After fooling around in London's financial district, and before selling antiques in Chelsea, I in-filled by working as the manager of an Art Gallery in Marylebone's Devonshire Street. 'The Fine Art Gallery' dealt mostly in Early English Watercolours, and Early Topographical and Sporting prints.
Next door to the gallery was a bistro-style restaurant called Odin's. Odin's was owned by the infamous London restaurateur, Peter Langan (above).
Two or three times a week, my boss Miklos (Nicholas) Vilag, would treat me to a bowl of lunchtime 'French Onion Soup' at Odin's, where our neighbour, Signor Langan himself, had become quite a good friend.
This was in the days when he was still behaving himself (at lunchtimes anyway). Later when he opened his Mayfair flagship eaterie, Langan's Brasserie, he became an insufferable drunk; yet mesmerizingly popular.
In his daily drunken rampages he probably insulted more crowned heads of Europe, film stars, and just plain multi-millionaires, than he drank bottles of Champagne before bedtime.
Poor old Peter; he was burnt to death, in 1988, after 'a serious late night argument' with his wife. He may even have started the fire himself.
People come and go, and Langan certainly left an indelible mark. He could simply have been remembered for the superb cuisine and ambiance at his Stratton Street Brasserie, but in fact he's mostly remembered for his appalling drunken tirades against such notable clients as Princess Margaret.
Notoriety is achieved in bizarre ways.
N.B. Peter's French Onion Soup (at Odin's) was possibly the best in the whole damn world.
We needed a new phone. All we wanted was to replace our present one so that it could cope with those anonymous machines in Mumbai that ask you to press (select) buttons one, two, or three. Our present phone refuses to do that.
So, rather than listen to logic, Lady M selected something that she thought looked OK, was not too expensive, and came in a nice small neat orange box.
I can't even describe how depressed I was when I opened the bloody box. Bits everywhere, loads of wires that our previous phone didn't seem to need, and an instruction leaflet written in some ancient version of Sanskrit.
The handsets themselves have so many bloody buttons, widgets, and screen instructions, that it'll be months before I'll learn how to actually use it. On top of which there are different buttons for slow wash, defrost, PrtSc SysRq, and 'I'm deaf can you effing speak up'.
Why can't we have phones that are just bloody phones?
Pick up handset, dial, check you have the right person, have meaningless conversation, put down handset; that's all I friggin want.
I shall now go and see if I can put all those wretched bits together, find 2 spare electrical sockets, and one more phone socket. Some bloody hope!
Remember when we used to walk about in shorts and T shirts? When the heat of the mid-day sun made us retreat to shady spots beneath the trees? When Peaches, Tomatoes, and Figs were there for the picking? When the sound of splashing and laughter in the pool was music to our ears? When butterflies landed on our arms, and wasps in the butter? And when the trees still had leaves?
Well it's only a few months away..... we just have to survive this bloody awful winter rubbish that's being thrown at us.
Our fields are squelchy wet, it's bloody cold, and the wretched tarpaulin covering the wood pile has sprung a leak.
So, for the moment we'll just have to rely on photos, memories, and our aspirations.
This pork terrine is based on my recent Christmas Turkey stuffing. It was very good with the Turkey, so why not on its own?
It's part sage-n-onion, mostly coarse ground Pork, a handful of chopped Chestnuts, and a central core of mi-cuit Prunes (plus S & P, herbs, and some Port). The whole caboodle is wrapped in smoked bacon.
With 'George' (our wood-fired cooker) having been permanently on the go in recent days, we've been taking advantage to cook pies, bread, and such as the above.
However, the weather has now improved so we may not light up again for a few days; my next experiment will be a Bacon Soda Bread...... Stay tuned!
Most farmers would agree that a good layer of snow, and a few days of hard frost, is good for the land in general.
I think this picture, above, epitomises our winter. Before Christmas we had several days of frost, but since then it's been a mix of cool, sunny, occasionally drizzly, days, with wonderful sunrises and few causes for complaint.
Unfortunately mild winters can also cause problems for us country folk; one in particular, over here, being a sudden outbreak of Processionary Caterpillar nests in the pine trees. That white fluffy thing, below, is an instantly recognisable nest.
For those who don't know, these caterpillars are poisonous, and dogs are particularly at risk. Our own Monty encountered one (he probably tried to eat it) when he was less than a year old, and is now lacking about a quarter of his tongue.
Watch out for long lines of caterpillars crossing roads or paths, and DO NOT TOUCH. Even their tiny hairs can cause respiratory problems in humans, and in strong winds these can be almost anywhere.
We need a spell of -15 C or colder to kill-off these nasty, and little-known, pests; otherwise they'll be coming down from the trees towards the end of March, so be warned! It's not often I wish for cold weather, but a couple of nights of -20 C would be very welcome; not that it'll happen.
TV's current obsession with all things 'baking' has made me realise, more than ever, how much I enjoy the simple act of making my own bread. And as our wood-fired oven is on the go at the moment, I decided to indulge myself yesterday morning.
I make two types of bread; the child's play Soda Bread, and the not so child's play Yeast Bread (I have yet to attempt Sour-dough Bread). With the latter I've always previously used fresh Yeast, but today I used the more convenient dried version.
I followed the instructions on the pack (500 gms flour, 2 packs yeast, large teaspoon salt, 300 gms warm water, and a splash of olive oil). Then I remembered why I enjoy making Soda Bread so much; none of that bloody kneading business!
Anyway, all went well, and here she is; a nice crusty loaf that smells divine. And just in time for lunch.
Just for info; I used half wholemeal and half ordinary flour.
This rug appeared on my page a couple of days ago, so I thought I'd tell you of its history.
My late father-in-law's first diplomatic posting was to the British Embassy in Ankara. He had already been working in Turkey (as a dealer in fine carpets), so knew the language and most of the people of importance.
Many years later, after he'd retired, he used to return to Ankara and Istanbul as often as possible; driving around Turkey itself, and on down into Syria and Lebanon.
On one such trip, in about 1970-ish, he was driving through mountainous country in the heartland of Syria when he came across a tiny shepherd's cottage with the above rug hanging outside. He spoke to the lady and offered to buy her lovely handiwork; the price was just £5. She explained that she made just two each year and (provided that she sold them) the money was HERS to spend as she wished (whoopie).
Nowadays no-one in their right mind would make that trip. If one lot of loonies didn't get you, the other lot would.
I often look at that rug, and think of the horrors that are taking place on a daily basis in that once peaceful land; and with the recent publication of the photographs of all those poor dead tortured opposition fighters, the horror just becomes intensified.
Today I am even more disturbed to hear that Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon are to join with Hassad's men, and no doubt some of the Palestinian Hamas nut-cases will be along later to join them. The ISIL fighters, from Fallujah in Iraq, have already fallen-out with Al Qaeda, and in-fighting between all the various terrorist groups is rampant.
The west now seems to be happily supporting Al Qaeda, who are killing ISIL's Sunni fighters. Hezbollah have temporarily halted their terrorist activities against Israel, to concentrate on killing both Al Qaeda's and ISIL's men. And frankly the whole thing is not only a complete bloody mess, but also very difficult to keep on top of who's fighting who; and why!
It's a Muslim v Muslim nightmare. Thank goodness my father-in-law bought that rug when he did; one wonders if there'll be anyone left to make any more!
I wonder how many people remember this bunch, above?
One of the treats of visiting London in the 1950's was to catch sight of The Happy Wanderers.
In the daytime they would perform in Oxford Street, and Regent's Street; then in the evenings they would entertain Theatre-goers around Shaftesbury Avenue. I imagine they were all ex-servicemen.
Vagrancy laws, at the time, meant that buskers had to keep moving (or be arrested), so one would always see them, just like above, marching in line along the pavement or on the road. How anyone ever managed to given them any money I don't know; I certainly don't remember them holding out a hat.
Their brand of simple street jazz was invigorating to the young Cro, who was probably either being dragged around the 'sales', or visiting Harrods for wretched school uniform fittings.
They disbanded around 1960, and were much missed; they had become a part of the very fabric of London life.
It must have been 35 years ago that I was given instructions to 'paint the walls', whilst Lady Magnon was away gallivanting in Blighty (if that ain't asking for trouble, I dunno what is!).
I had seen a photo in a 'homes' magazine of a nearby 16th C chateau that had similar roughly painted walls, and the idea really appealed to me. I thought it would be a pleasant surprise for Lady M (ahem).
At the same time, I also added a few other bits and pieces; some of which have since been removed, probably whilst I was out dog walking.
When she fallaciously accuses me of being in one of my 'Evelyn Waugh moods', invariably another section disappears.
It won't be long before my entire oeuvre is wiped clean, and she will once again be able to invite guests without the shame and embarrassment of 'Cro's walls'.
It seems that any animals can become attached to humans.
I was recently listening to a couple of Australian guys, on the radio, who (rather stupidly) bought a Lion cub from Harrods pet department and kept it in their Chelsea furniture shop. When the Lion became too big to handle it was shipped to Africa where, after acclimatising, it was released into its more natural home environment. When the two guys went back several years later, the Lion rushed up to them and demonstrated obvious pleasure at meeting up with them again, which I believed was filmed and has become something of a classic.
Dogs, of course, are well known for their loyalty and devotion to humans; Bok being a case in point. But I've not previously experienced a hen with such an attachment.
One of the Richards has started to follow me around. Whenever she sees me she runs up and almost dances on my shoes. She also comes to the house; presumably wanting to be allowed in (above she is outside our sitting room door).
I can't say that I feel any 'emotional' connection to dear Richard, but I do like that she thinks of me as a good friend.
Her side-kick, Asthmatic Richard, shows no such affection.
French (and most other) civil servants are wonderful people; their time is generally spent making life as difficult as possible for the hard working section of society.
Above all, they just LOVE to change things.
When I first moved to France in 1972, the area where I settled was known as 'Southern Périgord'; that suited me fine.
Not long after, it changed to 'Périgord Noir' (after the truffles), and I thought that sounded OK too.
Then it became 'Périgord Pourpre', but I had no idea why, and didn't care for it too much.
Now, in their infinite wisdom, they have changed it yet again to 'Vallée Dordogne' (bottom right in picture). Yesterday I received this newly revised map, which frankly leaves me dumbstruck.
So, if anyone now asks me where I live in France, I shall return to the name I originally used, and reply 'In Southern Périgord'; because that describes the area perfectly; only why the civil servants themselves haven't yet noticed that, I'm not sure!
We have 3 individual hunting clubs in my village; The Chestnut Lads, The Mushroom Lads, and the St Hubert Lads. The belated good wishes above, have just arrived by post, and come from the 'Chestnuts'.
For those who might not read French, I shall translate.... Other than sending their best wishes for my good health and happiness, they also thank me for having attended their banquets, and hope that I was satisfied with the standard of their delicious fare.
They also hope to welcome me to further such revelries, and will keep me informed of dates.
Isn't that nice of them! I wonder how many hunting groups outside of France do this; not many I imagine.
Hunting is an essential part of country life. It is not done just for sport, it reduces damage to crops, and (something that is often misunderstood by 'townies') it actually helps preserve the very species that are being hunted; mostly Roe Deer and Wild Boar. Nothing is over-culled, and a good quantity of healthy breeding wildlife is always conserved.
In my village, most of the bag is preserved (probably by freezing), then served to the villagers (at a minimal cost) over whose land the shooting was conducted.
By chance I recently listened to the original 1997 recording of 'Spoonface Steinberg' on the BBC's Radio 4 Extra.
It is unashamedly sentimental, but filled with poignant observation, and beautifully written. The monologue's reader was 11 year old Becky Simpson, who did a staggeringly good job and, I believe, received well-merited awards. The story itself concerns a young Jewish girl and her fight against cancer. The writer, Lee Hall, later went on to write Billy Elliot, amongst other things.
If all this means nothing to you (as it did to me) then may I recommend trying to find the original recording somewhere. There are plenty of 'cover versions' on YouTube, but I'm sure the only one really worth listening to is the original 1997 version with Becky Simpson.
When I was looking up details about the original broadcast, I found a comment that said 'Lorry drivers everywhere were pulling-up into lay-byes, so they could hear the full play'. Somehow this didn't surprise me.
It's quite something; and if you can find it, it's well worth an hour of anyone's time!
I had intended to write about two of the most useless chickens in the history of chickenworld.
Richard and Richard hadn't laid an egg for about 3 months, and frankly my patience was wearing extremely thin.
They seemed to think that they were simply family pets, and that I kept and fed them just to look beautiful (which they certainly aren't). But, in fact, they have just one role in life (as do most hens), and that is to keep the fridge stocked with a reasonable amount of fresh eggs.
Bloody things; I didn't have the heart to threaten them, and as a last resort I tried them out with a couple of plastic eggs in their laying boxes, and if that didn't do the trick.........
But occasionally miracles do happen. The plastic eggs, some nice fresh comfy straw, and a thick carpet of sawdust, and voila; the very next morning they laid an egg. And here it is.
It even looks like a double-yolker; they've been reprieved.
Since the one above, they've laid more, but they'd better keep the production flowing. The guillotine had been winched into position, but for the moment it's been tied-off.
And the moral of this tale: chickens need to be pampered!
There is an annual New Year tradition in France of 'torching' cars.
This year 1,067 cars were set alight in this bizarre celebration. A method of welcoming-in the New Year, that would never have crossed my mind..
Even more bizarre, perhaps, is the anticipation by the French population of each New Year's burnings tally. Almost like awaiting a national election result, the revelation of the number of annual 'torchings' is of nation-wide fascination, and the figures eagerly awaited (on Jan 2nd).
The tradition is, as one might expect, mostly practised in the poorer, immigrant-and-unemployment-heavy, areas of bigger city outskirts, and is done as a mixture of police provocation, anger, and frustration. However, the 'law-abiding' section of French society simply sees it as 'biting the hand that feeds them'.
Personally I couldn't care less what they do (although I do find it rather puerile), as long as they target their own bloody cars, and don't come looking for mine!
This man, above, was one of my heroes when I was a young whipper-snapper. His name is Arthur Wills.
Back in the dark ages he foolishly tried to improve the singing voices of us dysmelodiac schoolboys. He also played the organ in the cathedral.
Occasionally I would creep-up into the organ loft, peer over his shoulder, and (if required) turn music for him. He was a big man who made a very big sound; to listen to and watch him play was always a fabulous experience, especially at his side.
Dr Wills (as he was known) used to wear one of those huge billowing gowns, that, when catching the hint of a breeze, would appear like a giant black spinnaker spread out behind him. That, his heavy black spectacles, and his long bushy white hair, gave him the look of a man that instantly commanded respect.
A prolific composer, he was awarded the OBE in 1990.
He's still around somewhere, and I would like to send him my kindest regards.
I have a strange relationship with carrots. I only like them in 3 distinct ways.
I like them in a beef/red wine stew (e.g. boeuf bourguignon), in spicy Moroccan style chicken tagines (the above were eaten thus last night), and grated with lemon juice. Other than that I'm not really too keen.
Seeing as we have quite a healthy crop still sitting in the ground up at Haddock's, I suppose I ought to find some new recipes. The horses actually eat more than we do.
No doubt my reluctance is because I don't really eat anything that is SWEET.
Drawing by Lady Magnon (it just would be, wouldn't it!) .
Living out in the country means that we don't have litter strewn streets, or queues of double decker buses, or daily muggings. What we do have, however, are plenty of wayward animals.
Tom over at A hippo-on-the-lawn recently posted a photo of himself wearing nature's finest (whilst hanging out his washing), and it reminded me of this occasion.
It is not unusual, as we have no fences, to hear the clattering of hooves on our terrace during the night. These might belong to either cows or horses.
On this particular occasion there seemed to be a whole herd of cows fooling around outside our large kitchen plate-glass window (I suspect they could see their own reflections, and were fascinated). So in the dim moonlight I went down, grabbed my wellies, and scared them off.
Lady M wisely decided to record the scene; so here it is for your (and my) amusement.... or not.
Now that we all usually buy our mustard ready-made, I suspect that it is mostly put onto the table in it's original shop-bought container. But in times when we all mixed our own from powder, we used proper mustard pots.
Of the several mustard pots in my possession, these three are probably my favourites. A small Victorian glass-lined silver pot, an antique moulded glass pot, and a plain white porcelain pot.
I certainly wouldn't use the silver one; it's tiresome to clean, and it's far too small. I tend not to use the white one because people don't know what's inside. Of the three, the glass one is by far my favourite; it's big enough to hold enough mustard for several people, one can see at once what is inside, and the pot itself is easily cleaned.
When I was small, it was always my job at Sunday lunchtimes to make whatever sauce was required. Mint sauce if we were eating lamb, and mustard if we were eating beef. I was never told to do it, I simply sniffed the air and got on with the job, it was my weekly 'culinary responsibility' and I loved the whole process.
I do remember that the family mustard pot at the time was made of glass. I've tried, on several occasions, to remember exactly how it was, but can recall nothing of it whatsoever.... Shame on me.
Muslims hate Muslims, Christians hate Christians, Muslims hate Christians, Christians hate Muslims, workers hate their bosses, the poor hate the rich, Africans all hate each other, the left hates the right, and we all hate Kim Jong-un.
I'm not big on hatred, but I have signed-up to one Hatred Club (other than the final one, above). I really do HATE people who are cruel to animals; even in a minor way.
The man who beats his donkey, the owners of dogs that are permanently chained-up, the idiots who make bears dance on their hind legs. Frankly I'd have them all locked-up.
As a race, we do terrible things to the creatures that share this planet of ours. A nation's kindness to animals has always been an indicator of its state of civilization. Unfortunately there are an awful lot of countries that revel in being un-civilized.
France has a lot to learn about animal welfare. Just recently we saw a beautiful young Border Collie puppy locked inside a tiny wired enclosure; he will no doubt spend his entire life there. Many years ago the same family caught, and caged, a Red Squirrel, and I'm pleased to say that, without our knowing, my children went there one night and let it free.
Of course all of this fades into insignificance in comparison to the practice of breeding, and preparing, dogs for food, as is the case in China, Vietnam, Thailand, and Korea (see here if you have the stomach; BE WARNED). Occasionally I find it difficult to believe that human beings can be so totally depraved when it comes to animal treatment.
Some nations seem to be congenitally cruel, both to themselves and their animals. I don't suppose there's all that much that we can do about it, other that waiting for them to see the depraved errors of their ways.
Sometimes one feels completely, and depressingly, powerless.
I've recently had some dealings with our Notaire, which involved finding some old documents (they're very keen on old documents in France). Whilst delving into dust covered strong-boxes, I came across these.
Above is my first-born son; the lovely Kimbo. Other than now being about 6ft 6ins, he really hasn't changed a bit (like hell he hasn't).
And this is his mother (she who became Lady Magnon) at roughly the same age. She hasn't changed a bit either (although she no longer plays with dolls).
I've written previously about my penchant for old white 'peasant style' French pottery, and I suppose that these breakfast bowls are typical of the genre.
Rather than for cornflakes or sugar puffs, they were (and still are) used for drinking morning coffee or hot chocolate, into which they would also have 'dunked' buttered baguettes or a croissant.
Much of my collection of this beautiful simple pottery is made by 'Gien', a company that still exists east of Orléans, in the Loire valley. Many of these earlier 'Gien' objects possess a purity that one could almost ascribe to the 'Shaker' designs of Ann Lee.
I quite imagine that these basic utilitarian objects were bought at village markets. They are often 'seconds', and were probably hawked around the country to sell at knock-down prices to the poorest of peasant farmers.
Nowadays, I'm pleased to say, they make-up part of Cro's motley collection. The original owners would probably have been much amused.
At the first semblance of light (at the moment 8.15am) I take the dogs for a walk.
Having got up at about 5.30am, this gives me roughly 2½ hrs of laptop time to vist blog-world, answer all my Emails, and read a couple of on-line newspapers.
Any farmers who still have milking herds are usually up at this time, but otherwise the countryside is totally quiet, and everything is mine alone.
If it's been frosty (which is hasn't for a while), there is just the sound of crunching leaves. If it's rained overnight (which is has for a while) the paths are dotted with waterlogged pot-holes, so I need to zig-zag around them, trying to keep the boys from taking an unwanted bath.
One good thing about our rain, is that it seems to stop with the advent of daylight. Am I just extremely lucky in this, or is it the same everywhere?
I suppose the most notable death of 2013 (and still fresh in our minds), must be that of the Lawyer/Terrorist/Politician, Nelson Mandela; a man who changed history, even if some of his methods are best not over-analysed.
Another great politician who died last year was, of course, Margaret Thatcher. She will be remembered as the Prime Minister who almost single-handedly saved the UK from financial ruin.
In the wider world of The Arts we lost Sculptor Anthony Caro, Composer John Tavener, Poet Seamus Heaney, TV man David Frost, Writer Doris Lessing, and Actors Peter O'Toole and the rootin' tootin' cowboy Dale Robertson.
Not all notable deaths are of people known for their good deeds. Two perfect examples are those of Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs, and the inventor of the AK 47 Mikhail Kalashnikov.
One 'almost' overlooked departure of 2013, was that of singer Noel Harrison; who could ever forget his rendition of 'The Windmills of your Mind'.
All deaths are important, and I'm sure I've omitted to mention many other notables, but these were the few that I noted in my diary. RIP to all.
Total Eclipse of the Blog
Hello, dear readers! Are you in the path of the eclipse? Did you buy the
special glasses? I am sort of in the path and bought glasses . . . however
1 year ago
The difference between an optimist and a pessimist, is that the optimist enjoys himself whilst waiting for the inevitable! I AM that optimist!
This is a daily, optimistic, 'photos and comments' blog. I make no judgements (only occasionally), just notes. If you wish to comment in any way at all, please feel free. Everything and everyone is very welcome.
I was born just south of London, but for the past 46 years I've lived in S W France. I am a painter by profession, and writer by desire. Lady Magnon and I live in an ancient cottage, in a tiny village, in perfectly tranquil countryside. We have a vegetable garden called 'Haddock's' (this may crop up from time to time), a Border Collie/Black Lab' cross called Bok, a cat called Freddie, plenty of fruit trees, and a view that takes the breath away. I try to treat our planet with respect, and encourage others to do likewise (without preaching).
Contentment is a glass of red, a plate of charcuterie, and a slice of good country bread. Perfect!