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A question of balance

A bit of balance would be very welcome in our lives right now.

Well 2015 does seem to be getting off to a bad start. We could really do with things getting back to normal pretty soon. 

Not only did I start the year with a job loss, so have almost no money coming in, this was shortly followed by the terrible massacres in Paris (and even round here the gendarmes are now armed with sub-machine guns, which is hardly a comforting sight), then the death of a close friend, and then by some upset in a couple of groups of which I'm a member. Someone also reversed into our car while we were parked.

Hopefully these things will all blow over, but it feels almost like there was a shiver in the ether or something. I am keen for things to get back to normal.

The death of our friend and colleague Steve Gold, in particular, has thrown us into not only grief but a mid-life crisis. The other day, the DH and I sat down and decided to make strong efforts to achieve more happiness in our lives. In his case, that means film-making and electronics; in mine it means more sewing and beading. And for both of us it means getting out more and feeling as if we really live in France, rather than just in our house. Beautiful though it is, it could be anywhere - Scotland or Wales - and if one doesn't make the trips to the bakery and the café and the patisserie, some very pleasant aspects of French life go by the board. 

In the interests of achieving some peace and quiet psychologically, I am also progressing in my Zen Den. The daybed has arrived, which replaces the old double bed, and it has been furnished with a nice mattress and lots of cushions. I've installed some lovely Diptyque candles, a little Zen garden, my singing bowl and runes, lots of light in the shape of SAD lightboxes, daylight-balanced fluorescents and softer lighting for evening. There's room for my yoga mat to go down without having to move anything, and the animals, much as I love them, can be shut out. (As anyone who's tried to do yoga with cats or dogs around will know, they do tend you 'help you out' in distinctly unhelpful ways...). My plan now is to sell our old Renault to pay for a huge cupboard to be built in.

The other night I had one of my white menopausal nights and came down at about 4.00am. Instead of sitting in our vast living room, I went and snuggled up in the Zen Den under a quilt and read a 1920s book of household tips until I felt sleepy again. It was lovely to have this quiet, white retreat with no fear of disturbance and I think it will be a haven in the coming months. 


Charlie Hebdo sold out

The first million copies have all gone

It's 9.30am and we're just back from a trip into town to buy Charlie Hebdo. No joy - it's sold out. 

In our local presse, we managed to reserve a copy for Friday - the Thursday reserves are all booked. One copy each - you can't buy multiple copies, it's strictly one per person. In the supermarket, meanwhile, it was all sold out within minutes of the store opening.

The solidarity shown by the French people since this godawful incident is amazingly heartening. The extremists have stuck a fork in the toaster this time, when they kill journalists, police officers and Jews and threaten the civil liberties of an entire nation.

I know that the image on the cover offends some Muslims who have decided it's Mohammed (although whether it is, is moot, and there is besides a long tradition of depicting the Prophet in Shia Islam - the idea that depictions are and always have been forbidden is simply not true). But I live in a village with a church, whose presence offends me because I am an atheist. I have a friend who is a big fan of Thatcher. We can't all go around killing one another because we disagree about subjects - offence is something that is taken, not given.




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Steve Gold RIP

A good friend died last night.

Our friend Steve Gold died last night. 

He had complications following heart surgery, which he had needed for a long time due to his heart failing. He leaves a wife and a son.

Steve and I were friends for about 25 years, almost half my life, and he was friends with my husband for even longer. In fact, he was how we met. I was working on PC Dealer magazine in 1991 when Steve, who was acting editor, brought aboard his friend 'Rotsky' to act as features editor.

Steve was always an ebullient man. Fundamentally a techhead, he had also worked as a psychiatric nurse or orderly - I forget which - and was one of the first to warn me that my then-boyfriend was a psycho (he was not at all wrong, as it later proved). He was a kind and generous co-worker and few of those who knew him will forget his 'hacking' of the fruit machines in various pubs to pay for rounds of drinks for the PC Dealer team.

When I met my now-husband of nearly 20 years, Steve was the one who lent us his flat so we could talk in peace and quiet. He was sympathetic partly because he had by then met the love of his life, Sylvia, and was about to become a devoted husband and father. On one occasion, Sylvia was visiting her family in Poland and Steve decided to send her some red roses. He spent about 20 dollars, not realising that this would buy all the roses in the district, and the flowers arrived at the family house by the cartload. 

Although we spoke just about every week on the phone, I last saw Steve in 2011, when I visited London briefly. I was a bit shocked by his appearance. Even then, he was looking pale, though his personality was as ebullient as ever and he made light of any concerns. He gave me a cake for my birthday, and, as ever, he slipped me some tablets - on this occasion Imuran - understanding very well how poorly I was with my ulcerative colitis. We took different routes on that issue - he taking whatever the medical profession could offer him, myself opting for the natural and diet method. But it may be that the UC in the end was what killed him - he told me last year that it had weakened his heart and he would need major surgery.

He went in for this not long before Christmas, which we knew although he hadn't announced it - worried, perhaps, as a freelance journalist, that people might not book him for work if they knew how ill he was? I don't know, but although he seemed to be recovering well from surgery, yesterday he could not be woken, and he died in the night.

We'll miss you, Glod. I don't care how good a journalist you were, or how respected in your field. For us, you were just a good mate. Rest in peace.  


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Je suis Charlie

Christ, what a terrible day.

Je Suis charlie

What can you say about these people? 

What can you say about people who will kill a man just because he thinks differently? Who will shoot in the head a defenceless man lying on the ground? Who will kill a man who does nothing but draws a line on paper that disagrees with their world view? 

Yesterday was a shocking day for France. These terrorists are not just killers but murderers. Not just murderers but executioners. Not just executioners but assassins. They chose their targets carefully, and through sheer hatred - men who had committed no crime, but reserved the right to say, and draw, what they thought, as is their right in a democracy. 

As fellow journalists, we feel it keenly. The victims were like us. These were people sitting in an editorial meeting, on an ordinary day, as we ourselves have done so many hundreds of times in other newspaper offices, in other cities. The ordinariness of such a day, ending in fear and tragedy for no good reason at all. It beggars belief. So many bereaved and orphaned children, for what? Who kills cartoonists, for Christ's sake?

France has long defended freedom of speech and Charlie Hebdo takes the piss out of everyone - Jews, Christians, Buddhists, politicians. It reserves the right to be offensive. It is one of things for which it is loved. And never, ever, has this offence been a killing issue until now, with these Islamic extremists.

Now it is the moderate Muslims who will pay for it as the right-wing nut-jobs exact their revenge on everyone they can get their hands on - the housewives and the taxi drivers, the shopkeepers and the children. This terrorist attack plays straight into the hands of the Right.

And perhaps we British too will suffer - because there are plenty of Le Pen scum who would love to kick us out of this country. My own commune did not shift to the National Front in recent elections, but all around us are communes that did - something we would not have thought possible when we moved here under Mitterand's Socialist government so many years ago.  

Life in France feels bleak today. We can only hope that they catch these murderers soon and bring them to something approaching justice. 


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Project 333

Could you stick to 33 items of clothing for the next three months?

fiske hoody

I thought I'd write a bit today about Project 333.

Project 333 is a minimalist clothing concept developed by blogger Courtney Carver. Basically, you commit to wearing only 33 items of clothing for the next three months. Anything you didn't wear by the end of that time, you donate or sell. Then for the next three months, you do the same again. There exists a website where people can log on and commit to the idea and post how they're getting on, along with daily photo diaries of all the different combinations that can be achieved with just 33 garments. 

I thought 33 items (including footwear and accessories but not including undies) was a bit tight, but actually it's quite do-able. However, many of the participants don't seem to need very different winter and summer clothing the way we do here, so I know that my four three-month tranches would vary quite widely.

As anyone who follows this blog will know, I live in a big old draughty house in rural Normandy. This morning, it was minus-6 outside and 11 degrees in the kitchen. Right now, in front of the woodburner in the living room, it's more like 18 degrees. Sitting here in my 'nightie' (a knee-length merino wool dress plus fleece pjs and Uggs) I feel quite warm. But in summer, it could easily reach 28 degrees in our bedroom and I'd be in my thinnest silk or bamboo nighties. 

On a daily basis in winter, I wear thermals, fleece pants and a fleece polo plus big socks from Corrymoor and trainers indoors. Outdoors I wear black jeans and either a waterproof coat for walking the dogs, with wellies, or a nice wool coat for going into town, with boots. Add a grey felt toque and some hats and scarves, and that's about it. I have zero requirement to look 'smart'. 

Now that Christmas is over, my 33 items for the next three months might look something like this:

Eddy teeshirt from FinisterreStarfish pants from Lands End

9 merino tees

Black Eddy tee x 3

Grey Eddy tee x 2

Linen Eddy tee x 2

Grey Fiske sweat

Grey Fiske hoody

5 bottoms

Black jeans x 2

Grey fleece pants

Black fleece pants

Black fleece Starfish pants from Lands' End 

Bezant cardi from FinisterrePipistral coat

4 knits/warm tops

Grey Oxford collar lambswool cardi from Woolovers

Grey Bezant cardi from Finisterre

Black fleece polo from Lands' End

Charcoal Aran Crafts long cardi with hood

4 coats

Taupe Pipistral coat from Finisterre

Black Squall Stadium coat from Lands' End

Pink mohair vintage coat

Lemon mohair vintage coat

11 other

Grey fleece gilet from Lands' End

Grey pashmina (gift from my sister)

Grey toque hat

Waterproof hat bought in Finistère

Shivling gloves from Rohan

Pearl necklace

Gold and pearl earrings


Brown trainers

Walking boots 


Sticking to a colour palette based on neutrals simplifies things a great deal but let's see if this lot gets me through till the end of March.  


A streamlined wardrobe

Twenty sacks and counting.

A room of one's own

I'm creating a Zen space for myself.

The big declutter

Decluttering is an exhausting but fulfilling process.

A calmer environment

We recently stayed in the most beautiful holiday place we've ever booked and it's inspired me to change my home.

Dog happy

You can't be precious with dogs in the house.


Rohan has been around a long time, but it's a new label for me.

No to this

I sometimes think there's nothing at all to wear...

The end of the maize

The last harvest of the year is upon us

A nip in the air

Autumn is approaching - time for fleece pyjamas

Another one bites the dust

I fear that one of my favourite labels has gone the way of all corporates