Monday, 30 April 2012

What The.........?



As on most Sunday mornings I like to take the dogs out for a really good long walk. And as it was a reasonably pleasant day , I decided to go look for a strange object that I'd discovered some time back, when I was without camera.

We were very deep in the woods, and I just couldn't find what I was looking for; everywhere looked the same. However, I did find my friend José and two of his dogs, out looking for Morels in a Beech tree area. We nattered for about ten minutes, the dogs played together, then continued on our respective searches.

I eventually found the 'strange object', and, above, is its picture. It's nailed to a tree and is basically a camouflage-painted long metal recepticle, with half a plastic wine-cubi hat, and a metal tail with piece of wood attached.

But what on earth is it?

Ethereal 'prizes' will be awarded for the most feasable, amusing, or even intelligent answers. I do have an inkling as to what it might be (knowing the locals), and anyone coming close to that will receive special admiration.
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Sunday, 29 April 2012

Charitable Donations; A Sunday Special..


I used to donate to certain charities; but no more.

One charity that I sponsored for many years was Amnesty (International). Founded in London in 1961, it campaigned against the taking, and torturing, of Political Prisoners, worthy ideals that I wholeheartedly supported.

I gave them a reasonable £100 a year, and was more than happy to do so; until they did something so completely-stupidly out of character, that I wrote to the director saying that my 'giving' days were over.

I don't remember the exact details, but Amnesty sent 5 UK representatives to the US to demonstrate outside a prison where a man was about to be executed. The man concerned was the worst type of inhumane scum imaginable; he had been found guilty of raping, torturing, and dismembering (alive) about 13 women (the police suspected he had killed many many more). If anyone merited the death sentence, it was this monster; and regardless of the Amnesty posse, he was put to death!

However, Amnesty saw fit to send these 5 employees to protest. It cost 5 airline tickets, 5 restaurant bills, 5 hotel bills, car hire, shopping trips, and goodness knows what else. At the time, I estimated the cost of their trip at a minimum of £10,000; a 'jolly' that my own small donation would have taken 100 years to pay-off. And, as far as I was concerned, it was totally unjustified.

But all this fades into oblivion compared with Irene Khan's (the recent director) salary and severance payment. When she resigned as director of Amnesty at the end of 2009, she was paid £553,103 on top of her annual salary of £134,490. It would have taken SIX THOUSAND, EIGHT HUNDRED, AND EIGHTY donors such as myself, to have paid for her final year's employment and severance. That's a helluva lot of donations; and she's only ONE out of hundreds of employees.

If you give to a charity, do you really know where your money is going? Of course there are good ones, but most are there to raise money for their employees' salaries; it's that classic vicious circle. The percentage of money that goes to their 'good deeds', is usually minuscule.

N.B. This post has been prompted by a TV ad' I saw last night. A woman who gives £3 monthly to 'help starving African children', was sent off to Africa to see how her cash was being used.... It was being used to buy her air fare, hotel room, taxis, the film crew, etc; but they didn't mention that.

Rant over!






Saturday, 28 April 2012

Mr Brock's New Home.



I've written recently about the relentless antagonism towards Badgers in the immediate area around where I live.

One neighbour has been snaring them, and others have been out hunting them with dogs. Predictably, quite a few have been caught, but, as the hunting season is now closed, they have a temporary reprieve.

So, I was very pleased to see, yesterday morning, that a new Badger Set is in the process of being excavated. This has appeared over the last couple of days, and I imagine will grow in size over the next few months (and hopefully, years). Maybe it's being prepared for a new brood of cubs.

I do understand the farmers' concerns about wild animals; I've suffered at the hands of Foxes and Deer myself. But we need to share this planet with all creatures, however annoying they might be at times.

No-one wants to slaughter animals to the extent of extinction, so the maxim must be 'moderation in all things'. Let's celebrate diversity, and be grateful that such a wide variety of wildlife exists all around us.

May I take this opportunity to welcome Mr Brock and family to his new home! Happy digging!

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Friday, 27 April 2012

A Tree of Two Halves.



You may need to enlarge this to see what I'm talking about, but the Bramley above is all ONE tree.

However, this year it has decided to do things as TWO trees, by dividing itself in half. The half on the right is covered with flower, and will no doubt bear masses of fruit. And the other half, on the left, has next to nothing.

I can see trouble ahead. Two trees divided by a single trunk. Siamese trees. Winners and losers. Haves and have-nots. Yes, definitely troubled times ahead.

p.s. Amazing; my birds are still there!
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Thursday, 26 April 2012

Two for the Price of One.


Not only is Monty's new plastic bed ostensibly 'chew proof', but it's also big enough for two.

They'd just been given their monthly anti-Tick treatments, so maybe they were consoling each other (it's only a few drops of liquid on the neck). They do make a fuss about it!

I should add that when they're not bunking-up together like this, Monty tends to sleep in Bok's much smaller bed, and Bok in Monty's above. I've tried to explain to them, but....


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Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Haddock's Unloved.


For the moment, Haddock's is looking very unloved.

The weather has been so foul that even stepping foot on the soil would be counter-productive; it is sopping wet and unworkable.

In the small plastic tunnel (top left) are Swiss Chard, Courgettes, Butternuts, Purple Sprouting, Kale, and Cavalo Nero, all waiting to be planted out. The compost needs to be spread, and I have several bags of horse manure also waiting to be rotovated in.

Maybe towards the end of the week things will get better, and Lady Magnon shall return from her Antipodean trip, in a couple of week's time, just as the weather improves; it's worth noting that she left just as it became dire. How very sensible!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Future of Farming.


When I first arrived in France (1972), every local farm had a small milking herd, a few pigs, enough vines to make about 2000 litres of wine, ducks for foie gras and confit, chicken for eggs and roasts, and enough arable land to produce all they and their animals required.

Now all has changed. My neighbours no longer have farmyard poultry and no longer have pigs, the vines have all long-gone as have many of the milking herds. The fields are sown with maize, sunflowers, and triticale, but the old fashioned wheat (which was exchanged with the baker for bread) has all but disappeared.

In the shops, markets, and supermarkets, the out-of-season 'French' beans come from Kenya, the baby sweet corn from Israel, and the Butternuts from South Africa; all could easily be grown here in France.

So what is happening? Fashion has taken over from common sense. Our farmers now spend more time filling in their subsidy forms than they do ploughing. Brussels tells them what to grow, and pays them to do so. The whole idea of 'FARMING' in Europe has become a farce.

It's interesting to note that the only people who now keep chickens in my immediate area are we non-farmers. We grow our own fruit and veg', keep a few hens, and even bake our own bread. If we relied on European farmers to feed us; I don't think we'd last too long.  

Of course everyone knows all this already, but the stupidity sadly continues! 


Monday, 23 April 2012

More Soda Bread.


This weekend's weather was so utterly foul that we (me-n-the-dogs) were forced to stay indoors a lot, and do indoor things like painting the kitchen, clearing up mountains of dog-moult, and dreaming of Summer.

I was short on bread, so I couldn't resist having another go at some Soda bread. This one is Hugh Fearnley-Thing's recipe (but slightly altered by me). I'm by myself at the moment, so I made a small loaf (half his amount).

200 gms plain flour + 50 gms Oatmeal (my bit; I like Oatmeal).
1 small pot (125 gms) plain Yoghurt.
1 tsp Bicarbinate of Soda.
 ½ tsp Salt.
Enough milk to form a dough.
A few dried herbs (my bit; I like herby bread).

I did the usual Soda bread stuff, then baked until my amusing tomato-shaped timer told me that 45 mins had passed.

The round chopping board I made especially for serving Camembert; nice eh?... And the Soda bread's pretty good too; it held together well, was slightly nutty in flavour (the oats probably), and was really delicious, just buttered!

I shall definitely use this recipe again; it's much better than the one I used before. Thanks Hugh!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Puff, the Magic Mushroom.


Look what I found whilst on my walk this morning; it's about 10cms out of the ground, and about 13 cms in diameter.

It's obviously a Puff-ball, but I'm not sure which one exactly. At first I'd presumed that it was a Giant Puff-ball Langermannia gigantea, but they are smooth skinned. So I think it must be Calvatia utriformus, a slightly shaggier, and smaller, version (both are edible when young).

In either case, what's it doing growing NOW? Both are late Summer/Autumn mushrooms, and especially this year after all our wretched rain (it's pouring), I'm very surprised to see it pop up like this (also in a spot where they've never grown before).

Anyway, here is a bit of fine bucolic wisdom (circa April 2012)......

If Spring be wet,
and Puffs be found.
Plant thy tats'
in April's ground.

The old sayings are certainly the best aren't they; even if they were written this morning!

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Eventide (now there's a nice old-fashioned word).



It's 8pm. I've just finished eating, and the dogs are desperate for their final walk of the day.

A light rain is falling, so I wrap myself in my ancient 'ratting' Barbour, pull on my gumboots, and we set off for a short 'emptying' walk.

We don't go far, it's too wet so we turn and make for home. I see a whisp of smoke coming from the chimney of a distant cottage. I smile and call the over-energetic dogs to heel; they ignore me.

Once back indoors, they settle in front of the blazing stove; curled up side by side, licking each other. I pour myself a glass of wine, draw the curtains, and lie back on the sofa.

It's so quiet, and I wonder how things will be in 25 or even 50 years. Will the cottage still be a place of calm, will my view from the terrace still be unhindered, will life be anything like it is today?

The dogs are sleeping with their arms around each other, and once again I smile. Occasionally life doesn't get much better.
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Friday, 20 April 2012

One man's Sport...


Yes, of course you recognised him; it's Europe's favourite sportsman, the gun-totin' King Juan Carlos of Spain.


The only problem is that Spain's brave and herioc King also happens to be the Honorary President of the Spanish World Wildlife Fund. 

WOOPS; sorry folks, I think he forgot! 


Thursday, 19 April 2012

I Was Monty's Double.


Finding names for animals has never been a difficulty for my grandsons Harvey J and Ollie.

Remember my two chickens, both called Richard? Well Ollie's recently named his toy Labrador Puppy 'Monty'. And why not; if it works for our Monty, why not for his too.

I should also add that our 'house bear' is also called Monty, so we now have three Montys.

So, here is Harvey J with Ollie's Monty; enjoying a coffee somewhere in London (possibly Greenwich). Looks like Monty's enjoying one too.


And here they are up above The Palace of Westminster on The London Eye. Good to see Ollie's holding on to Monty (not our Monty, or Monty the Bear; but HIS Monty).

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Another Late Bloody Frost.


I should know better by now, but yet again I've planted-out stuff at Haddock's before the risk of frost is over, and yet again I've paid the price!

There's a very good reason, here in rural southern France, why we await the passing of the 'Saints de Glace' before we plant-out our more delicate crops. Mid May is when one can reliably expect frost-free nights, and the presence of the Ice Saints on the 11th (St Estelle), 12th (St Achille), and 13th (St Rolande), heralds this change.

It's mid-April, and after a clear night I woke to a thin veil of frost over the valley below. I vaguely hoped that Haddock's had been unaffected, but a quick glance, whilst feeding the hens, told me that my Pepper (Capsicum) and Aubergine plants, had all been hit. A waste of about €10.

I can cope with the Slugs, pick off the Colorado Beetles, and even tolerate most other airborne plant-eating bugs and diseases; but about frost I can do NOTHING. Maybe I should put-up a poly-tunnel, but somehow it seems unnatural.

Patience is the answer (I tell myself this every year); patience and philosophy. A good friend once told me that the only advantage of age was 'wisdom'; I'm obviously not old enough yet to have taken-in his wise words.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Hob-Goblin?



I recently cooked-up some Rhubarb; then, as is often the case, I went off to do something else, and forgot about it.

Well, of course it boiled over, leaving an unbelievably sticky mess all over the top of the hob. Being lazy, I left it for later (I hope Lady Magnon isn't reading this; she's in Australia).

'Later' arrived yesterday morning when I could no longer bare to look at it, and I reluctantly decided to tackle the dreadful looking burnt-on crust. It took me about 30 minutes to remove all the enamel-like lava, that clung to every crevice.

Surely, each hob manufacturer should provide a never ending tear-off roll of tin foil templates, that fit neatly over the whole hob (leaving the exact sized holes for the burners). These could then be thrown away and replaced as required.

I've never liked cleaning, and grubby encrusted hobs must be the worst!
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Monday, 16 April 2012

The Wheels of Progress Turn Mighty Slow.



It seems that my 'builder' (the bloody JCB driver) has not forgotten that we exist, as a couple of truck-loads of 'undercoat' gravel have recently been dumped in the new drive.

I'm now wondering when he'll return to spread it about a bit.

Just in case you were wondering, builders are same the world over. Their well-known slogan of 'a thing of beauty, is a joy for two weeks' exists everywhere.

It pays to be philosophical about builders, but most of all, it pays never to be in a hurry..... but you knew that didn't you!


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Saturday, 14 April 2012

The World Was My Oyster.



It really doesn't seem that long ago when I was this fresh-faced, idealistic, and ambitious, young Art Student. I must have been 21 when the photo was taken, and at that age the world certainly was my oyster.

My life was all planned. A degree in Painting, a couple of years at The Royal College, then a big successful show at Kasmin's. My future was like a beckoning road, and I was ready to walk straight ahead and grasp everything that it offered.

So, what went wrong? Well I got my good degree, and Prof' Carel Weight provisionally offered me that place at the RCA (which I declined). But life suddenly gangs up on you, and it occasionally chucks the unexpected from the side-lines, such as beautiful women, babies, and having to earn enough cash to survive.

So, I guess I'll have to accept that life's what I made of it. No good looking back and regretting the missed opportunities.

In many ways we're all very similar; we trundle along doing our best, just hoping that when we eventually expire, the world will be no worse a place for our having passed by; maybe, on occasions, even a tad better.

On the inside, I'm still that same fresh-faced optimist in the photo above, and who knows, perhaps I'll wake-up one day and be 21 again. And knowing me, I'd probably make all those same stupid life decisions all over again.


Friday, 13 April 2012

The Crow's Nest at Cro's.



This is the guest bedroom, where more 'bumps/lumps' on the head are made than in any Tom and Jerry cartoon. The cross beam is about 1m 65 cms from floor level; perfect for that delightful smack on the forehead just before breakfast.

Every guest gets a very poignant warning; and everyone ignores it. I should add that this room was never intended to be a bedroom; it was simply a loft. Maybe we're being punished.


And, NO, this is NOT a drawing of Mr Richard (Dick) Head.


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Thursday, 12 April 2012

Mathew Amroliwala (Zoroastrian).


Most people in the UK will recognise this face; he is the BBC's newsreader Matthew Amroliwala; and we just happen to have attended the same school. For an unrelated matter, I was looking him up on Wiki.

The first thing that grabbed my attention was that he is a ZOROASTRIAN.... A what?... Is that a fan of Zoro movies?... Never heard of it!

So, I looked it up (again on Wiki), and was surprised to read that it was once one of the world's largest religions; founded in the 6th Century BC in Greater Iran (although Zoroastria himself dates from aprox 1500-1200 BC).

I was also surprised to read that, rather like Judaism, all adherents must cover their heads at all times, which, I can assure you, Matthew doesn't... I wonder if they're also supposed to wear black capes?

Anyone heard of Zoroastrians?

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The World's Snappiest Dressers?


There is something very stylish about Hasidic Jews. Those long ringlets, huge furry hats, and long black silk coats; they could almost have come directly from a Karl Lagerfeld boutique. 


These Punks, however, were dressed by my all-time-favourite dress designers Vivienne Westwood, and Malcolm McLaren. Their shop 'SEX' at 430 Kings Road was a temple to Punk, where anarchy ruled (not that they knew what that meant) and NON-nonconformity was a capital offence.


Teds were always a favourite. When I was about 10 our gardener's son, Robin, went off to do his National Service. He left the village as just an ordinary young man, and returned a year or so later as a full-blown Teddy Boy with a motor bike. Drape jacket, string tie, drainpipes, crepe soled shoes, and a huge quiff; the young Cro was mightily impressed. 


Aren't Japan's Harajuku girls wonderful. Nothing is too bright, too outrageous, or too sickly sweet. They tend to parade in pairs and dress rather like a mix-n-match hotch-potch explosion in a charity shop. Nice one girls!


But, of course, all the above have been just 'fashions', unlike these Masai warriors who've been dressing like this for generations. Very cool guys!


Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Les Platanes.



France has an ongoing love/hate relationship with Plane trees. They beat them into submission through hard annual pruning, and force them into becoming magnificent, tortured-looking, sculptural Goliaths. 

 
No town square, high street, or front garden, is complete without these speckled-trunked and twisted trees. They stand there like huge camouflaged columns, reminding you that YOU'RE IN FRANCE.


In fact, there are so many of them here that the expression Rentrer dans un platane simply means 'to crash into a tree'.



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Monday, 9 April 2012

Green.



I've previously written about my love of WHITE plates, tureens, jugs, etc; but my other love is for GREEN. 
At boot sales, antique shops, or rubbish tips, nothing that is useful and dark green will escape my clutches.

Above, the olive pot, the dinner plate (below it), and the crimped edged platter (all much darker in reality), are from my favourite potter M. Augé-Laribé of Biot in Provence. I also have other pieces from him, but fitting them all in the one picture was tricky. 

Eating from simple dark green plates increases one's appetite and pleasure. Eating from M. Augé-Laribé's plates does so ten-fold. ,

Sur le Pont d'Avignon, l'on y danse, l'on y danse.
Sur le pont d'Avignon, l'on y danse, tous en rond......

Then afterwards we all go and dine off M. A-L's lovely green plates.

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Sunday, 8 April 2012

We Spray The Fields And Scatter... (It's that time of year again)


Harvest Hymn by John Betjeman.

We spray the fields and scatter
The poison on the ground
So that no wicked wild flowers
Upon our farm be found.
We like whatever helps us
To line our purse with pence;
The twenty-four-hour broiler-house
And neat electric fence.

All concrete sheds around us
And Jaguars in the yard,
The telly lounge and deep-freeze
Are ours from working hard.

We fire the fields for harvest,
The hedges swell the flame,
The oak trees and the cottages
From which our fathers came.
We give no compensation,
The earth is ours today,
And if we lose on arable,
The bungalows will pay.

All concrete sheds around us
And Jaguars in the yard
The telly lounge and deep freeze
Are ours from working hard.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Basket Case.


First Bok ate my beret, now Monty has eaten his expensive wicker basket. Maybe it was his way of telling me he needed a bigger one!


So, he's now got a nice new, much bigger, chew-proof, plastic job, which hopefully will last a wee bit longer than his previous one!


Friday, 6 April 2012

Cro meets Stravinsky.


I was privileged to attend a school where the study of music was taken extremely seriously. In about my second year I was introduced to the works of Schoenberg and Stravinsky, and since those days, their work has remained amongst my favourites (although I must admit, I haven't listened to either for quite some while).

In 1966 I was managing an art gallery in London's Devonshire Street, when I received a phone call from my distinguished friend Dr Camille Honig saying 'Don't leave the gallery on any account; I'll be round in about an hour'. I was intrigued.... Dr Honig was the Secretary of The International Martin Buber Society

Knowing Camille well, I imagined he was about to turn-up with some gorgeous model, well known actress, or famous pop star. So, you can imagine my surprise when an hour or so later he walked through the door with Igor Stravinsky.

I was shocked. Camille introduced me, and I genuflected, bowed, and shook his hand (that same hand that wrote The Rite of Spring); I then spent about 10 minutes in his company. I remember very little of our conversation, other than about half way through he changed from speaking English to French; and the fact that I was able to continue without any fuss seemed to impress him..... Thank goodness he didn't break out into Russian!

Stravinsky had been in London to attend the premier of one of his works (I think at The Albert Hall), and was also, at the time, the Honorary President of The International Martin Buber Society (hence his connection with Camille).


My boss at the gallery, Miklos Vilag, had been away for most of the day, and was FURIOUS that he'd not been present to meet with Stravinsky. He later took his anger out on poor Camille by banning him from the gallery (on some silly trumped-up charge of having stolen a bottle of gin).

Camille later dedicated the above flyer to me, using the words 'with un-homosexual love'. I somehow think he wished it was otherwise, but as my Italian girlfriend at the time was one of nature's most exquisite creations; I think he understood.

I am eternally grateful to my dear old friend, Camille. He was kind enough to engineer one of the most memorable days of my life! I continue to thank him.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Yet More Sausages.


As you might have already gathered; I'm rather keen on charcuterie.

The Chorizo, on the right, will be known to almost everyone. A spicy Spanish sausage either eaten raw, or cooked to add wonderful intense flavour to Mediterranean dishes. I often use it, finely sliced, as the basis for a pasta sauce.

The middle sausage is the classic saucisson of France; the 'Rosette de Lyon'. A sausage usually eaten with a selection of charcuterie, with bread (and maybe butter) as an entrée. The one above is good; but no more than average.

Finally, the one on the left is a recent discovery. It goes under the name of St Agaûne 'La Fine', and is a very meaty (non-minced) sausage; almost biltong-like, but less hard and dry. It has a very pronounced almost sweet flavour, and is probably best kept for special occasions. For this one I would definitely recommend unsalted butter with your baguette.

Discovering new charcuterie is one of life's pleasures (unless you're Jewish or Veggie), and something from which one should never be deprived. Bon app'.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

REMINDER!!!


Those of us who make Elderflower Champagne will be doing so in about 4/5 weeks, so NOW is the time to make sure you have enough of the right type of bottles.

The recipe I use (and usually post) is for making 5 litres, so you can see what's required. I only ever use these wired flip-top bottles, as they're the only ones strong enough to cope with the pressure.

So send your children/grandchildren out scavenging, or, if all else fails, force them to drink plenty of lemonade. You'll need about 7/8 bottles similar to the above.

Keep watching!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

g'tong len.


Buddhism is described as a cross between religion and philosophy; personally I like to think of it as pure philosophy.

Above is the Buddhist symbol entitled 'The Eternal (or endless) Knot'. It represents life's never-ending cycle of birth, death, suffering, and rebirth. It is the inter-twining of wisdom and compassion, and the sign of eternal love and friendship.

Within Buddhist philosophy is the concept of g'tong len or Tonglen; giving and takingg'tong len in practice is the taking into oneself the suffering of others. This is often done through meditation by absorbing their suffering on the intake of breath, and converting it into happiness and well-being on exhaling.

The Dalai Lama is reported to practice g'tong len on a daily basis, and has famously said about its effectiveness "Whether this meditation really helps others or not, it gives me peace of mind. Then I can be more effective, and the benefit is immense".

In several of the blogs that I follow, there has recently been much pain and suffering. The writers have been very open about their ills, and their followers extremely concerned for their recovery. In fact the followers have been unknowingly practising the art of g'tong len. 

Some of those who are presently going through difficult times speak of the strength they receive through the well-wishes and concerns of others.

I tend to agree with The Dalai Lama, in as much as I am sceptical about its effectiveness, but I shall continue to practice the art of g'tong len, because, little as it is, it's the only thing I have to offer.




Monday, 2 April 2012

If All Goes Well...



Traditionally we are not safe from frost until mid-May, and we now have to sit back with crossed fingers, hoping that our fruit crops will survive.

Above is our Greengage tree; an over-sweet plum when fully ripe, that also attracts egg-laying insects. Almost every ripe fruit contains a wriggling grub. It makes you wonder why we grow the wretched thing.


This is the Pear tree that bears inedible fruit. Whilst on the tree they are hard and grainy, and when they drop they instantly turn to mush. Even so, it's wonderful when in flower.


And this pink blossom is on one of our better Peach trees. This winter I pruned-back most of our Peach and Nectarine trees to almost nothing. The fruit grows on the previous year's wood, and they had all become rather straggly like the one above; its turn for a trim will come next year, by which time the others should have returned to fruiting. 

Also in flower are the good Pears, Cherries and Plums.... I can't wait!
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