December 2015

December 2015 letter

We have been a quiet December, but at least we did not get the unusual or nasty weather that many others did. We have only had frost a couple of mornings. No visitors, no spectacular events and no illnesses.

Harry has soldiered away on the garage (pictures below). I managed to get out a Christmas letter (a the end of this posting if you missed receiving one). There is a picture of the sunset on the shortest day of the year.

We were happy to see that the National Front were shut out in the second round of regional elections. And the Spanish election was also heartening.

This month we have: Letter, Garage progress, Quiz, An unforgotten evening – fiddler in Sophia, Home – poem by a refugee, Yuletide – Christmas wishes and Ruminations, A useful word – looking at the word ‘like’,

sunset on shortest day

Garage pictures

Harry made some fancy hinges, a counter weight, props and got the half gable all ready to lift and the neighbour, Sylvain, had promised to help with the lift.

half gable ready to lift

He arrived just after sunset. The flask on my camera frightened them, but the lift only took about 10 mins. Harry fixed it from inside while Sylvain held it in place.

discussing the lift

gable in place

With the half gable in place two rows of sheathing went up and king posts were fitted.

putting in king posts

The northwest corner was awkward because the building is not rectangular (it must follow the property line) so the last couple of rafters are different from the rest.

making a rafter for the north end of roof


I have been avoiding quizzes but this one I could not resist. BBC asks how dark is your personality? My answer was “you are not vile.” That is better than nothing but it is the break down that I found interesting – and I think very accurate.

Machiavellianism – a bit over average

Narcissism – a bit under average

Psychopathy – a lot under average

An unforgotten evening

The other day I heard Nigel Kennedy playing Chardash and it reminded me of an evening long ago in Sophia Bulgaria. Kennedy was playing with the vigour, style and panache of a real Gypsy fiddler. Here was a concert violinist playing like a Gypsy and what we saw in Sophia was a Gypsy violinist with the skill of a concert player.

When we were driving back from Africa we passed through Bulgaria and spent the night at the Municipal Camp Site in the capital. It was a small part a large wooded park that also have centers of entertainment, sports, and just quiet walks in the woods but it was near the center of town. It also had a huge restaurant (that would seat 150-200 people). Because it was cold and wet, we staying in a cabin rather than our tent, and once we were settled we walked out to the restaurant for a meal. The place was packed with little, medium and long tables full of parties, mostly in their best cloths, eating and celebrating. Who knows what they were all celebrating: birthdays, graduations, reunions, winning or whatever. There were a lot of waiters carrying big trays and a lot of clatter and noise from what sounded like a huge kitchen. A important looking man stood by the kitchen door with his hand on the light switch. When a waiter came with a dish that was meant to be on fire, ‘flambe’, the man would switch off the lights so that the waiter could make his way to the appropriate table with the flaming dish held high. It was a dramatic little show that made the important looking man was obviously very proud.

The other big deal in the restaurant was the fiddler and his small combo. He was flamboyant in a well tailored black suit that had a Gypsy cut about it. He looked Gypsy – Harry described him as a cross between the young Terrace Stamp and a Neanderthal. But the more we heard him play, the more we though, “this man has a day job in the symphony”. They worked the room, table by table, play a short while at each, but stay longer at tables that gave them money. The style of the fiddler’s playing was absolutely Gypsy and he seemed to know all the tunes because he was taking requests. All through the evening we really enjoyed this music.

But the highlight came when he played for a long table that was on our right. There was one women who he was playing for especially. It may have been a party in her honour or maybe she was a bit tipsy, but pretty soon she was standing and sort of dancing. Then she was on her chair and definitely dancing. Finally she was on the table dancing. The fiddler and the dancing lady were have a ball. The whole table was enjoying the dance and not a bit embarrassed. The rest of the restaurant were watching in enjoyment too. Not an evening to forget.

“HOME,” by Somali poet Warsan Shire:

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.

by Somali poet, Warsan Shire


In December I usually wish readers a Merry Christmas – so Merry Christmas everyone. But somehow that phrase doesn’t sound as good as it used it. All this silly made-up talk about people not being able to say Merry Christmas because it is not politically correct has spoiled the greeting and taken the innocence out of it. What is wrong with Happy Holiday, Seasons Greetings, Joyous Noel, Merry Yuletide? Lighten up – it is supposed to be a great time of year, not a time to ‘walk on eggshells’ and be afraid of offending someone.

The thing about the mid-winter celebration is that it is complex, with enough associations to fill many big books. It can’t be imprisoned by any one little two-word phrase.

I remember a Christmas staff dinner being planned by the managers many year ago. A couple of them had what they thought was a great idea. No Booze! Instead there would be a gift for each person, say a cup with something appropriate painted on it. I said that the staff would not like it. The answer was that it was not right to have people drink and then drive home and that it was a Christian holiday and some of our staff did not drink for religious reasons. “Fine – but they won’t like it, all the same.” And they didn’t like it – they grumbled when they heard what was going to happen. Someone asked me why and how I knew ‘they won’t like it’.

I was hard pressed for an answer. I knew they would resent it, I knew it in my bones and I knew I would resent too if it was me. But why was another matter. Then I remember someone else in another place complaining that his boss invited him to pour himself a drink. He was really upset that the boss had so little respect for him that, even though the boss had offered a Christmas drink, he would not lower himself to pour it. Any other time of year that same person would have taken it as a sign of trust to suggest he pour his own drink. But at Christmas it was an affront. The vision came to me of layer upon layer of traditions, each replacing the former but not entirely erasing it. Back in time there was the Yule log of the Saxons and the Norse and there was the Saturnalia of the Romans, and before them something else and before that something else again. There was a period of time in mid-winter in a number of traditions when roles were reversed – when the master served the slave, the serf, the worker. It has been there for many thousands of years. And this role reversal decayed until it became just a single holiday drink that the boss poured. Why we do traditional things is long gone but those traditions still make us feel right and their absence feels wrong. That is the nature of a time like mid-winter and Christmas.

There is no doubt that mid-winter has been a special time with special rituals and traditions since humans left the tropics for the seasonal north. The solstice had to be celebrated no matter which god or gods were honoured in the process. The religion can change quickly but the customs change very slowly. A conversion can be almost instantaneous while we learn our traditions from our grandparents and hand them on to our grandchildren. Thus the traditions pile up like snow drifts around the time of the solstice.

Please have a merry Christmas and enjoy the Yuletide or any other holiday you want to have. Eat the comfort food, enjoy the music and remember the traditions.


Another thought – do not worry about whether you are telling lies to your children about Santa. Children are wiser than that. They know what a lie is and they know what a ‘pretend’ is and they know the difference in the morality of the two. Let them know that Santa is a pretend; it is fun, excitement and games; it is gifts too.


I have recently realized something about the winter solstice. I knew that the length of the day was a sin wave going up and down through the year - in fact I graphed it years ago. And I know the way a sin wave is flatter at the peaks and troughs and steeper in between them. So I knew that the change in the length of day from day to day was largest at the equinoxes and smallest at the solstices. But I was surprised to realize that the word ‘solstice’ means ‘sun stands still’ in Latin. The sun seems to stop in the sense that the point at which it rises stays constant and the point at which it sets does too. Of course, it is not that identical but close enough that it can not been noticed by eye. It stands still for about 7 days, from Dec 17 to Dec 25. This answers 2 questions that I have had for the long time. Why is Christmas more a season and less a single day and why is it officially the 25th rather than the actual solstice (same questions for the Roman holiday and others)? Wait for the sun to turn for 7 day and then it does – joy – on the 25th .

A useful word

Everything about language is not crystal clear. There is the word ‘like’. It can be a preposition, noun, adjective and verb in formal speech. Informally it can be a conjunction and an adverb. It is also used to make compound nouns or adjust the meaning of a word for example ‘tree-like’ when the speaker does not know a word that is more exact.

Then ‘like’ can also escape syntax and grammar completely and be used as a discourse particle. It seems to imply, “what I am saying is close but not identical to what I am thinking and would like to say, in some minor and vague way, that you will understand if you similar to me and if not just ignore it, like.” In moderation this is very useful word.

But of course it drives some people mad as it has a number of faults in their eyes. One is that it is not part of the sentence, can’t be parsed or labeled with a common part of speech. It is a meta word that modifies a whole sentence, or phrase, or paragraph. Also it is not easy to define – in fact it could often be replaced with a facial expression rather than another word. And its repetitive use by certain types of people is seen by others as just a sign of ignorance.

This discourse use is first seen in writing in North America in the early ’20s, but was probably much older in some dialects. In the days of the beatniks and the hipsters, this ‘like’ had a sort of epidemic. I am old enough to have been there in the ’50s and onward. I don’t remember having any difficulty at all knowing what was meant by the discourse ‘like’. I seem perfectly natural although I did find it overused.

Now it is not overused and therefore it is coming to be accepted. How could we live without it?

2015 Xmas letter

Another year has passed in Bengy sur Craon. We are all one year older and it shows a bit but we are still going. Harry is now 85, I am 76 and Ginger’s age is unknown but she is starting to act and look like an old dog. Soon we will be calling her “ol yella”. In most (but not in all) ways we are all as healthy as we were a year ago. And we are in good spirits.

The garage that Harry is building has progressed from the floor last January to the roof in this December. Nothing has been done inside the house.

My little garden was somewhat of a flop. I got two nice crops of onions and a few lovely tomatoes. They were prolific but I had only 5 plants that survived. The rest of the garden was blah after a very hot dry spell. We did get a good crop of walnuts this year. The wild cherries were good and we had nice figs from the neighbours.

We had a number of visitors during the year: Ciara’s dad, Bob, in February; Ciara’s new family in April, herself, Chris Clark, Thian and Tynan; Ciara’s mom and step-dad, Merrilee and Aydon in Aug; and right at the end of Aug, Paul Viminitz and Pam just before their marriage. All were very good visits.

We were expecting a visit from the Parkers but sadly Ron died. We had lost contact with the Parkers for a number of years and so we especially want to see them more. Ciara’s grandmother, Lena, also died this year. Losing people is going to happen more as we age. I remember mom having a month when a number of people she knew died. She said it was making her go through her friends in her mind and wonder who was next. That is not going to happen to me because I have nowhere near the number of friends that she had. That’s my wry sense of humour keeping me cheerful.

As well as acquiring a new family, Ciara finished her law degree and started her articling. They also moved into a new house in Regina. We assume Ciara will be working in the family firm.

The local restaurant and bar, the Cheval Blanc, is closing. It was sold but the sale fell through. The whole village feels bad about it. The current owners cannot keep on going with their age and health.

I changed computers this year. The new set up is not flakey and better for my wrists. But the change meant that I had to abandon the program I had used to update the JanetsPlace site. So I have a new setup with a different format. The old site is still there to look at if anyone is interested but it is not updated. Here is a link to the new site, JanetSpace:

I hope you are all having a good holiday season with all the good things to eat and do, with family and friends. JOYEUX NOEL

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About Janet Kwasniak

Retired pensioner, raised in Canada but UK citizen living in France, interested in Science and many other things.

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