Saying “goodbye” to the dragonfly.

You may remember I have written about our friends Monique & Michel.

Sadly Michel died on Wednesday, having had a stroke on Sunday morning. It was his funeral today – nothing religious, just a ceremony at the cemetary when family and friends read poems, and spoke about their beloved Michel. Some of his favourite music was played, including “Lady in Red” by Chris de Burgh, and “The Sound of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel. He was in a plain pine coffin, and before it was laid in the family tomb, we were invited to go up and write a message on the coffin.

Quietly people queued; there were many people there, testament to his popularity in the village – kind, gregarious, funny, lively…he was all these things.  People had drawn hearts, or written “Thank You”, “We love you”, “Goodbye”, there was even a “Bon Voyage”! When it was our turn, I drew a dragonfly.

Why a dragonfly?

Well, typical of Michel’s funloving nature, he belonged to a group of “majorettes” called “Les Libellules” (the Dragonflies) – all gentlemen! – who performed (usually slightly inebriated!) at various events.

I found it moving that the rest of the troupe formed a “guard of honour” with their red hats and majorette batons at the entrance to the cemetary, and Michel’s own red hat was placed on the top of the coffin, surrounded by red and white flowers.

He shall be missed.

 

You can shed tears that they’ve gone, or you can smile that they have lived.

You can close your eyes and pray that they’ll come back, or you can open your eyes and see the memories that they have left you.

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see them, or your heart can be full with the love  and fun that you’ve shared.

You can turn your back on life yesterday and on life tomorrow, or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.

You can remember them and only that they’ve gone, or you can cherish their memory and let it live on.

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back, or you can do what they’d want: smile, open your eyes love and go on.

 

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Meet the Cats: Senior Director

Our Senior Cat is Pomme.

We got Pomme about a month after our move to France. At the time, Mr FD was working 1 week in London, one week in France, and so he didn’t help to choose Pomme. I chose two cats that day, Pomme (named by the refuge)  and an older cat Biscuit (a tri-colour cat named Arc-en-Ciel – Rainbow – by the refuge, but changed to Biscuit by me)

Sadly, Biscuit didn’t last long. She came to us on 9th October and by 19th October she had died. This, I am still convinced, was partly, at least, due to the incompetence of the vet here in the village. I’m sure he is a good big farm animal vet, but not a small-animal vet. I know two other people who believe he was responsible for the death of their pets too. I think Biscuit had some kind of virus before she came, but still…

I kept a journal through my first months here and the day I got the two cats I wrote: “Went to Roanne on Saturday and got 2 cats. I’m not sure I made the right decision though, as one is completely AWOL – though very sweet – and I’m pretty sure the other is diabetic! She’s drinking a lot and not eating. What a to-do! Biscuit (diabetic?) is very similar to Manda’s colouring (our old cat in the UK) but has a sweeter face than Manda’s. She is 8 & had been in the refuge 3 years. I think her likeness to Manda swayed me. The other, Pomme, is younger and is very lively. She stole my heart by jumping onto my shoulders and draping herself.

It started well, but there are moments of despair in other journal entries: “Her one mission in life is to Get Into The Kitchen because that’s where Food is. It’s a nightmare keeping her out”…”Pomme was mad tonight and broke my Mysteries of MK plate. I yelled and yelled and wept and wept and threw a book at her” …”

After Biscuit died I went back to the Refuge and complained they’d sold me faulty goods (!!) That sounds mean, but it isn’t cheap adopting a cat, and to have it die 10 days after you get it home is a bit much! So they relented (very begrudgingly) and let me choose another. Mr FD was with me, and he chose Pumpkin.

I only have two photos of lovely Pumpkin. She was mad as a box of frogs, and while Pomme and Pumpkin seem to be friends in this photo, that didn’t come easily. As the journal shows: “Pumpkin is 5 months old. Black and white and so sweet & lovely. Pomme doesn’t let her be, so Pumpkin is shut up for most of the day. She also doesn’t use her litter tray, so the dressing room (which is now my study) has a particular odour of its own now – and it isn’t very pleasant!”…”A big fight on Monday which I didn’t know about until I came across gobs of spittle and two wary cats”…”Took Pumpkin to the vets in Noiretable; he diagnosed a digestive disorder. Pumpkin does NOT like the vet. As he injected her she took off like a jet propelled ball of fur, just missing my eye and with the needle from the syringe still stuck in her neck. ‘My, what a little character’ he said, through gritted teeth.”…”Cats managed a peaceful hour before Pomme went for Pumpkin last night”…”When Pomme does attack Pumpkin Pumpkin tends to lose control of her bowels so we have shit sprayed everywhere as well as fur”…

For a couple of months I kept either Pomme or Pumpkin in a big cage while the other cat had free run of the living room during the evening. This helped acclimatise them to eah other, the last entry in the journal (I gave up after 4 months) reads “Cats still not meeting except by accident, when Pomme goes in for the kill, or so it seems. Pumpkin doesn’t seem very fazed by these meetings though…”

They must have become accustomed to each other, however, as the first photo shows. Mr FD has just come & reminded me that they got used to each other when we went to the UK, and put them both in a cattery. They were in adjoining cages/pens, so, one imagines, they made friends through the netting. Unfortunately, Pumpkin wasn’t with us for long. She died in 2009, about 3.5 years after we got her. On one of my first blog posts I wrote:

September 15th 2009 “Goodnight Sweet Cat…”…and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

We’ve said Goodbye to Pumpkin, and she’s set off on her Very Big Adventure. We took her to the NiceVet who said that her temperature wasn’t good, her breathing had worsened, and, to be honest, we could see that she was weary of it all. NiceVet was very gentle, giving her an injection so she went to sleep – the first proper sleep she’d had for days – and we could caress her and love her. Then he stopped her heart. We left her curled on his table – we don’t want to bury her, or have her ashes. We want to remember her as she was. We have a saying in the Dormouse family: “as mad as a box of frogs”. We shall change it in her honour: “As mad as a box of Pumpkins”

For a while Pomme was the one-and-only, but about 6 months later we were ready to have a new cat, and our friends cat was pregnant. I’ll tell you about those cats later – but I can promise you that Pomme did not accept the kittens very well either!

But, look, I can be so appealing!

Food, please. NOW!

Planning a shoulder launch…

Now Pomme is getting on in years, and isn’t in the best of health, but, as I have recently said, the medication is giving her a new lease of life. Here are some of her mischievous moments:

Well, I thought everyone had finished eating the bread! (Yes, this really is our bread basket she’s settled into!)

A box! A box!!

A bag! A bag!!

She is a dear cat, although she does have her little foibles which can be less than appealing. She’s a total diva where Jasper is concerned, and makes a heck of a lot of noise if he comes anywhere near. And giving her her medication is a nightmare – although my journal has offered me a possible solution:”Pomme has some tablets to take, which, when ground down into fish soup, she wolfs down…” (EDITED TO ADD: We tried the tablet in the fish soup trick. She sniffed it distainfully, sneered and got off her perch. That didn’t work then!)

But when she curls up next to you, or on your lap, purring like an engine, it’s hard not to love her!

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We hope she’ll be with us for many years to come!

I am a cider drinker

A blast from the past here, with the video of The Wurzels, a British comedy (questionable!) band from the 70s. Does anyone remember them? They had a Number 1 hit with “I’ve got a brand new combine harvester (and I’ll give you the key)” as well.

Anyway…I thought of them as I wrote the title for this post, which is about our cider making exploits, back in November. It was a very mild day – just after a very cold spell – when our friends Jean & Claire called us to tell us that they would be making their cider that day. So we first of all picked apples at our friend Danièle’s plot, singing along to Big Big Train’s “Wassail” which seemed appropriate.

 

I was still wobbly on my feet – apparantly one of the longer-lasting side effects of chemo – so Mr FD did more picking than me, but we got quite a few bags-full between us. Bizarrely we found several “Bags for Life” abandoned in the orchard – we have no idea who left them there. They wouldn’t be from Danièle’s family, as no-one lives in the village any longer, so maybe it was an apple scrumper who was disturbed! Whoever it was, they lost their bags, as we used them and took them home!

It was very pleasant in the warm sunshine, with a view over the village. Here’s a view of the orchard

 

Some of the apples had been eaten away – I imagine from the inside, as some flying creature laid its eggs inside the apple to provide a food source for the hatched babies, whatever they were. The remains were actually rather lovely in their way. We left a lot of apples on the trees and on the ground – hopefully they will provide nourishments for “creatures of the forest” during the winter.

After we’d picked the apples, we headed over to Les Ports, the family home of Jean, now used as a holiday home by his sister, who lives in Lyon. Here there is the old machinery that has been used for generations to make cider. Each year (that the harvest is good enough) Chantelle and her husband, and possibly children too, come across from Lyon, and with her brother, Jean, and his family, the ancient equipment comes to life once more.

This year, Claire & Jean’s youngest were home from their studies: Alyssia and Joe are twins. Joe had brought two sisters from China who are at Uni with him to see what was going on.

 

 

 

First the apples were tipped into the hopper of this machine, which chopped them into smaller pieces. It’s a vicious machine, with blades going up and down really quickly. H&S doesn’t exist here, as Jean pushes the apples towards the blades with his bare hands! The pieces of apple are gathered in large plastic buckets, ready to be tipped into the press.

    

Mr FD, Jean, and Jean’s BiL are manipulating the press. The apples have been tipped into the barrel part, and the top part is weighted down and a huge screw-like mechanism is turned to press down on the apples to extract the juice.

There’s a bucket at the bottom, collecting the juice (which is filtered through straw placed around the base of the barrel-part) and we had to keep an eye on this, ready to whip it out as it got full, and replace it with another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was then taken outside where it was decanted into various jerry-cans, bottles, and demi-johns to be transported home. Here’s Alyssia and one of the Chinese guests carefully pouring the juice into a demi-john.

I was getting really chilled near the end, so I went and sat next to the log burner inside, while everyone finished off, overseen by Jet and Bilout, Jean & Claire’s two dogs

We took home several bottles of apple juice, which Mr FD mostly drank. It was a bit too sweet for me. I suppose (thinking about it far too late!) I could have mulled some of it with spices and lemon juice, which would have been nice! Never mind…

It was a very enjoyable day.

(Sorry the placing of pictures and text is a bit random. I was trying to embed the pictures in text but wasn’t very successful!)

Goodbye to 2018

So that was 2018 – not necessarily my “best” year, but a year in which I learned something about myself, in which I made new friends, in which I drew closer to God. There were bright times, and darker ones, but here are a random selection of 12 photographs.

JANUARY

I found that focussing on celtic knotwork was a way of taking my mind off what was happening to me. I had surgery on 3rd January, to remove the tumour. This was done during my recovery, as a Burns’ Night gift for my Scottish-ancestors Rector and his Scottish wife.

FEBRUARY

Chemo started – again focussing on zentangling was a way of taking myself out of the situation. This koala was drawn as a gift for someone, but I have no idea who!!

MARCH

Despite chemo, we were able to go to Manchester to see Bill Bailey (comedian) and Elbow (band) in concert. We also met my great nephew, Billy, for the first time. Here he is with my niece, Rose, and her husband, Dave. We had a magnificent time. I also lost my hair by the end of the month

APRIL

I was still well enough to go to Fréjus with the Cycle Club – I spent a lot of time resting in the holiday village, but was able to for shortish walks. Here I am dipping my toes in the Med!

MAY

The Royal Wedding gave me an excuse to wear my patriotic scarf as a turban! Friend Cathy and I went up to Friend Richard’s to watch it on his big screen TV – an excuse for fizzies and good food! I made an inelegant elderflower and lemon sponge. Which was very nice!

JUNE

I was into the second set of chemo treatments by now – these were less pleasant (if “pleasant” could be used to describe the first set!) than the FEC100 with fatigue really taking over. However I still was able to get to Annecy with the cycle club. I did a little tiny bit of walking – 2 km was the furthest I walked, but I was very happy to have managed that!

JULY

We were into high summer by now, with long balmy evenings. Friend Cathy hosted a music night up at her home, where we sat out, singing, playing instruments, and enjoying good company. Great fun – even if we were forced indoors by a sudden rainstorm!

I had my last chemo at the beginning of July – huzzah! – and two or three weeks later started my six weeks of radiotherapy. It wasn’t so tiring, by any means, although I still appreciated an afternoon nap when I returned home from hospital.

AUGUST

The village had its Fete Patronale, right at the end of August. Never our favourite time, as the travelling fair sets up right outside the house, but we went to stay at Friend Richard’s overnight, and came down to watch the light show. It was, let’s say, “interesting”!

I finished my radiotherapy sessions!

SEPTEMBER

September was a good month, as I started to get some energy back, and – apart from my hormonetherapy – I had finished treatment. So, we were able to have a holiday in the Italian lakes, thanks to the generosity of a friend. Here I am enjoying the gardens above Lake Maggiore

And then my mum and my sister came to stay.

Mum, Judy and Mr FD on a walk through Le Gouffre d’Enfer in the Pilat mountains.

OCTOBER

I went back to work – not too much, but I was glad to be starting again! I felt I’d been lounging around for too long!

Still time for fun however – I had my birthday celebrations at Friend Alison’s

and went to Waterloo for the Convention of the Convocation of Episcopal churches in Europe, where Mark Edington was elected as our Bishop. Here he is speaking, via Skype, to the Convention. I was on the Transition Committee for the process of preparing for the Consecration of Mark; however, as it was causing me fairly severe anxiety, I resigned from the Committee in November. Still, I’m looking forward to going to the Consecration service next April.

NOVEMBER

The weather was a little odd, going from very cold (plus snow!) to extremely mild within a matter of days. Luckily it was warm(ish) and sunny on the day we got involved with making cider with our friends Jean and Claire, at Jean’s family home a few kilometres from St Just. Here is Jean, Mr FD and Jean’s brother-in-law manipulating the apple press that has been used for generations. And here are Jet and Bulot (except I don’t know how to spell his name – it’s a French slang term meaning “Little Willy”!!)

DECEMBER

My friend Jane and I spent a few days in Strasbourg, exploring the Christmas Markets. Here are a couple of views of Petit France, the area of the city where there are canals. It was a chilly day when we walked around, but we found a lovely restaurant to warm up in!

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Do you know, looking back over these – and many other – photos has reminded me that this year hasn’t been so bad after all! Yes, I had to go through treatment for breast cancer, but despite that, there have been many really enjoyable things! We’ve been lucky enough to be able to go away several times, though I was sad to miss a couple of weddings, as they fell on a Saturday just a couple of days after a chemo session – no way I could have gone!

Here are the cards I made for them

I hope that 2019 will be even better than 2018. It’s starting well: Mr FD has a job!! He begins three months of training with a fibre optics company on Wednesday. As long as he passes the training, he has a six months probationary period with the company; if he passes that period, he should have a permanent post! This is really good news.

So, I wish all my readers a happy 2019, full of joy, and blessings.

 

Nostalgia

When I lived in Milton Keynes I was heavily into Amateur Dramatics, with the Stantonbury Campus Theatre Company. This was formed and directed by Roy Nevitt for a long time, and we produced some fantastic Community Theatre.

Yesterday I was trying to think of who I should listen to on Spotify (as I tried to motivate myself to tidy up my desk a little) and I saw the category label “Folk” – which reminded me of the Cock and Bull Band, who played French/English folk for many of the Community theatre productions that I took part in, not least the amazing run that we did of Tony Harrison’s Mystery plays.

Nativity was produced at Christmas 1989 (I think) – I was stage hand for this, as I had only just finished a run as Rita, in “Educating Rita”

Passion was the following Easter. I was general crowd, with various small speaking parts.

Doomsday was the autumn after – in this I played Beelzebub, plus various smaller parts.

All with a run of about 10 nights each; all utterly amazing!

The Cock & Bull band played their inimitable style of music for each show, and listening yesterday took me to my computer to see if I could find any information about the Mysteries…Nothing, save a brief mention in the interview linked to above. I suppose the early 90s were a time before things were habitually filmed and uploaded onto YouTube, or photos posted on Facebook. We may have some actual photos somewhere – and I know we have a souvenir programme squirrelled away, but I’m not sure where – but it’s hard to find anything else….But I still have the Spotify Cock and Bull music to remind me!

Jean Pierre Rasle, the French bagpiper in the group, used many French folk tunes in their repetoire; one I particularly remember was used for the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Dancers hemd hands and wove their way around Adam and Eve, with a fairly simple Morris dancing step. A few years later Mr FD and I were at a Medieval festival (I mentioned it in this post) tucking into our al fresco meal, when we heard the band strike up exactly the same tune. Mr FD had to hold me down so that I wouldn’t get up and start bobbing and weaving my way around!

This isn’t the tune, but it was used (I think) in one of the shows. We used to have this album – it has got lost. I really should try and get it. It holds so many memories as it was the one produced after the Mysteries.

From Puffins to Peacocks

Which might be a slightly ambiguous post title, but can be explained…

I wrote earlier about my childhood reading, and my membership of the Puffin Club, a club affiliated to Puffin books, an imprint of Penguin Books publishing house, targeted at children. Peacock books were the fairly shortlived “young adult” series, a step on from Puffin books; but they made up a fair amount of my transition reading.

Titles such as Fifteen, by Beverley Cleary, a story about first love, and all the pain and joy associated with it…

This list shows the first Peacock books – just reading it through has made me go “Oh, Yes! I remember that!!” for so many books. I wonder if there’s any there that you have read and enjoyed?

After graduating to the adult library section, I started reading a lot of Mary Stewart’s romance/mysteries. I really enjoyed these – usually there was a smart, sassy female protagonist, who fell in love, often with someone a bit unsuitable, who she suspected to be the wrong doer. She could usually look after herself, but there would be a life-or-death situation at the end where she would be rescued by (or sometimes rescue) the Love of her Life. They would be set in exotic locations, and I really loved them; I read one quite recently, and although it was a bit dated, I still enjoyed it.

I didn’t really like Agatha Christie mysteries, but enjoyed other crime novels – a genre which I still enjoy today. I can’t remember any particular authors that I gravitated towards, although I do remember my aunt taking Ngaio Marsh mysteries on holiday with her: she brought them from the library (shock! horror! we were never allowed to take library books on holiday in case we lost them!) and they all had standard library issue covers in a particularly unpleasant yellow! I tried reading one, but didn’t enjoy it.

I fell in love with two books about time slip/ghostly, doomed love – A Portrait of Jennie, by Robert Nathan, and Jenny Villiers, by JB Priestly. Both of these fed my adolescent need for love… I read A Portrait of Jennie again recently – while I enjoyed it, I wasn’t quite gripped in the same way…

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One book that had a profound effect on me was “In this House of Brede” by Rumer Godden. I had already come across Rumer Godden’s book “The Kitchen Madonna” in the children’s section of the library – a lovely story, in which Gregory, a nine-year-old boy, has a deep love and respect for his family’s Ukrainian maid, Marta. When he discovers that Marta is sad because she does not have an icon in the kitchen, he commits to doing something about it. He makes his own picture, using various things such as jewel-bright sweet wrappers to frame it. I moved onto reading Godden’s “The Greengage Summer” (another Peacock book) which is another book about the joy and pain of first love, but this one set in 1920s France

After this, I wanted to read other books by the same author, and found “In this House of Brede“. As Wikipedia describes it: a portrait of religious life in England that centers on Philippa Talbot, a highly successful professional woman who leaves her comfortable life among the London elite to join a cloistered Benedictine community of contemplative nuns. It begins in 1954, as Philippa enters the monastery, Brede Abbey; continues through her solemn vows in the changing, post-Second Vatican Council environment; and ends as Philippa reluctantly accepts the call to lead a new Benedictine foundation in Japan, where she spent part of her childhood.

I think reading this book helped me to see that it was okay to have questions about God, to struggle with being a Christian. I said “Yes” to God at school, aged 17, and went along to a House church, which was in many ways a great start for my Christian life, but in other ways not so good. It was very Bible based, with every answer to every question considered to be in the Bible, God’s direct word to us, and never to be questioned…. This was not my experience, and it was not how I had been educated: I had been taught to ask questions, and my church upbringing had been more open and liberal. Being torn between two stances, this book helped me to start to form my own opinions and become stronger in my faith.

As I write this, I remember more and more books from my adolescence, that I really enjoyed…I could be writing this blog post for ever as I recall more and more!

The L-Shaped Room, by Lynne Reid Banks

Last Year’s Broken Toys

The Silver Sword by Ian Serrailer ( Maybe that was a childhood book, rather than adolescent – but an excellent read!)

Fifth Chinese Daighter by Jade Snow Wong

The Owl Service by Alan Garner…

and so the list goes on. What do you remember reading in your teenage years?