Sunday, 29 March 2015


I normally make my own vinaigrette, but (for reasons of laziness) I always keep a bottle of 'ready made' in the house as well. My current choice being either Maille's Balsamic and Orange, or Passion fruit and Mandarin; both very pleasant.

Many years ago I encountered one of those people that one regrets having said 'hello' to for ever after. He was a very ugly, youngish American from Brooklyn, who viewed everything, everywhere, and everyone (outside of the USA) as being desperately in need of his pedagogical enlightenment; I'm sure you know the type.

He imposed himself on me in that 'how can you possibly live without my advice' kinda way. I couldn't get rid of him. He was also an unashamed liar; something that I really detest.

One day whilst I was preparing a simple salad for lunch, I was offered some of his extra-special New Yorker wisdom....

Him: Hey Cro (you have to imagine that grating acidic Brooklyn accent), you know what we do back in the States.

Me: No, what's that Smartarse?

Him: We make something called a Vinny-Gretty.

Me: Really? Sounds good!

Him: We take Oil and Vinegar, Salt and Pepper, and a little Mustard, mix it up, and pour that over the salad.

Me: Wow, that's amazing. And what's it called again?


Me: I really must remember that; thank you so much.

Him: You're welcome.

What would I have done without this radical piece of advice! Even though I still follow his essential teaching, I do have that 'ready made' bottle close at hand, just in case I should forget his wonderful All-American recipe.

N.B. My apologies to all other Americans, who probably find this type of fellow citizen as equally obnoxious as I do. Those of his ilk should never be issued with Passports!

Saturday, 28 March 2015

From Sunflowers to Alpacas.

                                      R├ęsultat de recherche d'images pour "sunflowers"

It's less than 20 years since Sunflowers have been grown as an agricultural crop in this area, and now further north; previously they were almost exclusive to the deep south (Van Gogh country).

They are grown here both as the following year's seed crop, and also as an oil crop; but mostly for oil.

I was talking to my neighbour, Laurence, about this year's crops and she informed me that each grower in her little 3 member Sunflower 'syndicate' will from now on only grow once in every three years; cutting the total crop by two thirds. Too much oil about, I presume.

So this reduces her arable crops to Triticale (a type of wheat), Maize, and the Sunflowers once in every three years. What a difference to 43 years ago when I first came to live here.

Back in 1972 there were small vineyards everywhere, every farm had a few Pigs, and the courtyards were filled with Hens, Ducks, and Geese. Milk was also produced by every farm. None of these now exists, and everything is brought in from elsewhere. A sorry state of affairs for a corner of Europe that was renowned for it's quality of produce, and almost perfect growing climate.

No doubt this folly will be corrected at some time in the future; but when remains conjecture.

Farming in this part of the world seems to be approaching a crisis point. I know of several neighbouring farms where the owners are 'elderly' and there is no-one in the wings to carry the batton. Children automatically head for cities, and the countryside is once again becoming barren. What will happen to all these wonderful farms, I don't know.

I can envisage the same happening here, as has in England's southern counties, where the old farms were bought by wealthy Londoners, and the land used for leisure activities.

I hate seeing these once productive farms becoming 'gentrified', and the land home to just a few ponies and alpacas. Many have, and the results are already obvious; a couple of years ago when my own crop of onions was depleted, I was obliged to buy onions that were grown in New Zealand. I think that says a lot about The European Union in general.

Alpacas yes; Sunflowers or Onions no. (I suppose I also ought to add Tobacco no; Barn conversions yes. I'm part of the problem).

Friday, 27 March 2015

Barn Kitchen.


Planning a kitchen from scratch sounds easy; but it's not.There had been no plumbing, or electricity in our old S├ęchoir, so absolutely everything has to be designed and installed from scratch.

Basically we require a sink, 2 ovens (one wood fired, one electric/gas), a fridge/freezer, a washing machine, and a dish washer; plus of course plenty of cupboard space.

It's not just a case of what goes where, but also of how to get rid of waste water and where to position power points. All areas that involve water will be roughly in the same area (2 bathrooms and kitchen), and I'm presuming that both our electrician and plumber are aware that used water flows downhill, and that all wires need to be out of sight. Getting tradesmen together to liaise is almost impossible.

We've found an excellent heating engineer who will install a complex heating system that involves solar panels, electricity, and a wood fired water heater/cooker.

This (above) is the provisional plan. We have plenty of space to play with..... I just hope we can find the dosh.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

E Numbers.

I was watching a Rick Stein DVD recently about food in Vietnam, and it was mentioned in passing that the Vietnamese don't suffer from food allergies. None of them breaks out in spots if they eat nuts, none of them is wheat intolerant, and none of them is allergic to shellfish milk or eggs. It just doesn't happen!

So why is it that almost every 1st world child seems to be intolerant of something or other, breaking-out in spots, or permanently in anaphylactic shock.

The easy answer is that it's due to what they EAT. I very much doubt if these conditions are a result of the air we breathe, or the water we drink, or even the clothes we wear. No, it's more than likely to be as a result of some cleverly hidden chemicals in what they are consuming.

When our first son, Kimbo, was born (1971) I went straight out and bought Dr Max Bircher-Benner's book 'Children's Diet' (Bircher-Benner was the man who invented Muesli). It was filled with common sense and intelligent research, and suggested that children should be given a diet based around fresh fruit, vegetables, and cereals.

The book was written around 1945 (?), so E Numbers were probably still thin on the ground, but these days they seem to be in everything.

Today I would much rather my grandchildren ate a carrot from the garden than any of those sugar-laden, factory-made, snack-bars/sweets that come in multi coloured packs with smiling Disney cartoon characters plastered all over them. In fact I would go as far as saying that all food products that use cartoon characters to attract children should be avoided like the bloody plague.

Cartoon characters + multi-coloured packs + E Numbers + TV ads = dangerous rubbish..... Simple.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

PSB et al.

It's a good time of year for us Vegetable Gardeners. There are treats in store.

This PSB (above) has to be my favourite vegetable. Not only is it usually the first proper crop of the year, but it's also one of the most delicious.

It also just happens to coincide with the appearance of another favourite crop; Rhubarb. I'll have to wait a little bit longer for my first Rhubarb Crumble of the year, but it won't be long.

Here are the little darlings, blinking their eyes after having spent the winter under their forcing pot. This was their first, and very brief, view of daylight.

Meanwhile; Lady Magnon makes do with last year's plums for our Crumbles. A pretty good alternative to Rhubarb.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

School Curriculum addendum.


We've all noticed failings in our school's educational standards, and, in the past, I've been known to offer advice in the form of alternative curricula.

May I now offer this extra subject addition.... 'LIFE MANAGEMENT'.

It would 'teach' some of the more basic life skills; amongst others....

1. Speaking without grunting.
2. How not to send 'personal' photos via mobile telephone.
3. How not to start wars.
4. Correct method of wearing trousers.
5. How to walk past a tattoo parlour, without entering.
6. Holding a knife and fork (if owned) correctly.
7. How to sit on a chair (if owned) at a dining table (if owned).
8. Family planning.
9. How to write words on paper.
10. What one does with a 'book'.

OK, it means adding one extra subject to the usual curriculum, but I'm sure we could get rid of some of the unnecessary ones (PE, or RE).

N.B. In my handy illustration above, I do think the gentleman could tuck his elbows in a tiny bit.

Monday, 23 March 2015



On leaving school in 1964 I'd turned down a place to study Architecture (don't ask), so I needed to find myself a job.

I really don't know what went through my mind, but I finally decided to offer my services to The London Stock Exchange.

I perused the financial press (FT) to see who was recruiting, and plumped for one of the top-notch brokers called Sebag Montefiore and Co.

I should mention at this stage that the word 'interview' had never been mentioned at my school, and I really didn't know what to expect. I certainly wasn't expecting to be thrown to Lions.

The interview room at Sebag's was dark oak panelled, sprinkled with Old-Masters, and contained very little furniture. There was one large heavy curved antique Chippendale desk behind which were about 10 chairs, and on the other side, in the middle of the room, another single plain chair for 'the accused'.

My interrogators were all of the 'crusty, multi-millionaire, ex-guards officer, city magnate' ilk, and all six of them were extremely intimidating to say the least. I was thrown complicated questions, asked for a sample of my handwriting, and made to feel like a naughty schoolboy who'd gone through the wrong door by mistake. It was a nightmare.

Needless to say, my lack of blue-blood and no millions in the bank, lead to my receiving a 'thanks but no thanks' letter in the next day's post. In many ways I was extremely relieved.

I continued to peruse the FT and found another top broker who was looking for a trainee 'blue button'; Sheppards and Co were the oldest firm of stockbrokers in The City, and highly regarded.

Here my interview was a 'one to one' affair in a pleasant airy office. I was offered the job, told that my salary would be 500 guineas per annum, and instructed to report for work in a week's time.

N.B. Unfortunately, on the day my employment began (a Monday), there hadn't been time to visit my tailor to collect my new City style suit, and I was sent home; they weren't going to have some pipsqueak in a school suit working for them!

I picked-up the suit, bought myself a bowler and brolly, and started the following day, feeling suitably chastised.

I sincerely hope that present day school children are better prepared about interviews than I was.

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