At last, my long awaited visit by my pal, Sara. Only this year she is coming once, not twice, and for a flying visit. Blame this on India, which took up three months of her winter, followed by moving from Edinburgh to Newburgh in Fife. (Both very exciting events. I still hope to accompany her to India one day, and look forward to seeing what sounds a lovely cottage, with views over the Tay estuary.)
Sara was able to have a brief session in my lovely new bassin before I sprung on her the news of not one but two dinner parties. Both much more fun when she was there to help entertain people – and of course, to help with the catering…
There are many things in the world which depress me more and more. I suppose I could go on at length about what is happening in Africa, Syria and the Ukraine, not to mention the failure of the left in either France or England to offer an alternative vision to the current messy domestic politics. But I find it most difficult of all to take my mind off what is happening in Israel and Palestine.
I am extremely ill-informed about Middle East politics and history – not helped by history stopping in 1918 when I was at school – but my disquiet dates back to 1967, when I found my father, an enthusiastic Zionist, on the opposite side of the fence from me. I stepped back from active support of Palestine but this is something which has been waiting for me to take a more coherent stance.
A couple of years ago I had a long conversation with Clare Ungerson, my old tutorial partner at Oxford, who has since become a distinguished academic. Although retired, Clare (herself the daughter of German Jewish refugees) was researching for a book (published this year) documenting a transit camp for German refugees in Sandwich, where she lives. She needed to go to Jerusalem for her research. After hesitation, she went to Jerusalem, but then went to Palestine, to the West Bank, on one of the volunteer schemes to plant olive trees to symbolically replace those uprooted by the Israelis. She was so moved and upset by what she encountered that since returning to the UK she has become active in Jews for Justice in Palestine (a movement for which I am glad to see many of the names of my Jewish friends as signatories). Clare’s move to active support for Palestinians has left me with a feeling of my own inadequacy, both in action but also in intellectual homework.
Since then, I have had a much more distressing experience with another old Oxford friend, also Jewish, with whom only re-established contact a few years ago. Until last week we were Facebook friends. I was becoming distressed and angry at her – and her friends – increasingly fervent support for Israel’s position and her refusal to accept that being critical of Israel was not necessarily anti-semitic. Only occasionally did I dare raise my head above the parapet and interject remarks which disagreed with the main flow of the Facebook discussions on her pages. Last week I referred her to a couple of articles (not from her usual sources – the Telegraph, Sunday Times and Spectator) and she retorted that I should remain silent if the alternative was ignorance like this. I have now ‘unfriended’ her, which is sad (and stupidly I should have stored the final discussion before unfriending, as I no longer have access to it).
I do feel relieved not to have to read this stuff on a daily basis, but I’m determined that relief must not settle into inertia: I must read more. The events of the past few days have taken an even worse turn and today’s Observer gave a good coverage. Not least it introduced me to someone whose name I had vaguely heard before: Rosemary Hollis.
Here is the start of her article, which I find most impressive as a starting point in my journey of being better informed and here is the link to the complete article.
I decided that the decking round the bassin needed railings, to prevent catastrophic falls down the big drop behind. This was not just for the children, but for adults pushing their chairs backwards. I have already seen one or two narrowly escaped disasters. But I wanted something which did not detract from the sense that your eye is drawn to the bassin, and then to the landscape behind.
Another Englishman (!) Richard (who installed my new kitchen and built a balustrade for the steps down to the gite, has now completed the railings, performing a miracle in visual minimalism. It was not easy for him to bend the metal to reflect the curves of the decking, but I am extremely pleased with the result.
The Sunday timetable was supposed to be visit the Bréau market, pop into the opening of the art exhibition in the salle polyvalente and then adjourn to a delicious lunch, based around mussels. But torrential rain wiped out all three appointments. Yes, that is rain sweeping down outside my bedroom window in the first picture.
The mussels were sold off to those brave enough to go to Breau and Margaret and I stuffed our faces the next day.
Thanks to my English friends, David and jenny, who spend half the year in their house in Avèze, I have got to know their neighbours, Richard and Louise, also English, who a few years ago bought an uninhabitable house on the hill above. I have often admired it on my way to the village of Loves, where my friend, Sylvia lives.
Richard and Louise invited us to dinner and to inspect their work in progress. Not completely retired, they spend long summers here working on the building, living in a caravan in conditions not dissimilar to our camping days.
I was so busy negotiating the precipitous ascents and descents round their house (navigable stairs have yet to be installed) that I failed to take any decent pictures. But the work is impressive if daunting in scale. They have replaced the roof, put in lots of windows and walls, demolished other windows and floors, started work on plumbing and electricity. But to my eye they are brave people with a lot to do still! Luckily they are also fit, enthusiastic and skilled and are being helped by a team of very nice young volunteers (a scheme rather like the woofers where the volunteers are given food and shelter in exchange for work.
Meanwhile, I did snap pictures of their current home – a caravan with awning, and outside, an ingenious shower designed by Richard, complete with water warmed by the sun.
The pathetic absence of photos means there is no record of the extremely agreeable meal provided for eleven of us! Hopefully there will be many return visits to rectify this.
After 20 years the bathroom in our original house – now the gite – is badly needing a facelift. The tiles on the outside wall are bulging (I fear because of water coming in from the rock-face the other side), the shower does not drain away (legacy from our dreadful plumber, who installed the septic tank at the same level as the bathroom, so no soak away), and various diy fixtures by Chris and me need replacing.
It is going to be upgraded in September, while I am in hospital, by Steven Rivers-Moore, our local gifted musician/plumber. By then I have to decided on design and fixtures.
After one abortive attempt to find materials in St Hippolyte, I decided to go further afield, to Nimes. I chose a bad day, as the temperatures in Nimes soared to 40 degrees. But I hit luck in the very first place I visited, a shop called Laur et Abad. I immediately found tiles I loved (expensive of course….) and fittings which were OK (though not cheap).
The theme is grey (in contrast to the red tiles elsewhere in the house) and the pictures (ignore the tiles) show the basin (grey base) and shower (grey base). I’ve not shown a picture of the tiles I want to use for floor and much of the walls – a beautiful (and expensive) stone grey.
Steven is trying to get me to do this economically, so I don’t think he will be too thrilled. But even though this is the gite, I did want the room to look nice. The loo sanibroyeur (macerator) will probably have to be replaced by one which pumps stuff from both loo and shower to the septic tank, so the shower will have to be built on a plinth to accommodate piping.
When Jacky was building the bassin he said it would not be long before the little bassin with plants would become alive with insects and other animals. He was right. I already have a very loud frog or frogs every evening and at least one dragonfly (libellule) which does routine circuits of the swimming bassin before returning to settle on the water lilies in the plant bassin. These and the sound of the waterfalls make this a little paradise.
Poppy went to her least favourite place today: le toilettage canin. I can sympathise with her because the woman who runs the dog grooming parlour in le Vigan is not very nice. She does not talk to the dogs like the previous one, in Ganges did.
Ninety minutes later I collected an unhappy dog without all her tangled mess of hair, seeds, burrs and sticky grass. Instead she has a poodle style cut and looks a bit undernourished, so used is one to seeing her twice as bulky. The woman says there is something stuck inside her skin under one ‘armpit’, so next week she will have to visit the other place she dislikes: the vet.
I invited Jenny and David Kerridge, friends from Avèze, their neighbours, Richard and Louise, and visiting friends, Ralph and Margaret to come and sample my bassin. They arrived, accompanied by three young volunteers, helping Richard and Louise to convert their farmhouse from a ruin to a home, and – most welcome! – dinner.
Everybody was suitably impressed by the bassin (and jacuzzi) and then we had a very jolly, rather too well-0iled, evening at the dinner table.