Sunday, 31 July 2011

Swathed in Vines.

The whole (not the back) of our cottage is swathed in vines. I love the foliage, and the grapes to me are just as beautiful as flowers.

The variety I've planted is called Baco or Bacco. It's the disease resistant root stock that was imported into Europe from the USA after the Philloxera epidemic of the late 19th Century.

Baco is not an eating grape, although we do hand-press the fruit for juice. Otherwise they get picked quite early and put onto the compost. To leave them on the vine simply invites the huge, and dangerous, sugar-hungry Hornets right into our world.

At present we have two individual vine plants that cover the cottage. Some years back we had but one, and it annually produced over 200 bunches of grapes. I don't think I can be bothered to count them again, but this year there are probably well over 300.

It's almost juice season, although I'm already drinking last years juice (not our own) in a slightly different form.
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Saturday, 30 July 2011

How To Suck Eggs (Grandmothers please note).

The last time we kept chickens they were truly FREE RANGE. They congregated around the central courtyard of our old farmhouse, and at night simply found themselves somewhere to sleep in our huge hay-filled barn; occasionally appearing with a dozen or so chicks in tow. Otherwise they just lived in total freedom; more often than not using my veg' patch as a dining room. 

Occasionally one or two would be invited to sacrifice themselves at the altar of gastronomy, and they needed to be caught.... not easy when they've developed Olympic standard leg muscles. So I devised a cunning plan.

I would soak stale bread in wine (sometimes with some 'eau de vie' added for ooomph), feed it to the hens, then wait a few mins before they were all staggering around like Glaswegians. It was then very easy to pick the best of the younger crop, prior to dispatch.

Plucking: In England I've seen people make really hard work of the whole plucking process. Over here things are much simpler. We boil up a large 'bucket' of water, then dip the entire chicken into the boiling water (for a few seconds). The feathers then almost fall out by themselves, leaving a beautiful cleanly prepared bird.... Forget dry plucking and the air filled with tiny feathers; that's for mugs!

In our house it was always the children's job to collect eggs. It is partly for this reason that we are about to keep hens again. I cannot imagine our grandchildren growing up without the pleasure of going out each morning to collect eggs for breakfast. I did it when I was small, my own children did it when they were small, and I want my grandsons to have the same wonderful experience now.

Get yerself over here Grandma; now suck that egg!

Friday, 29 July 2011

Monty's best mate, Bok.

It's extraordinary to witness how much these two adore each other. They usually get together at about 6.00am each morning, when I take them both for a walk, and it's like watching long-lost brothers meeting up after decades apart.

Bok or Bock (I've not asked how it's spelled) is Monty's 'bestest bestest'  friend in the whole world. He lives about 500 metres away, and they've known each other since they first quit their respective mothers' sides.

They can spend hours together play-fighting, chewing each others ears, rough-n-tumbling, or just (what looks like) snogging.... After which they then sleep for hours in each others arms.

The one breed of dog that I've had more dealings with than any other, has been the Border Collie. A dog for whom the word 'faithful' was coined. I'm sure that Bok is only about 50% BC, but he has all the attributes of a perfect companion; certainly our Monty thinks so.

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Thursday, 28 July 2011

Monty Comes of Age.

There are rites of passage for humans and animals alike.

I've been waiting with baited breath for 6 month old Monty to 'cock his leg' for the first time (rather than squat), and today he obliged.

This morning I was out with Monty, his friend Bok, and The Black Bastard. The BB had a pee; leg in air. Bok then followed; also leg in air. Then Monty, not wanting to look too girlie, also used the same leg-lifting method.

Oh how grown-up he looked. No longer a pup, but a dog who's taken his place amongst respectable male leg-lifting canine society.

And, of course, there's the new proud owner who can now show off his dog in public; in the knowledge that he does things correctly (at last). That's-a ma boy!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow

Yesterday the dogs found this baby hare up by the barn. Luckily Wills and Kellogg got to him/her before they did any harm, and they placed it in the safety of our (as yet) unused hen house, with the idea of releasing it later when the dogs were elsewhere.

I took it down to a spot where I'd previously seen young hares, laid it down on the grass and it just looked back at me for a while. I gave it a little encouragement, and off it went like a rocket; a lovely sight.

And no, it didn't eat its carrot....
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Tuesday, 26 July 2011


Most people run screaming when they hear the word 'Haggis'. Not I; I love the stuff.

Of course here in France proper freshly-made Haggis is unavailable, so I revert to a particular canned version (above) which is a very good alternative.

Personally I love fresh Haggis just sliced and fried in olive oil, but it also makes a wonderful stuffing for turkey, pork, and large stuffable veg's.

Usually I use half standard Sage and Onion, to half Haggis (with other added bits and pieces according to what is being stuffed). For example, try it with your Christmas turkey with the addition of fried bacon lardons and chopped chestnuts.

Not everyone is tempted by a mixture of ground sheep's 'pluck' and barley, but when you get past the ingredients you have a wonderful product that is both delicious and versatile.

I'm not on commission from the Scottish Haggis-man's Association, so you'll no be tuggin at my sporran strings. But if you've never tried it.... have a go! You might end up, like Lady Magnon, actually liking it (or am I thinking of someone else?).

Monday, 25 July 2011

Chez PoPaul.

Restaurants come and go; they are rarely permanent fixtures.

However there was one, about 50 kms away from us, that we thought would be there forever.

Chez PoPaul (The Hotel des Voyageurs at Beaumont du Périgord) had such a reputation that one needed to book weeks in advance (rare for here), and diners would fly in from abroad just for the evening. We ourselves made the 100 km round-trip on many occasions, and would still be doing so today had it not closed.

A typical meal consisted of lobster and sea-food bisque (magnificent), a GIANT plateau de fruits de mer (unbelieveable), a HUGE steak (oh, yes!)..... At this stage we were already groaning... Cheese (mountainous selection), desert (chosen from hundreds), café and pousse café. All was definitely pre Michel Guérard.

I could go on about PoPaul ad infinitum, but nothing can adequately describe the pure gastronomic delight of the place. It was reasonably expensive, but not overly so, and if Kings really did eat like Kings, then this was certainly a Palace worthy of their patronage (famous faces were commonplace; but I never saw any Kings).

Sadly it all came to an end about 25 years ago, and I don't suppose its like will ever be seen again.

Above is a picture taken after our final visit; although, of course, we didn't know that at the time. Cro, Lady Magnon, and young Kimbo M, all looking delightfully well fed and watered. The occasion, I think, was Wills's 8th birthday (he and Tenpin jointly took the picture), and I seem to remember that we were just off to do some serious 'rough dancing' at the Beaumont village fête.

The picture lives in our sitting room.  Memories, memories!
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Sunday, 24 July 2011

A Sunday 'Boot Sale' Cautionary Tale.

I've just been told this story by the son of an old friend.

They were moving to a smaller house so Mrs G instructed Mr G (my old friend) to get rid of as much stuff as possible. Being an avid Boot Sale cruiser, he decided to set up a stall himself.

The day arrived and he enlisted the help of his daughter, who was determined that everything should go; regardless of price.

Half way through the morning Mr G decided to have a wander around the other stalls, and left his daughter in charge. In his absence she began selling stuff at knock-down prices, including a rather nice single 'old' candle stick.

Some while later Mr G returned to the stall brandishing another candle stick that was exactly the same as the one on his own stall. He proudly informed his daughter that as a pair they would sell really well, and for considerably more money than twice the price of the single stick.

When he asked where the other stick was, he was a little disturbed to hear that it had already been sold. It then dawned on him that the one he had just bought was in fact his own self-same stick; but marked up at ten times the price. Oh dear!

If you're just off to a Sunday Boot Sale..... Happy Hunting!

Saturday, 23 July 2011


This may not mean much to non-Brits, but it's a larf anyway,

Friday, 22 July 2011

Retirement at last!

Godammit; today I officially retire, and I've decided that there are certain things that I shall no longer do; however much the pleading.

During my working life, I've practiced several different occupations (some seriously, others not so); this is a list of those that I am now ecstatically happy to have left behind. Trainee stockbroker, art gallery manager, antique dealer, teacher, stone cutter, furniture remover, theatre ASM (assistant stage manager), and seaside deckchair ticket salesman.

From now on I shall just paint. It's the only thing I can't really give up. It's also the only thing I'm actually qualified to do (not that that makes me any good at it).

Now, where did I leave my new Official Oldie's Zimmer Frame? It's got my brushes and colours tucked into one of those wicker basket thingies on the front!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Mind the doors, please!

This female Chaffinch is the latest victim of our new plate-glass doors.

She was a bit groggy for a while, but eventually took to the skies again, and is no-doubt now telling all her chums about her adventure.

Had she been human, she would probably be spending the next few months in hospital, but being a mere birdie she just rested up a while, received a few kind words, then was gone.

Another 2 bizarre bird stories: A couple of days back a screaming Greater Spotted Woodpecker shot into the sitting room and was flying around like a bird possessed. I eventually had to catch it with one of the children's butterfly nets before releasing it outside. I think our Freddie (the cat) was behind its panic, I noticed that the poor thing had a drop of blood on its chest. Oh dear, I hope it's all right.

Then yesterday we were all up at the barn when a fledgling baby Redstart literally flew into my open hands. We all played with him for a while, then his mum came to fetch him home. All together now.... Ahhhhhh.

Saint Cro of Assisi?
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Wednesday, 20 July 2011


Having viewed my yesterday's posting, Lady Magnon asked if I would also be writing something about Willys.

So this is just for her. A fine 1943 Willys Jeep 60PS.

That IS what she was after, I presume!

Tuesday, 19 July 2011


Allow me to be honest, there's one thing more than any other that's going to get my juices flowing; the sight of a pert, firm, beguiling pair of thrupenny-bits.

Women spend more time and money purchasing specialised equipment for their advantageous presentation, than for any other part of their bodies. Breast enhancements were the most obsessive of all late 20th Century women's obsessions. They were enlarged, reduced, uplifted, and paraded; and the little darlings were spoken about endlessly.

Due to their physical position, they naturally forge the way ahead, they pave the way for what's to come, they part the waves. They are without question the invitation to some Extravagant Ball.

And yet after all this effort, when I'm out-n-about, should I occasionally throw a glance in the direction of an attractively presented cleavage, my appreciation is often met by a horrified look that almost says 'How dare you; Slap, Slap, Slap'.

Yes, I know; it all comes under the heading of 'feminine mystique', but if you don't want to be admired, why go to all that effort? Do up that top button, stay away from the cosmetic quack, and simply wear something less revealing.

Alternatively why not just smile in my direction, and discretely suggest (with a wave of your fan) 'Thank you kind sir for your interest and admiration; they ARE rather nice, aren't they!'.

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Monday, 18 July 2011

Ferns in Pots.

Will ferns grow in pots?

A friend was recently selling his lovely old farmhouse following a personal tragedy, and I asked if I could have a piece of a particularly attractive fern that was growing by his barn.

I split the root in two and planted them in these heavy simple terracotta pots, where they have been for the past two years.
They look great (maybe not so in the pic) in the semi-shade outside the poolside exit of my studio, and seem to be flourishing.

But I really have no idea if ferns will survive long-term in pots... maybe you have experience of such things. If so (and you have put ferns into pots yourself) perhaps you would let me know! One can only learn through the wise advice of others.
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Sunday, 17 July 2011

The Tour de France.

I try to follow the last 15 mins of each day's stage of the Tour de France on TV, but it's not always possible. If it passes within a 30 min drive, I always go to watch. Luckily it's been through my neck-of-the-woods a couple of times recently, and it's an event not to be missed.

But don't think the Tour is all about bike-racing. Probably the most extraordinary bit is the pre-race 'caravan' that passes by about half an hour before the actual race. All sorts of freebies are handed out as they go by, and the advertising vehicles themselves are often spectacular.

Alternatively, if you watch the Tour on TV, then you have one of the very best Guided Tours of France imaginable; and, just to tempt you, it always ends in Paris on the Champs Elysée.

If you want spectacular crashes, drugs, and scandal; the Tour has all of that too. My recommendation is to watch the last 15 mins of each day's race, but you really do need to watch from day one, otherwise the complicated leader system (yellow jersey, etc) is rather meaningless!

Bloody POURING here; have a good Sunday.

Saturday, 16 July 2011


With Monty and his problems having taken up much of our time recently, we've been slightly guilty of neglecting Freddie; not that he cares one iota.

I like Fred. He's very aloof, very independent, and just gets on with his tasks of mouse catching, and scaring the bejeezus out of the neighbouring moggies.

I think you can see by his picture what sort of cat he is; arrogant little sod. On warm days he's usually to be found atop this old wine barrel water butt, from where he tries to look 'in charge'; quietly surveying his realm.

He's not terribly friendly (other than at night, when he tries to sleep curled up under my chin), but as long as there's food and water readily available he's always happy-ish; otherwise I don't suppose he'd have anything to do with us.... But then, I guess that's how cats are, and why we love them so much.
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Friday, 15 July 2011


This time last week I mentioned that our weekly Thursday evening village 'picnics' had just started up again.

Unfortunately I also mentioned that the lady running the barbecued duck stall (and has the canning business) was married to our Mayor. Well it seems that I was wrong. She is in fact no relation to the Mayor whatsoever. Their family names, which both sound like Kal-May, are even spelled differently. So I apologise to all concerned.

I've been suitably chastised, and have had to write out 100 times 'Marie and Alain are NOT married'.

Also, I failed to show any pictures of last week's picnic-ing crowd, making it appear that no-one had turned up. So here's one of yesterday's little gathering instead (and NO, that's not Lady M in the photo).
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Wills (Birthday boy), Barry, Kellogg.

If, when visiting one of the old colonies, their Head-Man requests a meeting, then it's only polite to grant one.

Here they are (Wills and Kellogg) having given their advice to one such, leaving him to get on with putting it all into practice.

Hi Mr US Prez, I do hope my boy's tips proved helpful. If you ever need more, just let me know; I'll see if I can arrange another appointment for you; but you may have to be patient!

Oh, and it's Wills's birthday today. He was born in the beautiful old bastide town of Villeneuve-sur-Lot. Celebrations throughout France were held yesterday!...  Happy Birthday darling!
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Thursday, 14 July 2011


It always happens. Just when Haddock's is producing like crazy, it begins to rain and everything suddenly grows even faster. Keeping up with it all becomes an almost impossible task, so a few minutes gathering provides all that's needed to make my delicious lunchtime COMPOST SOUP.

This is the exact method, and exact list of ingredients.

Fry 1 crushed bulb of garlic in 2 teaspoons of duck fat. Add a glass of white wine, a litre of water, a chicken stock cube, lemon juice, and all sorts of other favourite herbs spices and flavourings. Add whatever chopped vegetables you have to hand, add a squeeze of tomato purée, and simmer gently for 20 mins.

Correct the seasoning, then serve drizzled with good olive oil, and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

All veg' gardeners make their own version of COMPOST SOUP, and all are delicious; even though their names may vary. Potage, Minestrone, and even our own winter version of 'Nourishing' Compost; they all fill the belly and keep our energy levels up up up.

Viva Soup-rima Composta!..... What do you call yours?
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Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The garden, mid-July.

We've had so little rain this year that I'm amazed everything is so lush.

When it's hot at midday we head for the shade. This spot above is also perfect for a little afternoon siesta beneath the bug proof netting (providing that a dog hasn't got there first).

Of course, the best way to cool off is here. Splish, splash, splosh. 100 metres gentle up-n-down breaststoke, then back to work.

Haddock's is now at full strength (except for the tomatoes), and I'm also managing to keep the weeds under control. By now I should have already begun to preserve my ratatouille etc, but I refuse to buy-in the tomatoes; I'll just have to wait. Meanwhile all my excess gets either given away, or, worse, composted.

And in the background, that's our tiny new (3) chicken run. No hens as yet, and no wire enclosure. For some reason I can't buy any 'point of lay' hens until mid-August.... but then, in this heat, I don't suppose they'd do much laying anyway.
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Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Walnut Oil.

All Type 2 Diabetics (which includes Cro) will have learned by now about the 600 calories per day diet, and the curative properties of nuts. If by chance you haven't; Google will provide.

It seems that two months of near starvation (which I consider 600 calories to be), combined with 2 oz mixed nuts per day, and the diabetes literally disappears (or so they assure me).

I've not yet followed the diet, but in exchange for a lifetime of tablets, or even jabs, a two month diet seems very little.

One part of the diet I AM following (and pretty much always have done) is to eat about 8 to 10 walnuts a day, and drink a teaspoon of delicious walnut oil each morning. Above is all that's now left of my 2010 walnut crop, so when all are finished I shall simply have to double my morning intake of oil.

As you can also see above, I usually buy two types of walnut oil. One is an expensive artisanally produced oil (the one I drink), and the other a more standard commercial product, which is perfectly good in its way for salads etc. My favourite use for the oil, however, is drizzled liberally onto tepid, salted, new potatoes. Heaven.

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Monday, 11 July 2011

Eat yer heart out TS.

A visit yesterday to our local Rugby Club's boot sale (in the rain), produced this extraordinary old church candle stick.

It measures 1 metre 50 cms high, is made of brass, and is quite heavy (maybe 10  to 15 kilos).

Of course, it has no real age, I'd be surprised if it's even 100 years old.  It's origin is unclear, but it's probably been half-inched from some rural Latvian or Montenegrin church.

When I was still in the antique business, it's what we used to call 'a decorator's piece', which is exactly why I bought it!

Yes Siree, that's what I CALL a candlestick! A crazy lump of bling.
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Sunday, 10 July 2011

Street Party.

We've just held our little annual street party. We all arrived with tables, chairs, and hampers filled with food. The dogs all came. There were children everywhere. The signs were good....

until one of the horses got out, and nearly ploughed through our rickety array of plastic tables. Women grabbed babies, and our friend Carol managed to calm the horse. Lady M (centre picture, blondish, rolled-up black trousers, jumper around waist) helped in her own particular way (by shouting 'shooo'), whilst the rest of us just gasped!

Anyway, eventually we all settled down to serious food, wine, and conversation, ...

and continued well into the night.

We'll do it again next year, as it's the only time that all the residents of our tiny, well spread, settlement of 7 houses manage to get together as a group.
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Saturday, 9 July 2011

Marché des Producteurs (Lumberjack).

Every Thursday evening, in July and August, our village is host to a mass evening picnic where locally produced food is on sale, trestle tables and benches are kindly provided, and having a 'good time' is obligatory. We take our own wine, our own knives and forks, and even on occasions our own candelabra.

Above is my highly tanned nearby boulangere, whose husband makes some of the best bread in the world. I bought a whopping great loaf from her, half of which I later forced into the freezer.

And this lovely lady (Marie) is the wife of our current village Mayor. As a day-job she runs a canning business; foie gras, confit, paté, etc (see front of stall). On Thursday evenings she sells barbecued duck breasts; I bought three; one for Lady M, two for me (pig!). I always ask for them 'pas trop cuit' (pink).

And just so we don't catch rickets or scurvy, I also bought a couple of simple salads from these two lovelies.

This was the first of this year's picnics, and providing the weather remains fine we shall return every week. A wonderful evening, and the vittles absolutely delicious .

The price? Well, let's say that my back pocket hardly felt any lighter on leaving, than when I'd arrived.
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Friday, 8 July 2011

Post Numero 600: A Half-Hearted Apology.

Reading someone else's posting yesterday morning reminded me of a telephone 'problem' we had many years ago when I was about 16 or 17.

We lived on the south coast of England, and our telephone number was the same as that of a Hairdresser in a nearby village; although the dialing code itself was totally different. People imagined that the code was the same as the larger nearby town (where WE lived), and would dial our number to make an appointment.

The young Cro, and the rest of his immediate family, became rather pissed-off with all these unwanted calls, and we eventually had words with the salon owner (twice), asking him if he could stress to his clients that the code for HIS village was totally different to that of OUR nearby town.

Nothing happened, and the calls continued. So whenever at home I decided to accept appointments myself. On a busy day I would make 20 or more appointments; usually for the same time, and (if I was feeling particularly evil) all for the same day. For some reason his clients always wanted to be coiffed in the mornings, at roughly 10.30am.

I imagine, on occasions, there must have been total chaos in the salon with all these women turning up for their weekly blue rinse, or their Thatcher-like perm', insisting that they were the first to be seen.

I would now like to apologise to all those women whose time I wasted, and also to the salon owner himself. Of course, given the chance I'd do exactly the same again (it was strangely empowering).

Some time later the calls stopped. Wisdom must have prevailed, and I presume he changed his number. Shame!

And the moral of this story? Well, there isn't one!... You'd be spoiling someone's day if you double-checked your hairdresser's phone number. Best to try to memorise it; there's probably another Cro out there somewhere!
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