Monday, 28 February 2011

The Skype Prize.

Skype performs miracles. It changes perfectly ordinary humans into abstract, frozen, pixilated, zombies.

The whole concept of Skype is brilliant, but I've just spent half an hour talking to images such as the above (No 1 son, Kimbo, and Harvey J, in London). It is the kit I'm using? Or does everyone experience this?

p.s. If I blew-up this picture to 60ft by 40ft; It could well be a contender for The Turner Prize (a London art comp').

Sunday, 27 February 2011

The Sunday Larf. Kids eh!

Kids eh. They seem to get more precocious by the day. This is one of our local Police-women on a girls-night-out!

Saturday, 26 February 2011


We have fairies living at the bottom of our garden. I know, because I've seen them many times (especially after a few bottles of rouge).

They live in old tree stumps,

in disused fallen woodpecker nests,

but mostly amongst their crops of magic mushrooms; which, if over-consumed, makes them see giant pink humans at the top of THEIR gardens. A likely tale!

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Friday, 25 February 2011


I love Spaghetti; I could eat it almost every day, as long as I have the occasional roast chicken along the way.

Way back in my London days I had an Italian girlfriend who would cook it for me in a way that changed my whole attitude towards pasta. She came from Rome, and explained that this was how everyone ate it back home (not drowning in tomato sauce).

She would put about half a cup of good olive oil into a frying pan, crush two cloves of garlic into it and heat gently. Before the garlic started to brown, she would sprinkle in half a chicken stock cube and a few dried chilli flakes. The cooked pasta was then thrown in, tossed around a bit, and served (usually without further additions).

There are many alternatives to the above recipe; a few anchovy filets instead of the stock cube being a particularly good one. Otherwise MY standard pasta sauce is as follows; I'm making it tonight...

For two people, take about 100gms of good quality minced beef, fry in garlic and plenty of olive oil until cooked, add a heaped spoonful of tomato purée, a good splash of red wine, capers, black olives, dried herbs, and half a chicken stock cube. That's it. The consistancy is regulated by the amount of wine.

Ok it's not as quite as quick to make as my old girlfriend's sauce, but 10 mins should be enough. And remember; in Italy they say that if you have sauce left on your plate, you've had too much. A very small amount of a rich sauce is far better than loads of bland!

NOTA BENE: My exceptionally beautiful Italian ex-girlfriend, Natascia, was sadly amongst the 308 who were killed in the 2009 earthquake in L'Aquila Italy. I hardly dare imagine what horrors she must have suffered. RIP.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Local Travelogue.

I may occasionally give the impression that we are completely isolated; we're not. Apart from our few immediate neighbours (who are just a few hundred metres away), there are a handful of other houses nearby. From in front of the cottage we can see a couple of them in the distance; particularly the rear of the one above.

This is the farmhouse that I bought in 1972 (aged 25) when I first moved to France. The outbuildings were all magnificent; but the house itself had been rather spoilt in the 50's/60's, and after a few years it began to annoy. The distant little white blob (about 300 metres away), halfway up the right side of the house, is the (much nicer) tiny cottage where we live now. We ain't moved far; just downsized! (if enlarged you might just see our poolside palm tree, outside my reddish studio)

About 400 metres along the track from our old place, is this beautiful house which, currently, is a little neglected. French inheritance laws are complicated, and one can easily end up with countless distant family members all owning part of a property which no-one wants to repair single-handedly. The little roofed arched entrance gate is really beautiful; the sorry state of some of the other bits, is NOT.
Sadly both homes are now occupied for only a few weeks of each year. My friend Claude, who's farm is situated equidistant between the two, really looks forward to summer, when their shutters are thrown open, and the sound of human voices can, temporarily, be heard once again.

With so many second-homes being closed up for 11 months of each year, this is now an all-too-common problem.

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Wednesday, 23 February 2011


So, here he is folks. The man who made all this possible; Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

I was amused to read recently that his only regret throughout all his development of the WWW was the use of the 'Double Forward Slash'. He said 'it seemed like a good idea at the time'. No doubt, if he started anew, he would have used something less clumsy.

So, belatedly. Thank you Tim, for everything; including the double forward slash (whatever purpose it serves!).

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Hayley's Little Boy, Crispian.

Tuesday morning. It's wet and windy, and I'm in the mood for a bit of music. This really deserves a re-run. Turn the volume right up, and marvel at the Hendrix inspired intro'.

The band's singer, Crispian Mills, is the son of Hayley and the grandson of Sir John. Kula Shaker were a classic London band; one good number (this one), a bit of controversy, then au revoir!

Monday, 21 February 2011

Blair's Best Chum!

Gaddafi's look says it all.

In that one handshake there was more corruption and contempt than most of us dreamt possible.

Cro's Confit de Canard.

When this ad' came through with the post, I couldn't resist.

Confit is usually made with two different cuts of Duck; the 'cuisse', and the 'manchon' (the thigh and the upper wing). This offer was for Manchons, and at €1.39 per kilo one can hardly say no!

The only problem with Confit making is that you really need 'fattened' ducks (canards gras); those that have been specifically raised for Foie Gras. Obviously this is not available everywhere, but any good fatty duck would do.

Stage one is to salt the pieces lightly, and leave them overnight.

The following day the pieces are very very slowly cooked (only barely bubbling; unlike above) in duck fat, for 2 hours for Cuisses, and 1 hour for Manchons. Keep checking that they don't brown too much; if possible they should remain quite pale. Lard would just about do instead of duck fat.

The pieces are then packed into sterilised pots or jars and the fat poured over. A round piece of greaseproof paper and an elastic band should keep out any unwanted visitors.

Pieces are taken out as required, and gently fried until heated through. Voila... it's as simple as that! If you keep your Confit in a cool place, it'll last for 6 months; if you can resist.

Traditionally Confit is eaten with Pommes de Terre Sarladaise; sliced potato cooked in duck fat (what else), with garlic and parsley. Yum.

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Sunday, 20 February 2011

Solar Flares.

Tom Stephenson recently warned us about the evil effects of Solar Flares. Needless to say, but I think the guy on the left agrees.

Did people REALLY go outside wearing things like this? I certainly didn't! Mind you; that hat...

I have to thank my friend Sue, in South Africa, for the delightful picture.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Our Village Chateau.

The photo above is a bit old, but the place hasn't changed much since it was taken; at least the exterior hasn't! It's part Chateau Fort, and part Big House; a time-warp amalgam of styles and periods.

When we first arrived in France we were somewhat surprised to learn that there was another English family in the village, who owned the local Chateau; I believe they had bought it way back in the 20's. Unfortunately the father of the family died just a few weeks before our arrival, so, sadly, we didn't get to meet him. He'd been a wartime Spit' pilot (amongst other things).

However, we did become very good friends with his French widow and her young family, and we still are; they sold the Chateau several years later. Too big.

Since those heady days it's had two other owners; a wide-boy Italian, and a very pleasant couple, who hail from Paris, who are the current custodians.

When our friend was there, it was understood that visitors ALWAYS carried as many logs as they could manage, from near the main door up to her rooms. This involved taking them up a huge flight of very wide stone stairs, and along a 100 yard long corridor. Since those days the Chateau has been completely modernised, and central heating installed. A very different scenario to when I used to visit.

The Chateau is much bigger than it looks in the postcard above. Maybe the present owners have even added another wing or two; who knows! I've been invited to pop up and have a butchers some time, so I really must.

Many years ago I designed, and helped construct, a rose-garden in the big front courtyard for the wide-boy Italian; I wonder if it's still there?

Of course these old places usually have a dark side. In one of the cellars at the Chateau there is an OUBLIETTES. This is an aprox' 4 foot square hole in the ground which leads to a dark and damp cell. 'Enemies' were lowered down into the hole and 'almost' forgotten about. I've peered into the hole with a lamp and one can still see scratchings on the walls made by desperate men. Nasty.

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Friday, 18 February 2011

Best Days Of My Life?... Maybe! Maybe Not!

I attended a VERY OLD school; in fact one of the world's OLDEST.

The medieval building on the right, with the buttresses, is where I spent 4 years of my formative life between the ages of 14 and 18. It is claimed to be 'The Oldest Residential Building in Europe'.

The official foundation date of the school is given as 970; making it 1041 years old. In fact it dates back much further but details are scratchy. In 1970 they did away with a thousand years of male-only tradition, and decided to take in GIRLS (Damn; why didn't they do that during my time!!).

Note that there are very few chimneys on the building. In the winter water would freeze in bedside glasses, and any mention (by us) of comfort was regarded as just plain 'girlie'. Frankly I'm amazed we didn't all end up with hypothermia.

Since my days this particular building has been given a complete re-vamp, and no doubt they now have central heating and comfy chairs. I don't suppose that boys are whacked any more either, or even given the painfully time-consuming punishments that we were forced to endure. Life at school was pretty rustic in my day, but it was also wonderful. I wouldn't have changed a thing. Anyone who's seen the 1968 film 'If' (with Malcolm McDowell), will have witnessed exactly how life was at my old school (except for the killings). Latin speakers will also be able to tell where this was; otherwise I'm not saying!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Too Much of a Good Thing?

My neck-o-the-woods is known for two good red wines; Bergerac, and Pécharmant. My preference is for the latter. Perfect to accompany my last saturday's posting of Confit de Canard.
I've recently been stocking up on the one above, which I'll probably offer to guests (I myself drink 'piquette'). If you look closely, you'll see that it contains 14% alc.

When I first moved over here, one could still buy 'lunchtime' wine in starred litre bottles (Nicolas) of about 6% alc. This is no longer available, probably thanks to the meddling EU bureaucrats. Frankly, I find 14% wine far too strong (unless your intention is to get drunk; which mine isn't).

So, regardless of the modern fashion for those unnecessary extra degrees; Cheers! And no, I'm NOT on commission.

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Wednesday, 16 February 2011


This blog is mostly about Magnon life; the exciting, the banal, and the downright tedious. Today's posting would, for many, come under the 'tedious' heading.

Like so many gardeners before me, I ignored the advice of the wise. Back in about 1980 I planted a Leylandii hedge (I know, I know), and the wretched thing just continues to grow, and spread. I planted it to make the cottage invisible (which it does impeccably).

At this time every year, I trim the sides and cut back any top growth; this takes about two reasonably relaxing days (see top picture). The resulting detritus is then burned on an out-of-the-way, bonfire.

The only plus side to this annual operation is the beautiful aroma of the bonfire. Like the smell of freshly cut grass, it's one of the perks of the gardener's toil. And always being conscious of the anti-social side of bonfires, I only light 2 each year.

It may be JUST an annoying plume of smoke to many, but for me it's also a seasonal marker. Daffs, snowdrops, bonfire; spring must be on its way!

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Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The Annual Oldies Lunch Club.

So, here we all were, eating and drinking to our hearts content. That's my friend José (bottomish right) looking back at me. And at the 'top table' (in distance, in front of the 2 windows), are all the elected village big-wigs and helpers (all non-oldies).

There's always ONE, isn't there! This is Francoise (José's wife, and my children's ex-teacher) who left early due to an infected eye (I'd never have known). It's been giving her trouble for a few days; poor thing.

And finally; my mother told me 'not to play with my food'. Well, I've alway ignored such advice, and here is my sunday afternoon sculpture entitled 'Rabbit with a runny nose'.

I've never lived anywhere that has such a strong community spirit; where the young, the old, and everyone in between, are regarded as equally important and special. This annual 'oldies' lunch is a good example.

And all this (Champagne included) was free, just because I'm an old codger. What did YOU do for Sunday lunch?

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Monday, 14 February 2011

Jock, Lady Magnon, and St Val.

Once again I'm posting my little drawing of 'me-ole-mukka' Jock, who selfishly quit the mortal coil a couple of years back. Today would have been his birthday.

Goodness knows when, or where, I took this photo, but it shows Lady Magnon with the great man himself. It looks as if we were all enjoying a few glasses (or bottles) of rouge together in some local resto.

I've resolved to celebrate his birthday every year, as if he was still here. So Happy Birthday Jock, and Happy St Valentine's day to everyone else (especially Lady M)!

For more on Jocko (if you can stand it), Google 'Jock Veitch'; the piece at the top was his SMH Obit'.

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Sunday, 13 February 2011

The Full Monty.

Lady Magnon has always been a woman who lives by compromise (Swedes are known for it). So it came as no surprise when she consulted me about her proposed adoption of a rescue puppy. She wanted it to be an amicable joint decision. My reply was predictable...

No way José.

Not on your nelly.

Over my dead body.

Not in a million years.

Niet, Non, No, No, No!

Not even in your wildest dreams.

So, having put my foot down in no-uncertain terms, we've just returned from Miss Tiffany Tadpole's Home for Rescued Chiens, and above is a picture of the new puppy, Montague-Macbeth Magnon (Monty).... No doubt he will be creating puppy-chaos for the next six months (at least).

I do love it when a family can come together in friendly, mutually acceptable, agreement; especially concerning such an important decision.

Here Monty.... Fetch.... Good boy.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Confit de Canard.

Very few things in my gastronomic life have really made an impact.

I wrote some time back of the pleasure I experienced when I first discovered Cummin, and that still remains one of my high points. But my greatest ever delight, was when I first tasted (the late) Madame D's 'Confit de Canard'. I was quite simply amazed. It was nearly 40 years ago, and Confit was still unknown to the outside world; it was a Périgordian speciality, made by Périgordians, and reserved for consumption in Périgord.

Large tins of Confit are now available world-wide, but it's quite a simple process to make your own.

If you haven't yet tasted Confit; I recommend that you do so at once.

Just in case anyone doesn't know, Confit de Canard is duck (usually leg/thigh) which has been gently cooked in it's own fat for about 3 hours, then preserved. It's later heated through (fried) as required.

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Friday, 11 February 2011

The Great Tree Felling Show.

There's been too much shade cast on one side of my friend José's newish Chestnut plantation, so he's called in the experts.

He, and his daughter Laurence, have felled all the smaller trees themselves, but the tallest of the pines were leaning all over the place, and they needed to be dropped in exactly the right spot or risk destroying part of his precious 'orchard'.

These guys are magnificent; they can drop a tree on a sixpence. They arrived yesterday with two chainsaws, this ancient big brown tractor/grabber, a very long length of wire rope, and a two-piece ladder.

Stand well back!..... You see which way the tree is leaning; guess which way it's going to fall.

Wrong! TIMMMM-BERRRR. It fell backwards; the opposite way to how it was leaning. Genius.

I watched from as close as possible. Lady M stayed back at the house and drank tea from the grandstand. It was a wonderful show from either spot.

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Thursday, 10 February 2011

The Towny Bast*rds.

I pride myself on being a non-hurried motorist, but it's time for 'The Gendarme's Spring Ball', and they need to raise extra money for Pastis, Wine, and Beer.

This means that any Tom Dick or Cro gets lumbered with a hefty fine for exceeding the speed limit by even an eighth of a Kph. I my case, I have just been fined €90 for driving a whincy-bit too quickly in a 50 Kph area. Grrrrrrrr.

So enjoy your ball and booze mes amis; and I hope you all get breathalised on the way home!

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Wednesday, 9 February 2011


One of the sights that takes my breath away is that of a tiny distant cottage, with a wisp of blue smoke slowly rising from a substantial chimney (it has to be 'substantial').

In the case above, it happens to be Chez Moi, but it could be anybody's; it always has the same effect.

The sight and aroma of woodsmoke, and the thought of a cosy rustic interior; nothing conjurs up a more poignant picture of true country life.

Yesterday I spent most of the day wandering around HUGE shops in Toulouse as Lady M's 'Beast of Burden' (Eeeeeeek). Boy was I glad to get home to the peace and quiet of the cottage. I lit the fire, poured myself a glass of red, and sat outside listening to silence, as the heat of the day slowly faded away.

It was just so good to feel like a country bumpkin again; I've done my time in cities.

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Tuesday, 8 February 2011

I Spy With My Little Eye....

Last week I took a road that I rarely take, and deep within the some leafless woodland I spotted this seemingly abandoned chateau.

The place was huge, with several towers, and fortified gates all over the place.

The Chateau itself seems to be uninhabited, but I saw a car and some farm machinary in a nearby barn, so I imagine someone was around.

What a place. I had to force Lady Magnon away; I'd noticed she was reaching for her cheque book!
We're off to Toulouse for the day.

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