Thursday, 30 April 2015

Stuff arrives.

Two bits of kit arrived at the barn yesterday morning. This huge water tank above, and the wood fired cooker/boiler below. I'm pleased to say that the cooker is in PERFECT condition; as is the tank.

The water tank will be connected to three different heat sources; solar, electric, and wood, and should prove to be as 'eco' as we are convinced will work. I'm not at all convinced by many so-called 'eco' products; wind turbines being a good example.

The wood-fired cooker looks like a very serious piece of kit, and is much more hi-tech than it outwardly appears. We have a friend with a very similar stove, and it responds almost at once to opening or closing the flues. Our own dear 'George' (as much as we love him) is far less responsive, and takes a good half an hour to change temperature (if at all).

Not sure, but I think the stove's chimney and the solar panels will arrive today; if so they'll be up on the roof, I hope it stays dry.  We're getting there, petit à petit

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

My cans-n-dry-goods larder.

Top shelf. Confit, confit, confit, paté, paté, paté.

Second shelf. Beans, lentils, more paté, anchovies, and even a can of ready made 'cassoulet'.

Third shelf. More confit, more paté, milk, preserved lemons, and harissa.

Fourth shelf. Dry lentils, risotto rice, american rice, basmati rice, and vermicelli.

I hadn't really looked too closely at my larder recently. There are one or two things there that I'm not particularly proud of; the tin of 'cassoulet' for example; in fact when accompanied by extra charcuterie etc it's quite nice. Emergency food.

There are quite a few cans of 'baked beans', the French ones are very good; more natural tasting than Heinz 57.

On the second shelf you might even notice a tiny Tesco's Christmas pudding. Lovely jubbly.

We'll survive!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Bloody weather.

Of course, they're not always right, but when I saw this I despaired. Have you ever seen a more ghastly forecast!

The idea of day upon day of rain, which is quite common at this time of year, is depressing; mostly because I can just picture all the grass growing, and not being able to do anything about it. If there's one thing I really don't like, it's my various patches of grass becoming overgrown and scruffy.

Otherwise the temperatures are OK; 13/14 C in the early mornings, and 20/24 C in the afternoons.

I may not be able to type for the next few days; my fingers will be permanently crossed, hoping that this doesn't actually happen.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Being positive.

I made a short list recently (I do like lists) of how I could improve my life. Not that I'm a negative person, but I do need to remind myself occasionally.

1. Appreciate everything/everyone more than I already do.

2. Be kinder about people of loony political persuasions.

3. Become two-sevenths vegetarian.

4. Only complain inwardly about my aches and pains.

5. Accept more readily that others can occasionally be right.

6. Admit that 'Rap' is actually an acceptable form of music.

7. Never make regional, national, or religious generalisations.

8. Look forwards, rather than into the past.

9. Work harder.

10. Be more tolerant of idiots, fools, and numskulls.

12. Accept that wearing sandals with calf-length socks is OK when abroad.

13. Look upon 'celebs' as normal people.

14. Resist the desire to slap certain people (celebs).

15. Accept that it's OK for people to become extremely rich simply by having a huge arse or big tits.

That's it for the moment, or I might find myself becoming socially acceptable; and that would never do!

Sunday, 26 April 2015

A pleasant but unexpected letter.


My dearest Cro.,

It's been such a long time since one last sent you some news.

One expects that you've seen that one's oldest is having another sprog, that wife of his certainly knows how to pop 'em out. His first one has already been trying on my crown; the monkey!

Me and Cammy have been quite busy; Mummy sees to that. We've been opening factories, planting thousands of bloody trees, and giving speeches to every Tom, Dick, and Harry; not my Harry of course, he's on the pull in Oz.

How's Haddock's coming along? One's taken your advice and got the garden team to put in some of those Cavolo Nero thingies this year. One may try flogging it in the shop.

One read your thing about the election Cro; Mummy's not at all happy. She can't stand the thought of that awful Marxist-Milly person coming to the house. As for some of the others she just despairs; that Scots woman is a bloody terrorist, the green woman is just plain bonkers, and Farage wears velvet collars (one of her pet hates). Perhaps she should have them all beheaded (my little joke).

When will you next be in Gloucestershire? There are some things one needs to show you at Highgrove; one's made space for another of your paintings.

Do forward my best wishes to Lady Magnon.

Your very good friend, Charles xx  (ah beantow... my French never was too hot)

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Doppelgänger No 4007¾.


                       Jo Brand; comedienne.


                    John Sargeant; TV political pundit.

On searching for these 2 pictures, I noticed that others have made a similar comparison before me. But what the hell; there's safety in numbers.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Visiting DOGS.

This dog (we think he's a Bernese Mountain Dog) has been turning-up each morning for the past week or so to join Bok and myself on our first early walk of the day.

We know who he belongs to, and after his first full day with us, about a week ago, Lady Magnon put him in the car and returned him to his rightful home about 2 kms away (she's just done the same again).

However, he seems to have no intention of staying there, and now spends almost every day with us.

He is a lovely dog who asks for nothing more than a bit of canine/human contact and kindness; but, I'd rather that he'd stay with his owners. He's probably just bored.


This one (above) is Bok's girlfriend; unfortunately named ISIS. She comes to play with Bok most evenings. She's a real cutie, and belongs to my friend Laurence.

Isis and Bok have both had 'the snip', so no pups are foreseen.

It's one permanent canine merry-go-round here; we never know what or who'll turn-up from one minute to the next. Thank goodness they're all nice dogs.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Fish ignorant (as well).

I'm not good with fish. I like fish, but I'm hopeless at either choosing, buying, and cooking it. The extent of my ability is frying the occasional Salmon steak, or making a fish finger sandwich.

Most French fish fingers tend to be made from one solid fillet of fish, and are really excellent. I fool myself into thinking that they are the closest thing to actual fish; but without the fins.

I couldn't count the amount of times I've made a decision to 'eat more fish'. I look at them amongst all that ice at the fishmongers, then usually end up buying a kilo of sausages.

But, I always have a pack of the above 'fingers' in my freezer. A fish finger sandwich with tomato ketchup remains an occasional lunchtime comfort-fast-food-favourite.

N.B.'Colin' is Hake, and the crumbed exteriors of the above fingers are not quite as orange as suggested on the box, but reasonably bread coloured. 

Fish fingers have a dubious reputation, but they cater for my dire lack of piscatorial knowledge. I can live with that!

I must remember to buy some more when I'm next out; I don't think there's any left.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015


I know nothing about flowers; I don't know their names, I don't know what likes to go where, and I certainly don't know anything about their cultivation. It's all pure hit-n-miss (or looking in a book).

So when something 'goes right', I am justly proud of myself; it's as if a small miracle has happened. 

When I built our 'tower' I knew that I wanted foliage and flowers, I wanted it to be a mass of green with a few dots of colour thrown in, and that's (amazingly) what I've got. It's early days yet, but it will be seriously covered in a few weeks time.

OK, it's swathed in rather junior 'starter' plants; I'm not pretending to be a great horticulturist. I'm just happy that anything has survived at all, and it's all my own bloody work!

But not everything's perfect. This climbing Hydrangea (above) on the North facing wall is behaving in a very strange way. There are leaves at the bottom, and nothing elsewhere. I imagine that the upper part was frosted some while back, and is taking its time to recover.  I don't think it's dead; or maybe it is! We didn't even have any serious frost this winter.

Some you win; some you lose!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

My Favourite Recent News Story.

                                            Discovery: The .44-40 calibre Winchester rifle  was found frozen in time in the heart of the Grand Basin National Park

Some while back Archaeologists found this old Winchester rifle resting against a tree in the Nevada (US) outback.

It'd been sitting there untouched for over 100 years; left to rust and disintegrate where it was abandoned by some person unknown.

I'm not quite sure why this story appeals to me so much, but I found it enthralling. One can but wonder what happened!

Monday, 20 April 2015

Apple growing.

All fruit growers need to be philosophical. It's best never to expect anything other than just a pleasant tree to look at. If it does give you some fruit in Autumn, just be grateful. If you are counting on fruit, you will more than likely be disappointed.

There are some exceptions to this rule. Our Bramley (above) is pretty regular. It would be a strange year to have no crop (as with the Fig and Quince trees that always bear fruit).

This Jonagold (above with Bok) was planted quite recently. It bore some fruit last year, but this year hasn't a single flower on it. I'm not very happy.

In the chicken run is this Reine de Renette which occasionally does well. The hens peck at anything that drops; we have the rest. Nice apple; quite similar to a Cox.

And, meanwhile, this is the state of affairs at Haddock's. Everything doing OK, the Tomatoes are still untouched by frost, but I'm not uncrossing my fingers just yet (I've noticed other local gardeners being equally foolhardy).

We've just had a short spell of overnight rain, so now everything is romping; including the weeds.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

UK General Election Special.


I've been trying hard not to do an 'Election special', but could no longer hold back my enthusiasm.

Not long to go now. The race is on and the knives are out. So, who will you vote for, and how will you decide?

Until we have 'legally binding' party manifestos we will continue to be fed gushings of promissory tripe from all hopefuls (more nurses, more teachers, more child care, more benefits, free sweets, etc); all of which is subsequently forgotten.  If one thing is true in politics, it's that we can no longer base any voting decision on any party's pre-election manifesto. Failure to deliver such promises within a four/five year term of office really ought to be subject to prosecution. Some bloody hope!

No; much better to look at 'track records' before putting your X in any particular box. We must ask ourselves who, after one or two terms in office, regularly leaves the country in a better, or worse, state than when they took over. This obviously rules out voting for Labour, as their record is simply abysmal (amongst myriad other reasons). It also rules out voting for UKip, the Greenies, Lib Dims, and all other also-rans, as they are mostly 'single issue' idealistic parties.; untried, untested, and by the sound of them probably all plain incompetent.

I shan't divulge who I hope will be successful, but here is a highly accurate, totally non-judgemental, and non-partisan, breakdown of the main protagonists and their policies.

Conservative: Lower taxes, some frugality, higher employment, strong economy. Always a safe pair of hands.

Labour: Higher taxes, higher spending, higher debt, and much higher unemployment (can you honestly imagine the financially illiterate Red-Ed, Balls, McCluskey, and Harperson running the UK?.... Matron!). Far too dangerous.

Lib Dims: Gawd only knows (I don't think they have a clue themselves).

UKippers: Beer, anti-Europe, vaguely-hidden racism, and more beer.

Greenies: Bicycles, tree hugging, tofu, rights-4-rabbits, and sandals, all under the 'leadership' of a very odd Australian woman.

All others: Of no importance whatsoever.....All financially juvenile blockheads, with some being more dangerous than others (especially from North of the border).

There; I told you it was non-partisan. When the time comes I do hope that the people of the UK will vote for continued prosperity. If they don't, gawd 'elp us; we could even end up with a Red Ed/McCluskey/Sturgeon coalition, and find ourselves in the 'Gordon Brown Stuff' again!!

p.s. And do remember your Latin....
Left: Sinister (as in sinister). Right: Dexter (as in dexterous). Need one say more?

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Paté en Croute.

I've mentioned this many times, but one of the things I miss most from Blighty is a good Pork Pie. A slice of pie with some pickles (for lunch) is about as good as it gets. 

The French equivalent is this Paté en croute. The exterior pastry is much the same, the jelly is much the same, and I suppose that the chunky pork filling is much the same; and yet, it's a very different beast.

This particular version (above) has an added strip of foie gras, some truffle shavings, and a sprinkling of pistachio nuts; none of which would ever be allowed in an English Melton Mowbray Pie.

This is pie that is eaten by itself; to add mustard or pickled onions would be sacrilege. But that is half the fun of a pukka Pork Pie; a dollop of mustard, an onion or two, and maybe even a chunk of good mature Cheddar on the side.

The above was good (if a bit rich); but give me the simplicity of a Melton Mowbray Pie any day!

Friday, 17 April 2015

Baby Bird Season.

Yesterday this baby bird was sitting on the ground outside my studio door, then when I went outdoors it flew up into our Greengage tree. He/she seemed to have no fear of me, and I was able to return indoors, fetch my camera, and take several reasonably close-up shots.

I'm not sure if you can see (you'll have to enlarge the pix), but the poor thing seems to be blind in one eye. Its left eye was permanently closed, and the right one open.

I suppose these things happen in nature just as they do with humans.

The beautiful little bird is a Stonechat; quite a rarity hereabouts. 

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Bacon goo..


Lady Magnon is a generous soul, when she returns from Blighty she invariably brings me a present or two. Amongst this Easter's offerings (she's been grandson sitting again) were some Hot X Buns, Sumac Powder, a Melton Mowbray Pork Pie, and the above pack of unsmoked Back Bacon.

I'm a big fan of Bacon, and I use it in all sorts of different ways; the most common being fried for breakfast. But just look at what happened!

All sorts of white goo came spilling out; gawd only knows what it was. It looked to me like poison (even if the Bacon was delicious). WHAT IS THAT STUFF? I had to scrape it off.

So I would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that making your own (entirely chemical, and white goo free) Bacon is child's play. All you need is a slab of Pork Belly, some sugar, and some coarse salt. Recipes can be found everywhere.

Home made Bacon is a bit hit-n-miss at the first attempt, but you'll soon get the hang of it. The most important thing is not to leave it too long in the dry mix; it can become quite dry and hard to slice. 4 days is probably enough.

You will also find that no white goo emanates from your home-made rashers! If that doesn't tempt you, I dunno what would.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Summer's within sight.

We're already dreaming of Summer.

If the trees weren't still mostly leafless, you'd almost think we were in mid-July. We've had temperatures of 28 C.

It's eating outdoors time again. Lunch under the Quince tree, and dinner in our badly positioned au vent. Pizzas are back on the menu, along with salads, long shadows, and cool drinks. Beers will be appearing again in the fridge.

Oh how I love the warmth of the sunshine, the early morning dawn chorus, and the buzzing of bumble bees amongst the fruit blossom.

I was born in July, so I guess it's in my blood; Summer suits me just fine-n-dandy.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Mrs v Mrs.

                             Résultat de recherche d'images pour "hillary clinton"

The Americans have assuaged their national guilt by having elected a half-white president; and they think it could now be time to elect a woman (the saucy devils!).

The current favourites are Mrs Bush, Mrs Nixon, Oprah Winfrey, Mrs Clinton, or why not combine all the essential PC elements, and have the fragrant Mrs Obama.

Mrs Obama could be the front runner. She's what is known (over the pond) as 'African American', she's a she, and she has two children; the perfect combination for photo opportunities.

Mrs Obama certainly looks more presentable than Mrs Clinton. She has impeccable presidential connections, she wouldn't look like a 'short-arse' in international diplomatic circles, and I hear she can cook a stomping Apple Pie. What more could the USA want?

Monday, 13 April 2015

Life in the country.

                           Résultat de recherche d'images pour "country cottage"

Country life is not all Lambs and Llamas, it's also Tick fever, Foxes, and Feral cats.

Just in the past few days I've witnessed Freddie playing with and terrorising 2 Mice, I've been woken by Bok to find a young Fox looking in through our kitchen window, and I've found one of The Bimbos (a Hen) dead in her pen.

Lady Magnon enjoys watching a TV programme entitled 'Escape to the country' (?), which is about house-hunting townies who want to up-root to the countryside, where they will have the essential country kitchen, wood burning stove, veg' garden, hens, and (every townie's favourite) an Alpaca or two.

Rose tinted glasses are de rigeur with these people; a less likely bunch of mucker-outers you are never likely to find.

In the houses they are shown, nothing is ever right. The kitchen (even though spacious and brand new) is never big enough, there are never enough bedrooms, and the horse loose-boxes are always in the wrong place or the wrong colour. These people have a Beatrix Potter view of the countryside, and nothing less will do.

Invariably the wives do their house viewings in long silk dresses and straw hats, and moan that there isn't a branch of Harrod's in the village. They appear to want 'automatic' countryside, with all the convenience of Sloane Square.

I think townies should remain townies, and country folk should continue to feed them... where they belong!

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Keep Calm.

                                   Résultat de recherche d'images pour "bbq party"

Good god, it's almost mid-April already.

It hardly seems like yesterday afternoon that we were wrapped in red flannel, and hauling tons of hefty logs into the house.

All of a sudden those cold days are behind us. We now eat outdoors at lunch, we are already delving into that drawer marked 'Summer clothes', and constantly falling blossom makes us feel like itinerant wedding guests.

I haven't yet shown my milky-white knees to the Spring sunshine, but I have been out-n-about in a T shirt, and I'm pleased to say that pukka Summer salads once again grace our table. There's no going back.... Spring/Summer seems to be upon us.

But DANGER lurks. How often has the same weather pattern fooled us! We are tricked into thinking that it's safe to open the pool, to drag the BBQ out from its Winter quarters, and rub sun-u-like onto our ivory-coloured bodies.

Year after year Mme Nature laughs at us, and after sending out ample false messages, she then delivers several smacks to the face in the form of weeks of non-stop rain, just to remind us of who's in charge. She ain't started her trickery yet, but I've known it (after a beautiful early April) to rain almost until June.

So, don't get excited too soon.

No, not being pessimistic; just realistic.

Saturday, 11 April 2015


Abandoned houses used to be common here; now much less so. The attractive ones have been sold and restored; the ugly ones left to fall down.

This particular one is on my weekly shopping route, and I've been meaning to stop to take a few photos for years. The house itself is of no interest, and will be left to rot. Meanwhile local children have amused themselves breaking anything breakable.

The only things of interest now are the rotting contents. Cars, bikes, old wooden barrels; all as they were on the day the last inhabitants departed. 

One has to wonder what happened. Did the owner die, with no-one to inherit? Has someone decided to preserve it as a Museum of Mighty Mess? Is it being kept as a Wildlife Park?

It looks as if the owner had very small feet; these were by the front door. Maybe an elderly lady was taken away in her slippers!

All rather sad.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Haddock's rebirth.

It feels so good to be back planting at Haddock's again (apart from my back, of course).

I have sowed two rows of Red Onions, planted several Red Cabbages and Cauliflowers, and been a little foolhardy with my Tomatoes.

Each Tomato plant has a tile leaning against the 'canes'; partly against the heat of the sun, and partly against possible night-time frost. I have also half-buried plastic funnels (old plastic bottles), pointing directly at their roots for watering. If they are eventually hit by frost, I'll simply have to plant again, but it'll be my own silly fault.

The varieties I've planted are Supersteak and Russe, both big fat salad beauties, and Roma, the classic plum-shaped Italian cooking Tomato. I shall plant some more later; cherry Toms, etc.

My annual preservation of Courgettes/Peppers/Aubergines in Tomato sauce is always a bit tricky. Getting everything in the right quantities at the right time is not easy, but I'm hoping by planting my Tomatoes much earlier than is sensible, I might overcome part of the problem (if, of course, they survive). Last year my Courgettes were almost over before the Tomatoes were ripe.

As usual my fingers are crossed.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

It's getting NASTY.

                         Résultat de recherche d'images pour "the camerons with son Ivan"

The UK is in pre-election mode, and everyone is having a swipe at everyone else. It's normal.

But, I have just read an article (blog?) by someone called 'Mama Lewis' that really made my blood boil.

'Mama Lewis', who has a disabled daughter herself, has attacked Prime Minister David Cameron's wife, Samantha, for having granted an interview about the grief she endured on losing her disabled son (above in pushchair).

OK, it's all a bit of fun having a go at a politician for having two kitchens, or two Jags, or having been to a good school, but to attack his wife because she was unfortunate enough to have a disabled child, and then to berate her when she mourns his death, is just about the cruellest jibe that I could ever imagine. I never thought that left-wing party political electioneering could stoop quite that low.

Luckily Samantha Cameron is a highly intelligent woman, and I'm sure she'll treat Ms Lewis's writing with the disdain it deserves.

I know very little about 'Mama Lewis' but she appears to be a Cancer-suffering American who lives in London. She was recently on ITV News demanding that Lambeth Council provide her and her daughter with a better home; no doubt all at the UK's expense. Well you would, wouldn't you!

If (heaven forbid) Ms Lewis's daughter should one day succumb to her disabilities, I doubt very much if any of Mr Cameron's supporters would be unkind to her; it simply isn't the way that Conservatives behave!

My sincere sympathy goes out to everyone who has a disabled child (including Ms Lewis), and especially to those who lose a child at such a young age. The Camerons' son Ivan was born with Cerebral Palsy, and sadly died aged 6. I really don't think this should be a subject for political insults and point-scoring.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

You (I) learn something every day....

                                            Résultat de recherche d'images pour "french dictionary"

My study of Latin has given me a life-long love of etymology; in fact the three dictionaries that are never far from my side are the C T Onions Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, my big fat Collins Latin Dictionary, and the essential Collins Robert Anglo/French Dictionary. If they're not nearby, I panic!

Anyway, I say all that because I recently made a small discovery which amused me.

I was reading a book (in French) when I came across the description of a room which, it claimed, contained a collection of ancient dames-jeannes.

I had no idea what these were, so consulted my Anglo/French dictionary, and was amused by what I found.

Dames-jeannes translates as 'demijohns'; those large round bottomed glass containers, often used in the UK (and elsewhere) for wine/beer making.

On reflection the etymology was obvious, but as I'd never seen the words actually written down before, the translation came as a very pleasant surprise.

So, if I ever hear someone using the word 'demijohn', I shall nonchalantly, and confidently, inform them of the word's origin....  Little things, eh?

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