Thursday, 30 September 2010

I Spied With My Little Eye...


A few more just to make Tom Stephenson even more jealous!

Boletus Edulis.

At last; ONE!

And if there are any more out there, they'll have to wait. I'm away for a while at The Willow Ball. I could have danced all night....

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Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Compliments!

We all love compliments; writer Amy Saia just recieved one for her 'Best Opening Paragraph', and was thrilled. I would have been too.

Just a few words of encouragement or praise can make one's whole life, or life's-work, seem worthwhile. They cost nothing to offer, and who cares if they're occasionally slightly exaggerated. However and whenever they come, they are essential to our feelings of self-worth.

Personally I've received very few compliments in my life, but the few that I have received linger on in my mental feel-good-tray. Someone once told me that I had 'nice hands'. At the time I think she was right, but now that they're old, wrinkled, and over-used, the memory of those few kind words is somehow very important. At college I was awarded a 1st Class Honours degree, which was probably my most welcome compliment; even if a little bureaucratic. I think there might have been one or two others, but basically that's it!

The reason why I'm writing about 'compliments' is that I've just noticed that January 28th is 'National Compliment Day'. Who the hell dreams up these ridiculous ideas (exactly a week ago was World Car Free Day).... and does anyone give a damn? Compliments should be handed out as often as possible, not just on a pre-ordained date; especially to children who thrive on such things.

When I left college, my father asked 'Did they give you a bit of paper?'. I replied 'Yes!'. He said 'Jolly good', and that was it! As far as he was capable, that was probably meant to be a compliment.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Praying Mantis.

I came across this lovely chap when I was gathering apples. It looks as if he or she had also been tucking-in; I've not seen a bigger belly on a Mantis.

A couple of weeks back, one flew up from the grass and landed on my face. They really are beautiful insects, I can see why children keep them as pets.

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Monday, 27 September 2010

Yum but Yuk.

I spotted this extraordinary tower en route to pick up Lady M at the airport last week. It sits in an open field, about 20 metres apart from a very simple cottage.

The roof is made up of 4 separate pointed roofs; each is triangular, and each is topped by a beautifully carved stone pinacle. Somehow they all manage to meet up in the middle. The woodwork beneath the tiles must have been a nightmare to assemble, and I can only imagine that it was created by a 'charpentier' as an advertisment for his undoubted skills.

Unfortunately the present owners have rather spoilt things with their over-eager-restoration. The two add-on wings look totally incongruous, and the stick-on faux-stone exterior makes me almost want to vomit. As for the artificially mottled industrial tiles; one can see at once that they are WRONG (they only had to look at the existing tiles to see what type to use).

Thank goodness they didn't touch that wonderful roof. Do click on the picture to enlarge; it's worth it!

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Sunday, 26 September 2010

The Sunday Story: Munnings 1878-1959.

There is no doubt that Sir Alfred Munnings was a very fine painter of his genre. His horse pictures, along with those of Dame Laura Knight, were the finest of his era; even more remarkable as he'd lost an eye at an early age.

In 1966, just after I left the London Stock Exchange, I managed a small Art Gallery in Devonshire Street. We specialised in early topographical watercolours and engravings, but we also had a good selection of quality figurative works by good painters.

One day a very well known Bond Street dealer (I won't mention his name) came in and bought a large unsigned painting depicting a group of gypsies and horses. It was a fine, but unattributed, picture, and had been much admired in our window, where I'd placed it about a week earlier.

About two months later I was viewing an auction sale at Sotherby's (also in Bond Street) and noticed the self same picture cleaned, reframed, and now signed by Sir Alfred Munnings.

I returned to the gallery and showed my boss the catalogue. He immediately contacted Sotherby's, and the 'well known dealer' was banned from attending, or using, the auction house for several years.

This sort of thing is not uncommon in the art world, and had he sold the newly signed painting through his impressive and expensive Bond Street gallery, it would no doubt have gone un-noticed. It was the brazen cheek and greed that annoyed us so much, and he paid the price.

Nowadays his punishment would also have included a spell at Her Majesty's pleasure; such things are taken much more seriously.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Quinces Anyone?

Once again our compact Quince tree has gone crazy. Everyone who owns a Quince will now be asking the same thing; what on earth are we going to do with them all?

One can only make so much Jelly, so much Membrillo, or so much wallpaper paste. The problem is that the fruits are so hard and inedible in their natural state that whatever one decides to make with them needs considerable preparation.

I think my favourite way of eating them is roasted. I peel them, cut them in quarters or eighths lengthwise, and roast them aside a chicken, or joint of pork. This way they are surprisingly good.


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Friday, 24 September 2010

Those Ceiling Timbers

Boy, am I pleased to have this part of the build finished. It's been really back-breaking work, cutting then lifting heavy oak beams into place, by myself, with just a ladder. If I ever do anything like this again (which I don't plan to), I'll invest in a simple bit of scaffolding.

Anyway, it's all up there now, and it just remains for me to put the boards up above. I'd planned to buy the boards yesterday and put them up over the next couple of days, but there's rain forecast, so I'm not going to risk it. There's no rush!

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Thursday, 23 September 2010

Haddock's in September.

My two favourite months of the year are without question June and September; but particularly September.

I took this photo at 8 am yesterday morning. It was already warm, with the promise of 29 C by lunchtime. At this time of year there is no humidity, just the occasional warm breeze.

At Haddock's (my veg' patch above) the Curly Kale, Brussels Sprouts, Leeks, Cabbages, and Carrots are all ready for the pot, and the remaining Peppers and Aubergines are still plentiful. I also have about a dozen bushes dripping with Chilli Peppers that will need to be dealt with any day. Other than that we still have Courgettes, Tomatoes, and Butternut Squash.

In the fruit garden the Figs, Grapes, and Bramley Apples are overwhelming us, and even the recently planted Pear Tree (Finn's tree) has about a dozen fruits that are slowly ripening.

It won't be long before the Walnuts start to drop, and, hopefully, Boletus Edulis will start to appear; my fingers are crossed. What beautiful days!


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Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Scottish S.W.A.T. Team; Edinburgh.

Be afraid; be very afraid. Edinburgh's wee PC Noddy McPlod is on the case.

And did he get a ticket for parking his pedal-car on a double yellow line? Did he McHell!

Photo courtesy: 'Kimbo' Magnon.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Almost Chestnut Season.

The chestnuts are now really beginning to swell, and the first few have already started dropping

I always look forward to the chestnut season; there's something so earthy about it. Strangely, I only ever eat about a dozen each year; usually boiled and lightly salted.

Up at José's new-ish plantation, the white net sheets are already stretched out ready to collect the nuts, and back at the farm his strange vacuuming machine (that he calls 'le diable') is being dusted down and serviced. For the next few weeks there will be only two subjects of conversation; chestnuts, and, hopefully, mushrooms.
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Monday, 20 September 2010

Quad bikes. Aren't they fun...

I love quad bikes; don't you?

Why walk if you can ride? Why live in silence if you can enjoy the throaty roar of an un-silenced engine? And ah, that fine aroma of petrol!

Those boring old-fashioned country walks (picking flowers, enjoying nature, walking the dog, etc) can now be replaced by the far less exhausting activity of quad-biking. Let's all buy quads and give our legs a rest. There's a whole world of peaceful bridal paths and 'rights of way' out there, just crying out for use.

Yes, the countryside is there for all to enjoy; but mostly for QUAD BIKERS! We had to endure nearly 40 years of deafening silence in our tedious old village, but now we can have wonderful NOISE!!!

SIC TRANSIT GLORIA QUADBIKI.

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Sunday, 19 September 2010

The Sunday Story: The Ruin.

This is not the ruin of my story, but I offer the image here just to give you an idea of what I'm talking about. The location was very similar, but the mansion about which I'm writing was much more imposing.

In 1971 I was teaching at a well-known co-ed prep' school in Sussex. At weekends (if I was on duty) it was always my aim to find new and interesting things to occupy the children's spare time. One sunday I took a group of them for a long walk on The Sussex Downs, in search of an abandoned Georgian Mansion that I'd seen marked on the local Ordnance Survey Map.

The house was very overgrown but still mostly intact, with a row of classic stone pillars (as above) supporting a triangular tympanum that contained a heavily carved Coat of Arms. All was there other than parts of collapsed roof, even the old greenhouses, in the walled garden, contained much of their original glass. It was if the family had gone away for the weekend (a hundred years previously), and simply forgotten to return. The house even had its own private graveyard.

The children quite naturally loved the old place, and begged me to take them back again when the school's weekend rota next called for my presence.

It must have been about two months later when I returned to the location, and we were amazed to find that EVERYTHING HAD DISAPPEARED. Not a brick, not a window pane, not a broken tile remained. The landscape had been totally scraped bare.

Just as we were leaving I spotted a half covered stone beneath the grass. It was hemi-spherical and lightly carved on one side. It must have been some type of decorative finish on a garden ornament or such-like.

I still have the stone (below). I keep it as a reminder of how fleeting things can be. That beautiful old house, with all its in-built craftsmanship, had been callously taken away by the lorry-load probably to become hard-core for some tacky project elsewhere.

I do hope that some Architectural Salvage company kept the good bits. I'd hate to think that all was lost. At least I've still got my little bit.





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Saturday, 18 September 2010

Oscar The Wonder Dog.

Yes, it's him again. Oscar has been staying chez Cro for the past week, and will remain until the 25th.

Oscar is the world's finest dog! He looks nice, he has boundless energy, he shows absolute loyalty, he behaves himself (mostly), he eats his food, he sleeps well, he comes when called, and he's always ready for fun. Amazing!

I really don't know what more one could ask from a scruffy mut.

I suppose he does smell a bit, he has a bark to wake the dead (only when he gets excited), and he's always pestering for more walks. But other than that he's a future 'Best of Show' at Crufts; if only I could be bothered to enter him!
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Friday, 17 September 2010

It's THE Book.

So, here it is. The book that reveals all.

Just turn the pages to your own name, and the very day, hour, minute (and cause) of your inevitable demise is printed there for you to ponder.

Do you look?

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Voila! The Génoise

I spoke some time back about my 'Génoise'; a decorative strip that separates the wall from the roof, bringing the roof-tiles out slightly to keep rain off the walls. Above shows how it is constructed; a row of flat tiles, a row of Canal (or Roman) tiles, then another row of flat tiles to top off.

This is how it's finished off. The arch beneath the Canal tiles is filled-in with mortar down to the lower tile, then the dart above the Canal tile is also filled-in up to the upper tile. Does that make sense?

And voila; this is what it looks like when finished. The first row of flat tiles sticks out 5 cms, the Canal tiles stick out a further 5 cms, then the final row of flat tiles sticks out another 5 cms. It'll go through an 'ageing' process before I'm done with it; for the moment it all looks rather new and neat, and that'll never do!

Jeez, I'll be pleased when this part of the build is finished. Everything has to be perfectly level, and is extremely time consuming and tedious. With Lady Magnon away in the UK, there's not even anyone around to encourage me!

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Wednesday, 15 September 2010

State Visit To UK.

Yes folks, it's confirmed. A tax-payer funded State visit will begin tomorrow (Thursday Sept 16th).

Heads of State, it seems, are always awarded public funding when they visit the UK, and King Joseph of The Vatican City State will be no exception. (current cost estimate min £25,000,000)

As State Sovereign (he rules over a population of 826, in an area of 0.17 sq ml) he will be awarded all the courtoisies offered to other more powerful, or more important, State leaders. He will meet the Hoi-Polloi, shake hands with the needy, and dine (sumptiously) with the good and the great.

No doubt some will wave little Vatican State flags, and some will hurl abuse. But all in all it's going to be a fun few days, and a sighting of his bizarre white bullet-proof car is an event not to be missed.

King Joseph (Ratzinger) is also a big-wig in the religion business, so you might catch up with him on one of his (Catholic) church visits.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The Willow Ball. Guest Confirmations.

Lady Magnon and I have both accepted our very kind invitations to The 'Star-Studded' Willow Ball, at the end of the month. Lady M has suggested that, rather than going together (far too predictable), we should find our own individual partners. She's in London at the moment where, amongst other things, she'll visit her courturier, Viv Westwood, for the finishing touches to her rather extravagant new ball-gown.

As for our chosen partners, we decided that we should try to make contact with old, long-lost, friends, and she has plumped for Jonathan Ashmore. Lady M was at Art College in Brighton at the same time that Jonathan was just up the road at Sussex University. Jonathan has obviously grown up since his unicorn days (or even his University days), although I must say I do still picture him as the little boy above. We've not previously met, so I look forward to doing so.

My own dance-partner will be little Lesley Hornby. We last met over 40 years ago when she was still no more than a schoolgirl. Her boyfriend at the time (my old business associate Nigel Davies) used to answer all her questions for her; so it'll be interesting to hear her think, and speak, for herself for a change. I remember seeing the very first load of photographs that Nigel had commissioned (and subsequently sent around the world); a lot of water's passed under the bridge since those days, and I'm very much looking forward to meeting up with her again.

As J-P Gaultier is busy sewing my new 'cut-a-dash' dinner jacket, I shall pop up to Paris for a final fitting in a couple of days time.... All building projects will have to be put on hold!

Monday, 13 September 2010

Grumpy's Handy-Boys

I'm pleased to say that my two UK-based grandsons have inherited something of their Grumpy's skills at DIY.

As happens so often in homes with small children, Ollie (the younger one) managed to release quite a large piece of wallpaper from its confines. But, as luck would have it, Harvey J was on hand with hammer and nails to put it back again.

A pretty neat job of 'invisible mending' I'd say! I could hardly have done better myself!
(I probably should explain that as I was mid-Skype to my son on saturday, HJ (above) came into view saying 'Ollie's torn the wallpaper, but it's OK, I've fixed it'. My son went to inspect; and the above is what he found!)

Sunday, 12 September 2010

The Sunday Story: Cro Meets John, and Sells Out.

In 1967 I was running a small antiques business in London's Chelsea. I dealt in rare early European wood carvings; mostly polychromed religious artifacts (that no doubt had at some time been 'rescued' from abandoned or bombed-out churches). Angels, Cherubs, Saints; all manner of imageary passed through my hands. My only criterion was that it was old, beautiful, and either French Spanish or Italian.

One lunch-time a youngish man came into the shop, gasped, gasped again, and then asked if I would kindly NOT SELL ANYTHING until he returned about an hour or so later.

I agreed to his strange request (I'd never been asked that before), and he returned as promised after about two hours.

The man was an Italianate-American, and he proceeded to buy EVERYTHING I had; it seemed as if my taste was his taste. He explained that he was working temporarily in London, and he didn't want to take money back home. He wanted to buy things... Antiques... My Antiques.

He was renting a small cottage in Chelsea, about two hundred yards from the shop. An exclusive little property in a highly desirable street. We took all his purchases back by taxi, and unloaded them into his kitchen, where, on the table I was slightly perturbed to see a Thompson Machine Gun!

I hadn't yet been paid, so I began to worry. Then a small boy entered the room (he was introduced as Nick) and asked 'Have you been shot yet daddy?'.

I became even more worried. Then the man explained that he was actually over in London making a film. I asked the obvious question, and his reply was 'The Dirty Dozen'.

He paid me in cash, and said he'd pop in to the shop again before leaving. We half-heartedly arranged to meet-up for a beer in the near future (which never happened; I was too busy), and that was the last I saw of him.

I saw the film 'The Dirty Dozen' not long after, and discovered my young Italio-American to be John Cassavetes. In my ignorance, I'd not previously heard of him.

I often wonder if he kept the antiques that I sold him, or simply cashed-in back in the US, and made a quick profit. Somehow I imagine that his son Nick still has them. I'd certainly like to think he does.

Cassavetes was a really nice guy. No airs or graces, no big movie star rubbish, just a guy who loved antique wood carvings. As for me, I had no more stock.... nothing to sell, so I quit the antiques business and went to college. I just wish I'd made time to have a few beers with him, but as he later died of cirhosis; maybe it was good that I didn't.

I don't know the date of the photo above, but that's EXACTLY how I remember him.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Cro's Cough Theory.

We are entering the period of coughs and sneezes, and, as Lady Magnon's been coughing her guts out over the last two weeks (it's NOT her above), I would like to offer my 'radical' theory about coughing.

As far as I can see (and I did fail my Medicine O level exam) there are two distinct types of cough. 1. The Spasmodic Cough. And 2. The Voluntary Cough.

The 'Spasmodic Cough' starts from scratch. You're standing still and the cough simply ERUPTS. There's nothing you can do to halt its progress.

The 'Voluntary Cough', however, begins with a deep intake of breath, which is then expelled in the process of a self-controlled, voluntary, cough.

My theory (which I practice myself) involves NEVER performing the Voluntary version. All it does is irritate the internal breathing kit, and prolong one's period of recovery. When I have a bad cough you would never know, simply because I DON'T COUGH. I suggest you do the same.

Lady M flies to London this evening, so anyone taking the early evening flight from S W France to Gatwick should go equipped with several face masks; she steadfastly (isn't that a nice word) refuses to adopt my simple formula.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Chestnut Woods.

The Chestnut woods are already being mown, ready for when the nuts begin to drop....

...and the trees are becoming filled with their ever swelling spikey husks.

Recent heavy rain means two things; firstly the nuts should grow to a good size, and secondly it's more than likely that we'll have a decent mushroom (cepe) harvest.
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Thursday, 9 September 2010

Ganesh.

I am no botherer of gods, angels, pixies, goblins, or devils, but there is something about Ganesh that draws me to him, and gives me confidence in his mystic powers.

He is The Remover of Obstacles (and, strangely, The Placer of Obstacles), The Lord of Beginnings, Patron of Arts and Sciences, and Deva of Intellect and Wisdom. He is also The Bringer of Prosperity and Good Fortune; and, it has to be said, he's very easily identified. What more could one ask from a deity?

Many years ago I saw a large aged bronze Ganesh in a Brighton shop. It was quite expensive, so I didn't buy it. I very soon regretted my miserliness, and returned to correct matters. The beautiful Lord Ganesh had, of course, been sold, and I had missed my opportunity.

Since then I've not seen another as well crafted, but when eventually I do, I shall not hesitate. He will survey my realm, and bring me fortune. He will clear my earthly path, and point me in the good direction.

If he doesn't; I shall want a refund!

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Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Wonderful Neighbours.

To most peoples eyes, this scene probably doesn't look particulary out of the ordinary. A few people standing about, a tractor lifting a beam, an everyday story of southern French folk.

This morning my friend Danny and I went to pick up my beams from the nearby sawmill. When I saw them in the flesh (rather than on paper or in my mind's eye), I was rather taken aback. They were HUGE.

I'd ordered the main cross beam 20 by 20 cms in section, 4 metres long, and in SOLID OAK. I couldn't even lift one end off the gound! The joists, that rest on the top and come out either side, were 10 by 10 cms in section and 2 metres long; also in solid oak (I can just about lift one of these).

Luckily my neighbour Claude (driving the tractor) was passing by and I enlisted his assistance. Then my other neighbour José (Laurence's dad) turned up, and, together, the four of us managed to get the beast into place; inch by inch. It wasn't easy!

I am so lucky to have such wonderful neighbours. We've kinda grown up together, and nothing is ever too much for them. Love thy neighbour? YES I DO.
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Tuesday, 7 September 2010

It's Official; Autumn's (Crocuses are) here.

Look what I've discovered hidden deep inside the unkempt undergrowth; Autumn Crocus. I love these little spring-like flowers, they grow in a spot where there are also Sweet Williams; another of my perennial favourites.

If that's not a sure sign of approaching cooler weather (even if we are still having temperatures of well above 25 C), then I don't know what is!

A couple of years back, my neighbour, Laurence, gave me a handful of 'Saffron' Crocus bulbs; all being well, they will flower this year and we shall have our very first crop of real saffron.

Until then, the barometer is falling like crazy, and tonight we could be having our first proper rain for WEEKS........ Flash, Bang, Wallop.....Stormy!! It's playing havoc with my computer.


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Monday, 6 September 2010

Andy Fairweather-Low - Wide Eyed and Legless

I can't get rid of this blank space. Sorry! Just scroll down a bit.


















Maybe I have strange taste in music, but this has to be one of my all time favourite records. It really takes me back to the days when I was foot-loose-and-fancy-free (and probably wide-eyed and legless as well).

I'm not certain, but I think A F-L wrote this after his wife (or girlfriend) left him; she just couldn't cope with his heavy drinking.

I see that Georgie Fame is playing on keyboard; I don't think he was ever a member of any of Andy's bands. I also notice that the audience is made up of balloon waving children; an odd choice of song to play for kids, but maybe they didn't listen to the words!

Nowadays A F-L often works as Eric Clapton's guitarist; a sure reason to be convinced of his huge talent!

Sunday, 5 September 2010

The Sunday Story: All Funerals are Equal, But Some are More Equal...

Funerals can be either public or private matters. For the good and the great, they are usually public. For the rest of us, they are usually quietly private.

Back in September 1997 there were two rather exceptional funerals; one of which somewhat overshadowed the other.

Mother Teresa died exactly 13 years ago today. But she was unfortunate enough to die less than a week after a well known ex-member of the British royal family. And her funeral, which should have been an occasion for world-wide grief and mourning, was reduced to second billing.

I watched part of Mother Teresa's funeral service on TV, and was astounded to see the front seats all occupied by high-ranking military personel. Her fellow nuns all being confined to the hoi-polloi seats further back. Even as she was carried through the streets of Calcutta, guns and uniforms were never far from the scene; something I'm sure she would have abhored.

I really feel that Mother Teresa was deprived of her well-deserved, world-wide TV broadcast send-off. A remarkable woman who sacrificed her entire life for the benefit of others.

Diana Spencer certainly had admirers, but her life was of little consequence in comparison with that of Mother Teresa. Becoming a celebrity through marriage, is hardly comparible to becoming an unwilling celebrity through a whole life-time of hard work, struggle, and sacrifice. However, the fickle, gullible, and sentimental media saw things differently. Too late now!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Lady Magnon Relaxes.

I've tried to make her quit, but you know what these headstrong Swedish women are like. Give them a pipe, and a helmet with horns, and there's no stopping them.....

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