Monday, July 31, 2006

Roman bread!

Roman bread!
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Today being a dreary, typically West Coast Summer Day I made bread. I make it quite often, actually, but usually leave it to the breadmaker to do the whole thing. However, this time I used Spelt Flour, bought on my travels Down South (West), and used a recipe which was apparently used by the Romans 2000 years ago.

Spelt - I had heard of it, just - was one of the first grains to be grown by early farmers as long ago as 5,000 BC. Hildegarde of Bingen, of whose plainsong I am a fan, wrote some 800 years ago about spelt: "The spelt is the best of grains. It is rich and nourishing and milder than other grain. It produces a strong body and healthy blood to those who eat it and it makes the spirit of man light and cheerful. If someone is ill boil some spelt, mix it with egg and this will heal him like a fine ointment." I found it interesting to use - the recipe made a very floppy dough (very sticky!) - and rose, or rather spread, with surprising rapidity. The recipe was simple, using olive oil, honey and salt along with the water and yeast.

I'm waiting to see if I become noticeably light and cheerful, let alone stronger, but meanwhile it was jolly good.

Monumental remorse

Patricio church - interior
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
This little church, hidden away at the top of a hill in Wales, was originally built after the murder of S. Issui, a holy man who lived beside a well at the foot of the hill. The well is still there, and people have left little crosses of sticks and other small offerings around it in the bushes and on the wall. A peaceful place of great beauty arising from an act of violence upon an innocent man, arising because of the remorse felt at such an act, hundreds of years ago.

I can't help thinking right now about the acts of violence being perpetrated on the innocent in Lebanon. Last night's news from Qana showed the innocent all right, slaughtered randomly in an Israeli attack. The picture here,at Guardian Unlimited is unbearable. Yet the people responsible don't really seem to feel much in the way of remorse - "we weren't aiming at civilians" doesn't really have the same resonance as building a church, useless though that would undoubtedly be in the circumstances.

I'm also struck by the courage of reporters like Fergal Keane. He's won all these awards for his work, and there he is, right in the middle of the suffering - helpless, like the rest of us. He does, however, show us what's happening. And he appears to suffer himself - how could he not?- beside the Lebanese victims.

I'm no politician, and no strategist either. But it seems to me that we need to erect some monument to the innocent suffering of the Lebanon. Not a church. I was thinking more of the West saying "Hold, enough" - and meaning it. And if Bush can't bring himself to do it, the rest of us should.

St. Issui

And here, because a holy man was killed,
a small church dreams on its unlikely hill.
The soft wind blows the distant wails of sheep
where moles disturb the old forgotten dead
and in these walls I sense the deep-packed prayer
which flowered above the hermit of the well
and add my own, ephemeral as the breeze,
and listen for an echo from my God.

C.M.M. 07/06

Friday, July 28, 2006

Politely Celtic

Just back from the Welsh Border - we were on the Herefordshire side, but seemed to spend most of our time in Wales - I can't help reflecting on the Mass we attended in this ancient little church on Sunday afternoon. We had discovered when visiting earlier in the week that it was to be a "Celtic" Eucharist, and thought that it might be up our alley. The acoustics were wonderful for singing - these stone walls (very ancient - look at the angle on the left of the altar. It's propped up outside by a buttress)

Well, there were several John Bell songs and a lot of congregational responses, and yes, there was indeed the typical repetition of images associated with what is known in crueller circles than this as "the Celtic tweelight". But it was all incredibly polite. These burnished, gently mewing and on the whole English accents sounded far too .... smooth? Genteel? I don't know what I had expected, but this was strangely bland.

And another thing. See how God speaks to Elijah in "a still, small voice"? In this company he wouldn't have been heard. Not that they made a huge racket - not a bit of it. But they never stopped. The celebrant spoke smoothly and seemed never to come up for air; when he did, the deacon took over, and, for a bit of variety, the congregation rose and sat and intoned responses several times on every page.

A disappointing experience. Maybe I'm looking for something a bit closer to nature - passion and silence in equal measure. But I'm past the time when I thought it best to address God in tones of sweet reasonableness. And surely we need to listen?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

On the road again ...

Rennes, deserted on July 14
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
This view of Rennes, taken from the car park of the Gare SNCF on the morning of July 14, seems a suitable one to illustrate my last blog post for a week or so. France was on holiday that morning, and I'm off on my travels again, heading south into the heat of England for some TLC with friends. It's hot enough here, in all conscience - 20º C at 10pm in Dunoon is pretty extraordinary, and we hit 30º this afternoon.

The trip will probably exacerbate the strange dreams I've been having: I waken thinking I'm sleeping somewhere different - a cave, a distant chateau - and worried because I only seem to have a T shirt with me. It takes several minutes to work out that I'm in the room I should be in - but as I keep changing rooms, so to speak, that's confusing too.

Maybe I need to settle down for a while?

The Wedding - final act.

A newly married couple in France have to have stamina ( I did wonder about the use of a singular verb there, but decided I was thinking of them as two individuals ...) Not for them the vanishing on honeymoon, leaving the guests "stranded on the end of an event" (spot the quote?). No, they must reappear for lunch the following day. And so it is that after a night in four-postered splendour, breakfast at which not quite all of us appear and much scurrying from chateau to cars we find ourselves heading back to the car park where the previous day began. Another procession into the countryside brings us to a rustic restaurant where a room has been set aside for us (see photo). Despite thinking I might never eat again, I am soon tucking into charcuterie (Except the andouille. Je ne l'aime pas), crudites, Poulet en cidre, fromage, tarte aux pommes ....and cidre. I love Breton cider.

All this is ended by our having to return the Godfather to Dinard Airport. He is playing the organ in the cathedral on Millport the next morning (he did too) When we finally return to the farm to meet up with the other two Mr & Mrs McIntoshes and the rest of the family, we celebrate again - our own wedding anniversary. (See teachers? all get married in July, but.) More champagne. More food ....And then it is over.

The following morning we deposit Mr & Mrs Edublogger on the TGV to Paris - first class - and begn to think about having a wee holiday. No, that is not Edublogger in the photo - the driver was a jolly man and I told him to drive carefully. In the next few days we shall visit our friend Claudine and meet her father Yves again after a gap of six years. We shall dine with Pascale, and we shall walk along the beach at low tide and drape delicate green seaweed around our toes. We shall meet up with lingering wedding guests and greet the members of our new French family. And finally we shall go home and upload photos and blog as though the world would end.

But first we have to watch the footie ....

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Wedding - part two

McIntosh group 2.
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
The bubbles are beginning to subside by the time we arrive at the chateau, a magnificent pile hidden deep in the countryside to the east of St Brieuc. This is partly due to the fact that the drive was undertaken at the speed of the vintage Citroen, and I wonder if I too should have had a bottle in the car. I would, however, have had to share it with the piper and the two wedding guests to whom we have given a lift. Toyozo, squashed in the middle, has fallen quietly asleep but revives as we arrive.

We pose for photos in the garden, and I give my camera to Grant who takes the pic here. I note that some of the angles would incorporate a particularly erotic statue into the group photos, and hope for decorum among the snappers. The final mass photo has all the kilted men at the front - they are obviously the glamour factor here. And then it is time for the meal. We who have visited earlier lead the way through the gardens, under trees and round corners, to the reception room, now splendid with lights and alive with music. There is earnest debate about whether we are allowed to throw paper petals outside, and the crowd flows outside and in again as the piper marches up the path with the newly-weds in tow. We chuck our petals with abandon and cheer happily. It is time to eat.

The food is magnificent:

Amuse bouche
Saint-Jacques Lutées, Emincé de Légumes aux Graines de Fenouil
Magret de Canard Rôti,
Poire Pochée au Vin Rouge, Sauce au Miel
Croustillant de Pont l’Evêque
aux Epices Douces sur Salade
- this last the wedding cake, but not the dense article of a British wedding. This is a fruity, moist creation on several platforms topped off with fireworks, which splutter and flame as two tall-hatted chefs carry it in to the accompaniement of the pipes. We eat, drink wonderful wine, and talk, because the music is just right for conversation. There are speeches in English and in French - the groom makes the French one. He gives the two mothers bouquets and I plant mine on the table in front of me. And then we dance. The first waltz has a tune specially composed for the occasion - a pipe tune named after the bride. We all join the couple on the dance floor. But here convention ends. The groom is determined that les francais will dance the Dashing While Sergeant and seizes a microphone, to call the dance in French as we twirl obediently. Soon the floor is riotous with the hilarity of a ceilidh. We are having a great time. I reflect that I may be getting too old for this sort of thing, but cannot feel my feet and decide not to think about them. I remember that I was going to change into another garment before the dancing, but it no longer seems important. A small boy materialises beside me holding a rose which he has obviously picked in the garden. He hands it to me, solemnly, and plants a wet kiss on my cheek before dashing off. I feel absurdly touched.

The evening ends with everyone in the circle for Auld Lang Syne. The piper leads the couple off into the dark garden, down the path to their room in the chateau. Suddenly the room feels empty, and guests melt into the night. We can hear cars starting. Clutching my bouquet I head off to the four-poster bed in an extraordinary room where we will stay the night. Suddenly I can feel my feet again. It is time to give them a rest.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Wedding - part one

The procession to the port
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
The wedding day begins cloudy, but the rain is fitful. It is warm and windless. No-one will die of heat exhaustion because of wearing a kilt and hot socks. We scuttle about having showers and worrying about l’eau chaud. Some of us return to the chateau with a bootload of bouquets and deck the pillars of the room where the reception will be. It is already transformed – beautiful white linen, silver candelabra on every table, coloured lighting. The DJ is setting up his gear and the waiters are bustling wih cutlery and glasses. We all feel considerably happier and return to Pordic. L’eau is still chaud and in no time at all we assemble, looking beautiful.

In France when there is a wedding the cars involved are decked with tulle ribbons. We tie ours to the aerials and wing mirrors and set off for Binic. By the time we begin to walk round the inner port to la Mairie, we realise we are attracting considerable attention. Cars swerve dangerously as their drivers turn to gawp at the four men in kilts and the piper – and she hasn’t started to play yet. Men shout greetings from cafes as we pass. We feel like celebrities and the rain has stopped. We meet more kilted amis in a bar, and le frere de l’lepoux et sa femme. (I’m sorry – there should be accents all over the place but I’ve forgotten how to do them and he who might tell me is still on his honeymoon). The piper strikes up outside the mairie and a small crowd gathers. Some of them are guests. I meet old friends – Eric, in his kilt, and Claudine and Christian, whose wedding we attended in Brittany several years ago. It is almost 3 o’clock. Ewan fiddles with his (self-tied) bow tie. At least the Travel Wash removed the blood from his wing collar (a handy tip, that, for all bridegrooms). The pipes play louder. The Deputy Mayor – a cousin of the bride – has arrived in her tricolour sash.

At ten past three a black 1939 Citroen appears, covered in bows. The bride looks stunning. She looks stunning in jeans, actually, but today she is wondrous. She has greenery and flowerbuds in her hair. We all sit in the front rows of chairs, and everyone else piles in behind, around, taking photos, gazing, talking. The ceremony is in French, but I can follow most of it. The mayor calls the bride “ma petite cousine”, which I find very touching. She struggles with the pronunciation of “Dunoon’ – but who wouldn’t? President Chirac looks on. No, he’s not a guest, but his picture is on the wall. More photos, rings exchanged – ‘tis done. We pile out to throw rose petals; the pipes ring out again.

The day becomes increasingly unlikely as we process round the port to the quay. The photographer will accompany the newly-weds on a boat trip. We scan the entrance to the port for a speedboat – it was to have been a sailing boat but there was a problem which my French isn’t up to divining. When the boat arrives, I find that I too am expected to board, along with the father of the groom and the mother of the bride. None of us falls in despite the slimy nature of the steps down to the water. The jolly friends whose boat it is help us aboard and off we go. The guests wave encouragingly. The newly-weds take turns to drive the boat. Mercifully it is calm and windless. We take pictures and return safely.

This part of the day ends with the vin d’honneur in a hall above the tourist office. There is a considerable quantity of wonderful champagne and some of the best nibbles I have ever tasted. (Caviar-like ingredients feature prominently) Every time the bride moves off, the piper plays. It is very splendid. Everyone is chatting; inhibitions over language are overcome by alcohol. My No1 belle-fille takes a bottle of champagne into the car which son No 1 will drive to the reception. Happily, there are two other passengers in their car. Everyone who can lay their hands of a ribbon of tulle ties it to their car, and we form a procession round the carpark. The newly-weds are in the vintage Citroen at the front as we set off out of town. We all hoot our horns. It is fun – a sort of carefree misbehaviour allowed by the spirit of the event. Other car drivers hoot and wave as we head for the motorway. The evening lies ahead. I hope the effect of the champagne stays with me until I can eat again.

Wedding (f)eve(r)

The church, Binic, evening
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
The day before the wedding is somewhat fraught. For a start, it rains heavily all morning. We have all heard the downpour in the night, and on a nocturnal wander I saw the lightning over the fields. Brittany sous la pluie is if anything even more depressing than Dunoon on a wet day. There is, however, much to be done, and most of it involves driving our hired car (isn’t it good that it’s not in Rheims?) hither and yon. Yesterday we drove to St Brieuc station to meet l’epoux, and later to the airport in Dinard to collect his godfather. Now we must return to St Brieuc to pick up flowers, and then find what seems like an industrial complex in the middle of nowhere to be given the tablecloths for the vin d’honneur. We scuttle about St Brieuc in an un-Scottish sort of way, inadequately sheltered under small umbrellas instead of sensibly clad in cagoules, and I am wearing sandals. My feet become distressingly soggy. They will remain thus for many hours.

The expedition to find the tablecloths takes on a comedic frenzy at a roundabout when the back-seat drivers start shrieking “tout droit” and the driver makes a smart right turn. He skids to a halt on the stripy bit of road when the howls of “Non, non!” reach a wild crescendo. We find the tablecloths and all is well. The driver – who is also the father of the groom – myself and the Godfather steal half an hour off-duty to sing in the empty church in Binic. The acoustics are magnificent, and the Godfather has brought a copy of Byrd’s Mass for Three Voices. We feel suddenly at home, as if the church is our own.

We make an expedition to the Chateau du Val, where the reception will be held. We go en masse, in two cars, and stand menacingly around the garden while the about-to-be-married couple argue with the receptionist about the numbers expected. The receptionist looks as if she has a bad smell under her nose, and we prepare to join battle. However, we hear laughter and realise that charm – or something: this is all in French – has won the day. We return chez nous, dropping the bride off chez sa mere, and collapse with pasta and a bottle of wine or two. Last night we all ate together – both families – in a creperie, but tonight we are observing the proprieties. And besides, the bride has to do things with these flowers ……

Never realised weddings were such hard work.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

In hot water ....

As you will now see, the ferme laitiere proves most agreeable - and yes, we did manage to find it again in the daylight, at the expense of several mobile phone calls to establish which tiny road we were to follow. Pordic is not a one-horse town, but is instead spread on both sides of a minor motorway - hence the confusion, and hence the wonderful moment when in the car of son No. 1, using sat-nav, we drove down an ever-decreasing roadlet until we found ourselves nose-on to a bush, with the dual carriageway a tantalising two metres away: the road layout is obviously comparatively recent.

But this is turning into a deconstructed narrative, and I was bent on the continuous and linear present ..... And so it is, on day two, that we run into a small problem avec l'eau chaude. At what any evening-ablutionist considers bath-time, there is no hot water. There are no noises coming from the tank. We have a sink full of dirty dishes and the mother of the groom wants a bath. There are still lights in the farmhouse across the yard. Monsieur G, he of the short stripey shorts and the green wellies who bears a distinct resemblance to Warren Beatty in his heyday, may still be awake. We phone him. No - I phone him, because I speak French. I know that this burden will fall on me again, and I shall have to make idiotic requests sound plausible and reasonable. Monsieur G. appears. I fear he has been abed - he is wearing checked slippers instead of wellies.

After much French muttering in a cupboard, fetching of spectacles and peering at fuses, he emerges. He has, apparently, put the boiler on "forced marches". It is, he asserts, needing someone to clean it, and to that end a man will come tomorrow and all will be well. Half an hour later, there is enough water for a shower. But - and here I abandon once more my linear narrative and leap forward - we fear he may have been ever so slightly niggardly with his explanations - and perhaps with l'eau chaud. We discover for ourselves the secret of the "forced marches", and the final days of our stay are filled with hot showers and clean dishes. Perhaps we are over-keen on our showers, but we are there to do much socialising and there are many of us - 8 adults in the house on one night after the wedding.

Les odeurs des vaches, maybe - mais pas les odeurs des Ecossaises!

All for Edublogger's wedding ....

As promised, waiting world: the first instalment of the epic. More to follow. If you can't wait - and your French is up to it - you can catch the day itself over on Eric's blog In the meantime, this is my version, and I'm doing a Charles Dickens:

We are in a hired car. It is dark - late and dark. We have negotiated the road out of Rennes, and before that the horrors of the TGV station in Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. Not that I'm complaining about the French trains - more the officials who refused to alleviate the anxiety of would-be passengers by confirming which part of the train we were to board. Dammit all - we might have ended up in Montpellier or something! But at least we’ve found the Hertz car – in Rennes airport as hoped. Not in Reims. We’ve scored.
But a nos moutons. Edublogger, henceforth known as L’Epoux, has told us that Pordic is a one horse town – only one street – and that our ferme laitier will be a scoosh to find. Not a bit of it. We stop outside a wonderful church and phone mon beau frere. (sorry about all this French – it just sort of slips in). Shortly he appears, circling the square in an unfamiliar car. We follow him as he disappears round a roundabout, over a bridge, and down an ever – narrowing road into the darkness of the Breton countryside. Smell of hay through the air vents. No house lights, no street lights. Trees appear overhead and around us. The darkness is impenetrable. His tail lights swerve round a tall hedge and he vanishes. No – there he is. We’ve arrived. We shall never find this place again. We will be marooned in the Breton countryside for ever.

Will the intrepid wedding guests make it to Le Mairie? Will they ever be seen again? Find out in the next instalment of Les Liasons Etrangers ……

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Well this is a first - blogging from a borrowed French PC, and tres difficile it is too: the keyboard is subtly different and I keep hitting the wrong keys. But I digress: the wedding was the happening of the year and I intend to bore everyone rigid with the details when I return at the weekend. I shall be posting a journal-type account, complete with photos - but now I shall take my wine-fuddled brain home from St Brieuc and the hospitality of my friend Pascale to the ferme laitiere and the odeur des vaches ....

A bientot!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Au revoir - au reblog?

Well, that's it for a bit. Off we go to Brittany to celebrate Ewan's nuptials. At the moment I'm stressing because we have so much stuff: my cabin bag is overweight and Mr Blethers' kilt in its special holder looks like some kind of military hardware - if he has to open it all up there'll be a right palaver. And as for Annie the piper - I have to rely on her experience of travelling with the pipes to see us through that one!

I won't be blogging this trip - don't think there'll be a connection on a ferme laitiere in the Breton back of beyond (no - we're renting a house there, not bedding down among the beasts) We hope to take many photos, however, and have time to post them online before leaving for our next trip. We're never at home these days ....

I'll be glad when we get to this time tomorrow. I should be on a TGV between Paris and Rennes. We'll still have to find THAT car, of course.

A la prochaine, mes amis ......

Saturday, July 01, 2006


Hurrah. We have hot water again. Until last night, I hadn't had a bath for a week. No, I wasn't mingin' - we have a power shower - but I do like to lounge in the bath of an evening. As avid readers of blethers will know, our gas boiler gave up the ghost last weekend. We had a visit from A Gas Man on Sunday - he'd to come from The Other Side and was waiting when we returned from church. He diagnosed a fan problem - and maybe a wee circuit failure - and left.

On Tuesday The Gas Man came - our own, familiar Gas Man who comes to service the fires. He poked about for quite some time, reconnected bits, shoved in new bits - and found that the fan came on when we weren't heating water and went off when we were. Bad, this - meant that there was a great deal of steam and condensation and horrid hot smells. Incidentally, the original horrid hot burny smell was the circuit board, which had emerged blackened when he began his investigations. However, he now found he needed not a part but a whole fan unit - and went off. Still no hot water.

Now it is perfectly possible to boil water in a kettle for dishwashing - but a kettle doesn't go far after a proper meal. And you just can't wash dishes in the shower. So by this time, knowing that TGM couldn't be with us till Friday, we were becoming disgruntled. You don't want to be around The Blethers when we're both disgruntled.

But to the saga. On Friday, TGM returned. A good two hours later he staggered off, sweating but finally triumphant. He'd been banging and heaving and dripping water from the severed arteries of the boiler, and climbing up and down the ladder and putting the power to the fan on and off again (he finally roped Mr B in to help with this). It had been a herculean effort. But why was it so damned difficult? This boiler is only 20 months old. I think it was a bit soon for it to break down, let alone cause so much angst to the faithful Gas Man. Apparently it is Old Technology, because we only want to heat water and not a central heating system. Maybe this is why it takes Old Brute Strength to fix it. We may end up having central heating just to get a decent boiler. There's only one problem.

I hate central heating.