had they taken a certain number of seconds to reply? If yes, good, give them what they asked for. If not, pause, wait until those few seconds had passed and then reply to them.  The users never knew they were sometimes delayed. All they saw was a fast and consistent response that would be the same later when resources were being shared with others. Their expectations were set and they were never disappointed. Fait accompli.    

I'd quite like to do that to people now. In real life. The trouble is that those who sell us our stuff want us to buy quickly, before we have time to think, to reconsider, to change our minds, and so they enable us to Have It Now, next day delivery, today, if they could manage it. I can imagine the drones flying in the window now.

But it does not hurt to wait, does it?

And sometimes the waiting makes the receiving so much sweeter, almost special.
Just as waiting for Christmas Day, the anticipation, the mounting excitement, is often so much better than the day itself, even if there is all that we had desired stuffed into our stockings.

I started thinking of this today as I returned from walking the dog because today, 7th July, is the day when the village shop re-opens after the baker's first summer break. And while it has been sad to walk past a closed sign for the last two weeks, and while I may have wished to have had the convenience of popping in to pick up milk or bread, or my Sunday strawberry tart, today it has been such a treat to return home from our morning walk with a fresh croissant for breakfast

 and a mille feuille for afternoon tea.

Worth the wait...

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Une nuit blanche...

Insomnia is not such a frustrating state when one has an interesting house and garden in which to wander and play while the rest of the world sleeps...

And then, at 5 am, to come to rest by the open window overlooking the courtyard, to sip a cup of tea while listening to a local cockerel crowing and the birds singing and bathe in the freshness of the dawn, well, it is blissful.

Contemplating scrambled eggs and mushrooms on toast
And a day of exploring and adventuring...

And to think, I may have sold this place and then where would I have been?  

Well, probably Iceland.
But that may be next year's adventure!

Monday, 3 July 2017

Expanding horizons...

It is not just the sea stretching to the horizon, or the rolling hills providing a backdrop for my daily 'power walk' with the dog, or the abundance of space in this house, a space that I am enjoying and using and even revelling in after seven years in The Doll's House...

It is also the new experiences...

Yesterday two friends and I drove to Guingamp, there to witness the arrival of the first TGV to travel at high speed from Le Mans to Rennes, thus reducing the journey time to Paris to 2.5 hours, and thereby making a day trip to the capital a tempting prospect.

I used to take Sundays in Paris when I worked for the software company in Slough. I'd fly out with British Airways at 7:20 am, Heathrow to Charles de Gaulle, be eating croissants and sipping coffee by 10, take in part of the Louvre and have lunch in the cafe there, often eaten in the company of a nun though why I never discovered, and then wander round a le Marais or Montmartre until it was time to get the bus back to the airport.

In those days my life was larger and my horizons stretched further.

So far that I bought this house and fled to France for two years, before being lured back to the job in cyber security with the (then) New Employer. And to life in a corporate cage and a much littler life.

It's a wild, crazy and very independent part of France, Brittany.
And I think it suits me very well!

Especially after the last nine years which shrunk my world and reduced my horizons and made me focus too much on my own navel for my liking. A necessary part of surviving, I daresay, but not ideal for one who likes wide open spaces and adventuring.

Yesterday my friend was disappointed that the first fast TGV was not the newer model.
I was happy enough with the old version. I took it to Paris twice while I lived here, both times to sit my university exams, not a bad place to go, especially if the hotel is near the Sorbonne for added inspiration.

So, I find it takes little to make me happy these days - an absence of fear, no daily stresses, knowing that The Rags are happy and well, that all is ok in our family's world.
Toe-tapping music helps too.

And free oysters, although I do not indulge, not since The Incident of the Oyster at the food hall in Boston, that was one feisty oyster, I can still feel it clinging to my tonsils as I tried to swallow it!

But free crèpes, well, who could say non?
We had ours with salted caramel and thus, another new experience for me and another slight expanding of my horizons. I will make crèpes, I decided, making a mental note to find a recipe for salted caramel.


La vie est bonne, n'est-ce pas?

Saturday, 1 July 2017


So, I am reading a self-help book, one of many which I have rediscovered on  the bookshelves here in France, and goodness, did I seem to be in need of help eleven years ago when I bought this house! So, I am reading a book that will provide The Answer to finishing one of the novels I've almost written (three so far), and I have come to the chapter about positive influences.

Now we all know this already but it doesn't hurt to be reminded once in a while, that the world appear to be composed of two types of people; the Eyores and the Tiggers, i.e. the doom and gloom merchants and the bounce-back brigade. And we all can name at least one classic example of each and decide into which category most of our friends and acquaintances fall, at least most of the time.

Before I moved to France I worked with a woman who, on hearing my plans, told me quite plainly, "You'll never do it!" and she, bless her heart, was one of the reasons why I jolly well did do it!
And there was a chap who would run around the office like Chicken Little screaming "The sky is falling!" or rather, "The company is failing!" and thus he used to spread alarm and despondency to all of his colleagues. Well, those of us who listened to him, the sensible ones refused to pay any attention to him.

A pair of Eyeores to be sure.

And then there are the Tiggers in our lives. Those who are encouraging of our ambitions and supportive of our aspirations and believers in our dreams. Tiggers are to be cherished.

I began this post partly because the self-help book had got me thinking of Eyeores and Tiggers and that had led me onto thinking about our Tribes - the people who populate our world, either closely or remotely. And, as I returned from a shopping expedition to Guingamp where I wanted to buy enough dahlias to make the commune smile but could only find two, I noticed that The Ladies from Rennes have returned. And that made me smile.

The Ladies from Rennes are three (very mature) sisters who own houses in the village that are closed up and shuttered for most of the year, except in summer, when the ladies return, throw open the shutters and windows, clip their hedges and fill their gardens with flowers, Et, voilà, just as the re-appearance of the swallows and house martins heralds the coming of spring, so the re-appearance of the Ladies from Rennes heralds the coming of summer.  And I love it!

Of course The Ladies from Rennes are blissfully unaware that they are part of my Tribe, but they are most definitely and so it is a day to celebrate.        

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Moving on....

Well, life is full of ups and downs, isn't it?
And what matters is how we react to them.

The horse I went to see on Sunday, the horse I was making plans to buy, the horse whose owner hugged me and told me I'd be perfect for him and I could have first refusal...
She sold him to someone else.
Just like that.

Of course I was furious, and upset, to put it mildly, I was devastated. For the afternoon and evening I was, once again, that little pony-mad kid who had been told that she couldn't have her pony. It was a huge disappointment. To be honest, I cried myself to sleep.

This morning I woke and it is June 6th.
Twenty eight years ago today I sat on the floor of a crematorium, unable to stand, and wept through my father's funeral service.
Twenty eight years ago today, as were leaving to follow the hearse I took a phone call from The Ex's sister. My mother in law had just died of breast cancer.
Two years ago today I started on a course of chemotherapy for my own breast cancer.

June 6th is a day that challenges my family.

This morning I sat in bed with a cup of tea and thought back to those other June 6ths.
And then I deleted the messages from the owner of the horse and blocked any future ones she may try to send me. It was evidently not meant to be and that is that. There may be another horse, there may not, What will be will be. All we can do is go with the flow and keep on moving on...

N'est-ce pas?
Here's to being alive xxx


Sunday, 4 June 2017

Neutralising the negative...

The books are disappearing into boxes...

I find it interesting to note the order in which I am addressing the packing this time:

First the bone chine tea set, rarely used, saved for best, in France I will drink my morning tea from one of the cups perhaps with a little home-baked ginger biscuit in the saucer because it is, after all, the little things that make a good life.

Then the two very expensive crystal glasses, bought for me by a friend over forty years ago, to be used during romantic dinners, I have never used them. Is this becoming a metaphor for my life? The little luxuries I never felt good enough to use?

Then the books. Ah, the books. So many books. Many I'd forgotten I'd bought and have not read. When did my life become so busy that I have dozens of unread books? I sorted them into piles, some to donate to the hospital in Oxford, some for a friend to take to her local pub where they will be sold for another good cause... It's hard to part with books, hard but necessary. It's the holding on to old books that I have already read that keeps me from opening new ones, I think. Perhaps. Well, it's a state of mind that I wish to change.

But it is taking me a long time to pack for this move.
And I don;t know if that indicates a reluctance? A fear of the future? A desire to cling to that which is familiar? Nostalgia? Idleness? Perhaps I just have too much time on my hands, Having too much time is another problem for another post. Remind me sometime, please.

Back to the books.
Do I take all of the books on cyber security?
I have spent hundreds of pounds on books, books on programming, reverse engineering, hacking, internet forensics, operating systems internals...
Do I pack them and take them to Brittany? Or do I give them away? Would anyone want them? Do I want them? Do I, more to the point, need them? It was an interesting job, protecting cyber space, stopping spammers and scammers from stealing from people, occasionally reporting the image of a terrified abused child to the IWF, writing complex code to counter the Bad Guys' evil intentions. It was interesting and worthwhile and it almost broke me.

Do I want to hang on to the books?
Do I want to let go?

I am smiling because I imagine them in the dog's crate, behind bars, padlocked, safely out of harm's way. Perhaps I'll do that with all of these books that remind me of the dark side of the Internet. After all, that's what moving forward is all about, neutralising the toxic emotions, disarming that which harmed us, mentally reducing it to an amusing image, and letting it go.

N'est-ce pas?


Saturday, 3 June 2017

On being Stormur...

Do you recall that Icelandic horse that I rode last November?
The one that started something...
How to explain that last sentence?

It was cancer that taught me a lesson I really should have learned eleven years ago when I first went to France but that I obviously did not learn because I came back.

Why did I return and walk willingly, enthusiastically into the Corporate Cage?

Fear, of the future
Forgetfulness, of the past
Failure, to put my own well-being first

Having cancer showed me how far I had drifted from the feisty seven year-old pony-mad tomboy that I once was, and how much of myself I had allowed to be smothered and suffocated by the insane struggle to survive in a society that I neither understand, nor support, nor care to continue to contribute to.

Having cancer stripped me bare of the layers that I had built around myself thinking they would protect me, layers that were as brittle as the thinnest shell and as protective as gossamer.

I went to Iceland to rediscover that feisty little kid, and while I certainly did not return a Viking Warrior, at least I started on the path to becoming one.

For the last few months I have been engaged in negotiations with The Corporation as we seek to find a moderately satisfactory way to end our relationship. This has actually been going on since December 2015 when I realised that It Would Not Do and I resigned, which act stirred up a hornet's nest of trouble and resulted in some serious stuff. I am not permitted, contractually, to discuss that, nor the settlement that may finally be signed this coming week.

Happily it will soon be done and dusted.

When I went to Iceland I rode a horse called Stormur, Icelandic for Storm.
Now, six months later I am learning Icelandic, on the brink of buying an Icelandic horse whose name means Fire, and preparing to go back to Brittany.

Everything happens for a reason
N'est-ce pas?

Friday, 2 June 2017

Letting go...

They cut the grass on the green yesterday, which means that at 08.00 am, as I sit here with the doors wide open to let in the sunlight and the sounds of a blackbird singing, the delicious scent of freshly-mowed grass fills my lungs and my heart.

It is delicious, this summer morning freshness with its promise of a hot day to come.   

And I am, once again, in the process of letting go.
Letting go and packing my possessions for another move.

It's something I am good at, being the child of nomadic parents and the product of seven junior and five senior schools, I live like a camel train, ready to up and leave with each new dawn, although not quite as frequently, but it's that mentality.

Home is where the heart is, or, in my case, the dog and the books and soon, I sincerely hope, the horse, but that is another story to be saved for another day.

And though I sometimes miss the places where I've been, the village green I've walked on thrice daily for almost seven years, the lanes where I've wandered, the untidy flower-filled corners that seem to grow around me wherever I put down my short roots...

And even though it means leaving behind the bush that I have dutifully pruned and tended so that this year it has more blossoms than ever before...

Even so,  nothing lasts forever and life is one long, slow-moving river that runs, eventually, to the sea.

So, this is me today...
Contemplative, a little nostalgic, noting all that I will miss...
And knowing that forwards is really the only way to go.

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.

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?