Friday, January 29, 2016


Saturday 30 January 2016

Cool and showery 11 degrees

I am taking a more relaxed approach to the blog this year.  Last year, I posted every day and frankly, when there was not a lot going on, it was a bit of a strain to find something interesting to put before you, dear readers.

Anyhow, this week has been very quiet work wise.  I have decided to put some vintage buttons on Etsy and see if they work and resisted publishing last year's blog under my real name.  My references to clients as duplicitous bastards may be taken badly....  The lady suggested that I could open the book with the words, 'I hate clients'....  I dont actually hate all my clients.  Some of them I love and enjoy their company, especially after they have bought.  Some of them pop up into my thoughts, in dark and low moments, and replay their words and actions.

On Monday I spoke to the client who is still thinking about the chateau with the terrifying amount of work and he said he would give me an offer this week.  As at this morning, I am still waiting.  

OH has pressed on with the small rental unit and I spent yesterday scrubbing the floor and fuming at the noise from the so called gypsies who have been given a house by the Mairie, right in the heart of the town, and spend their time laughing, smoking and watching telly.  Seven of them in there and not a one of them works.  My ire got a lot of the crap off the floor.  Laziness makes me mad.

Also spent a lot of the week trying to get in contact with the kids.  RJ (eldest) who is supposed to be moving jobs at the end of February, and for whom I have searched out jobs and written to consultants, is now not answering his phone, or email, or FB, or Skype or Voxer, or messages left at the hotel.  WF (youngest) has to move out by the end of February and I dont know if he has got anything sorted either.  Why the sodding hell cant they answer their telephones, or deign to send me a message.  I should have had girls.  It looks like relaxed attitude to blog has yet to creep into real life.

OH has taken to looking at property in the UK again, for investment purposes, and still thinks Windermere would be very good idea.  Problem is that Winderemere houses are about 225000 pounds.  We could do with finding something at about 180000 pounds which needs renovating.  OH finds a lovely house in Arnside but that is not near enough to the heart of the Lakes, so we look on.  He informs me (again) that I need to sell the rental units.  Oh, is that all.  That old cherry.  I will knit some buyers over the weekend.

How about some more photos from Pamplona, I hear you ask.  Go on then....

8 am and the town is sleeping

there were still people partying upstairs...

broken hearts

medieval banana eater

grotesque mistakes bulls leg for banana

fab graffitti

more fab graffitti

setting up for the day

too early to find a hangover cure

anyone for a religious figure or doll?

yet more fab graffitti

still too early for hangover cure

just in case the last shop didnt have enough religious figures

even the church was closed

steps up to the main square

is that a bull I see behind me?

oh crap!

delightful view of crane, old chap

bull searches for contact lens

you think of a caption for this one....

Sunday, January 24, 2016


Saturday 23 January 2016

10 degrees in Spain
20 degrees in France

We come to Pamplona to see Flamenco.  This is not some sanitised tourist version, rose tucked behind the ear and polka dot dress and maracas version. It is raw and pure and touches me in the way that is hearing a Welsh male voice choir or the thump of a colliery band or the high sweet voices of boys in a Cathedral.

The Club is small - only holding 50 people - the telephone is never answered. Events - periodic and irregular - are posted on Facebook and messages remain unread.  Sometimes Tourist Information will ring and reserve for us but yesterday it was closed so we turned up on spec at 10 pm and were told it was full.  We hung around.  Many black clothed people milled by the door, having a cig smoking competition.  An hour went by and finally, the woman on the door beckoned us forward and sold us the last two tickets.

The interior was bursting and the 15 euros entrance fee bought a G + T and nibbles of cheese, chorizo and ham on slivers of bread.  Everyone was talking at the same time.  A door opened and four chairs were dragged out of a back room and onto the tiny stage, where they took up half the space.  Two men and two women sat down and a man took up his guitar and started to play.  It was the sound of water tumbling down a mountain stream.  It was liquid.  It was the present and it was the past: it was 500 years of music.  A slight, dark eyed woman drew up a microphone.  Burnished mahogany hair neatly drawn back into a knot at the nape of the neck.  Blood at her lips.  And she sang.  If you have never heard flamenco, the sound is a shock.  It comes from deep within the singer and is a cry of anguish.  It hits you in the Solar Plexus and sends a silver knife sliding down your vertebrae.  Her voice radiated out and filled every corner of the room, and people listened, their faces turned to enraptured stone.

Then, from the darkness at the end of the stage, a dancer rose.  Slender as a reed.  In her 40's.  Hair contained by jet slides but exploding in wild froth down to her waist.  She flexed her arms, the white lace shone and she arched her back and her hands twirled delicately like blossoms in a Spring breeze.  She was feminine and sensuous and serious and powerful.  Many cries of guapa and olĂ©!


The guitar player resumed and another dancer rose from the shadows.  Dressed in widow's weeds, a severe gunmetal grey dress and plain black shawl, she struck a pose and filled the stage.  Her face was contorted with pain.  She was Guernika, she was Spain and she was every Spaniard who had ever suffered. Her dancing was not feminine or delicate.  It was savage and when she stamped, the room shook.  She exuded rage and anguish.  Her arms whipped furiously.  She pointed and grimaced and her shawl was a weapon.  She glistened with sweat and her hair started to unravel from the clips.  She beat her hands against her breast and her pale white thighs drummed like machine guns.  There was a break and she reappeared in a green gown, sprigged with flowers and this time the dance was full of wild joy.  It was a performance of extraordinary power.  It was mesmerising.  

When, at last, she finished and, panting, extended her arms towards the audience, there was a moment's silence before a tumult of bodies on the stage and applause ringing around the room like thunder in a canyon.

We emerged into the chill night air.  It was 1.30 am and the dregs of the bars were being thrown out on the streets.  A church bell chimed and the full moon lit our way home.


Friday 22 January 2016

In Spain 9 degrees - 18 in France

Our house is very cold in the Winter.  When we bought in 2004 we baulked at the cost of changing the windows (25000 euros) or installing full central heating (10000 euros).  How cold could it get anyhow?  The answer is that often in the winter it is colder inside than out but now it seems too late to make these modifications.  We are ready to move on and this year will be a push to sell our big, cold, and much loved house with its huge gardens and peeling walls, and move onto other things.

We get particularly fed up in January and February, the coldest months, so go to a lovely hotel, somewhere in Spain, where we can enjoy central heating and sparkling and crisp white linen.

I dropped off the dog at 9 am and we set off in the rain.  Eventually the landscape tipped and we were on a high mountain road, thick sausage rolls of mist in the valleys and passing through forests of Eucalyptus.  Skeins of snow thrown over the jagged rocks.

We were passing through a village - Exchalekua - in Basque 'house-place' and it had one bar so we parked up.  Two Alsatians paced in a muddy enclosure and a troupe of very woolly sheep was watching them from the road side of the fence. A car drew up in a burst of gravel and we followed its owner into the bar.  He drew himself a half of cloudy beer and called his wife to serve us.  We sat by the roaring fire and admired the fine sheep skins.  The coffee came in large cups and was served with tiny bars of black chocolate, rich and bittersweet.  There was an alpine feel to the place.

Twenty minutes later and we were on the outskirts of Pamplona, a huge sprawling city with commercial zones, layers of tower blocks of flats like giant dominoes in the landscape, glass fronted office blocks, university campus and, at its heart, the medieval walled city.  And that is so typical of Spain.  You can be in the heart of a city but, on looking over the city limits, you will see nothing but hills and the road out.

We went into a restaurant and there was one lady, eating an omelette, but it soon filled up.  The starter was revuelto - scrambled eggs with ham, glossy and full of butter, followed by sardines and salmon, crisp white wine and bread with a thick liquorice crust.  And then siesta.

Later that night, we joined the Paseo and wandered around the rain slicked streets and looked in the shop windows and milled with the locals.  Small children everywhere, beautifully turned out.  Adults enjoying epic amounts of smoking and drinking.  Fat babies under many quilts.  The Spanish don't bother with babysitters.  They take their kids with them and go home when their offspring are too tired to stay upright.  

Live music was coming from a bar so we pushed our way through the crush, grabbed some deep fried spinach balls and beer and parked ourselves next to a coat laden cigarette vending machine.  A large Mexican was sitting on a small stool.  Toad complexion, tall with gloriously embroidered sombrero.  His thick, spatulate fingers caressed the strings of the guitar and he sang of love and loss. Everyone but we knew the words.  A guy in a suit danced ecstatically.  His hair was grey and he looked like a local dignitary but in his heart he was Mexican. The Star of Galicia posters shone on the walls and the bright lights lit up the heads of the woman, their hair falling in raven silk rivers over their shoulders.

Ears ringing and much, much later, we wobbled back to the hotel and sleep.

Monday, January 18, 2016


Monday 18 January 2016

Cold and wet with torrential showers 5 degrees

The rain was battering the shutters and the rattle of the hinges woke me up to the gloom of the morning.  My pillow was cold to the touch and I could hear the dog and OH snoring in the other room.

I lay and was thinking of how to create my button empire when it suddenly occurred to me that I had forgotten to do the VAT return - normally due on the 16th of each month.  20% VAT is included on all of my sales but I can also deduct it from relevant purchases.  Consequently, I hoard every little scrap of paper which is possibly deductible.  Rifled through my handbag and the pile of post and junk and extracted a wad of receipts and quickly entered them up and filed the return.

OH got up and we had breakfast - me some delicious Lidl Mastercrumble and OH a banana.  His middle has grown to alarming proportions and, instead of cutting down on meals later in the day, or wine, or both, he has started to eat a banana for breakfast and be in a bad mood by lunchtime.

Out to meet a client from Paris.  The sun came out and the fields were clear, apart from the village where we were meeting.  When the air is colder than the water, mist forms.  There is a large river near the village and puffs of fog had completely obscured both the road and houses and the church.  The lady had managed to find the Mairie so we set off and found the house.  The owners had opened up.  I could tell, on meeting her, that the property would not be a match.  She was very young, Chinese, with beautiful dark almond eyes and sleek coal black hair.  She liked the decorative concrete flagged floors.  She was entranced by the red squirrel on the larch.  She didn't like the rest of it at all and said she preferred the Dordogne so she went one way and I went home to collect dog and meet OH at the rental units.  

The oven slotted into the space very nicely but it became immediately apparent that the shelf on which it was sitting was not square.  Out came the oven and OH inserted some wooden pegs and we put back in the shelf and the oven and it was now tipping the other way.  I was instructed to unscrew the pegs and apparently I am useless and was stripping the threads (sounds like a Folk Dance - come people, let's Strip the Threads') and was dismissed.  Decided to walk the dog up a little hill in the middle of town.  Nearly sodding killed me.  I am so unfit.  Dog thrilled and kept on trying to run off.

Back home and new button moulds have arrived - yay!!  Gritted my teeth and rang EDF.  The last three times I have rung them, they insist the electric meter in the new flat does not exist.  This time, the phone was answered by a young guy who, miraculously, found the meter - registered to a different address and we set up an appointment for Friday to get the electric meter opened.  That is what I call a result and is something off the long term To Do List.

Dried off the dog and scraped the mud off myself and plastered on some makeup and went to reshow the big chateau.  The lane was horrifically muddy with big potholes and the clients were already there.  The man looked excited and the woman looked cold but, thank God, they are not French or otherwise they would not have got up the driveway.  They would have been sitting back at the entrance, waving their arms like sea anemones and saying 'c'est impassable'.  French are total wimps.  The owner was late, by which time we were all very muddy, and the clients disappeared into the vastness of the building and I went into the biblioteque and thought of the first time I had come here, just over a year earlier.

It had been the week before Christmas and the owner, a lady in her mid 80's, had welcomed me in and we had drunk coffee from delicate Dresden porcelain and eaten Bavarian Christmas biscuits - golden brown and shaped like little donuts.  The fire had roared in the grate and, incongruously, a Star Wars chess set lay on the coffee table, a game half played.  Today, the room was dark and chilled.  A beady eyed ancestor watched me from his perch above the massive mantlepiece.  I sat on a chaise longue and looked at a copy of A Tale of Two Cities. 

 " It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way

The clock ticked and the owner reappeared and made coffee and somehow, we got onto the subject of the War (he is German).  I dont know quite how it happened and I found myself asking how a people as rational as the Germans could have followed Hitler.  What was his appeal?  The treaty of Versailles was the answer, and austerity, and the desire for change.  I repeated this to OH later and he said if the Germans didnt like the Versailles Treaty then they shouldnt have taken us into two World Wars.  The owner also said that the French actually always regarded the British as the real enemy and I thought, I bet that was not what the French were thinking when they were overrun and occupied.  He then swerved onto the topic of Top Gear, which we both love.

The clients reappeared and said they had to go and would be in touch next week.

Back home and my Whatsapp app on the phone binged and oh bloody, sodding hell, the buyer for the flat has backed out.  Remember the one where I worked New Year's Day and the day when I was throwing up?  Fan bloody tastic.  She doesnt want to pay the bank loan rate and her mate wont lend her the money (after saying he would).  Owner majorly hacked off.

Went to bed early.  Very tired.

Saturday, January 16, 2016


16 November 2015

First frost of the year
5 degrees sunny

How can the beautiful, beautiful Alan Rickman be gone?  My secret crush for as long as I can remember.  As Bowie, aged 69 and taken by cancer. 

There is a Youtube Channel which has memorable clips, such as the recitation of The Dead Woman by Pablo Neruda

                               If suddenly you do not exist,
if suddenly you no longer live,
I shall live on.

I do not dare,
I do not dare to write it,
if you die.

I shall live on.

For where a man has no voice,
there, my voice.

Where blacks are beaten,
I cannot be dead.
When my brothers go to prison
I shall go with them.

When victory,
not my victory,
but the great victory comes,
even though I am mute I must speak; 
I shall see it come even 
though I am blind.

No, forgive me.
If you no longer live,
if you, beloved, my love,
if you have died,
all the leaves will fall in my breast,
it will rain on my soul night and day,
the snow will burn my heart,
I shall walk with frost and fire and death and snow,
my feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping, but
I shall stay alive,
because above all things 
you wanted me indomitable,
and, my love, because you know that I am not only a man
but all mankind. 

And the terrible but joyful rendering of The Sun Aint Gonna Shine any more

And who else went, aged 69?  My parents went on holiday - to Tenerife - and, taken ill, my father bled to death on a Spanish operating table, his aorta haven given way.  My mother, never having been on her own in her 76 years, was too traumatised to remember telephone numbers, with the result that my brother and I received late night visits from the Police.  The knock on the door, the chill of the kitchen, my children sleeping upstairs, the telly still blaring in the living room.  The terrible shock.  My mother flew back and we went down to see her.

We drove past the train station - where only a month before, he had waved us off on the Platform.  But he was not there.  In the house, his slippers were by the chair.  His newspaper and jumper on the table.  His clothes tumbling out of the suitcase.  But he was not there.  His smell in the bathroom.  His coat in the hall.  But he was not there. My mother's grief was frightening.  It was too much.  I recoiled from her pain. Something else to add to the guilt of never having really known my father.  Never really having a deep conversation with him.  And now it was definitively, unquestionably too late.  A week later we received a postcard, written in his neat cursive style, saying they were having a lovely time.  I take it out from time to time.  He comes back to me periodically.  Something will trigger a memory.  Like creosote and I see myself, a girl of 9, in the cobbled entry to our house and Dad up a ladder.  I bring him a sandwich and he takes it, his hand blackened and we are enveloped in the rich, treacled aroma of tar. New mown grass.  Frank Sinatra singing My Way.  My love of gardening.  All my links with him.


15 January 2016

Cold and wet 9 degrees

OH birthday  57 years old

Went to beautifully preserved chateau and popped into Ikea where there were some lovely Gingerbread Houses