The Gap Year has now become standard, coming of age, practice.
In my day there was really no choice. You either went directly to University, or directly to work; I chose the latter.
These days no self respecting school-leaver would dream of doing either. They're off to India, on to Oz, buy a van, pick some fruit, get arrested, pick more fruit, on to Thailand, phone home for money; and when they realise that 5 years have somehow flitted-by, make one final grasp at freedom by staying in a squat in Paris. Then, and only then, when the Euros have completely run dry (and parents refuse to cough-up any more), will they finally make for home.
All three of my children took time off to travel, and all three returned wiser, more independent, and focused.
Above is Junior Magnon (the last to travel) with his lovely Swedish/Russian girlfriend (now my daughter-in-law), Kellogg, photographing themselves somewhere (in their van) in Oz.
I have only one gripe with the Gap Year ethos; it tends to teach children that the only time to contact parents is when you're BROKE.
I adore David Attenborough, but my love of nature (both above and below the waterline) came long before he arrived on the TV scene.
My introduction to exotic wildlife came from Armand and Michaela Denis (above), their African jungle adventures kept the young Cro totally spellbound for years.
Under water it was Hans and Lotte Hass who introduced us to the strange alien world of aquatic life. Later it was Cousteau and his crew who finally cemented my love of everything sub-aqua.
When I look at the photo above, I see a wonderful couple whose names will be unknown to the majority, but they were pioneers in the field of nature filming. He with his strange guttural Belgian accent, and she with her beauty and elegance; they made it seem perfectly natural to be amongst all those wild animals.
I feel privileged that part of my early education was tutored by these wonderful people, and not by some hand-held toy where you score points for killing imaginary enemies!
The young now know so little of the world around them; bring back Armand and Michaela.
What a lot of fuss is made over Black Face Minstrels, Gollies, Robertson jam figures, or certain Morris dancers; even a UK fundraising Carnival Float recently came under fire after depicting the Jamaican Bobsled Team from the film 'Cool Runnings'. None of these people are being discourteous to people with darker skin, just depicting something different to themselves for a bit of fun.
So I was quite surprised to hear that absolutely no fuss has been made of people who artificially try to LIGHTEN their natural skin colour. WHY NOT, one has to ask? (Think Michael Jackson, et al)
Is is simply because it's OK to complain in one tonal direction, but not in the other?
Above is just one photo from a skin lightening product advert; there were plenty of others. The net is filled will such products, all proudly claiming to whiten skin.
If it's 'racist' to 'black-up', surely it has also to be 'racist' to 'whiten-up'. Personally I think that neither is 'racist', but one can't be seen to be hypocritical. Therefore I wish to complain most vigorously about these racist 'whitening' products. I insist they must be removed from the market.
Does that sound as stupid to you, as it does to me? Good!
We occasionally idly talk of over-wintering in Blighty again some time in the future. When my arms can no longer start the chainsaw, or carry heavy logs, then we might consider the idea more seriously.
In the meantime, I thought I'd better brush-up on my English. It seems to be a very different language to when I last set foot on Albion's green and pleasant.
For example, I must remember to start every sentence with 'I mean', or 'like', and to spread as many extra 'like's' between words as possible.
I must also remember that the verb 'to say' has now officially been replaced by 'to go'; this oddity will take some getting used-to.
Example: Old Fashioned English. "Somebody recently asked me if I'd seen his lost dog, I replied no, but I was sure that I'd seen it earlier in the day'.
Modern English. " I mean, like, he goes 'anyone seen my Pit Bull?'. I goes, 'no, but, I 'erd, like, that it'd bitten some, like, geezer, I mean, like, yeah'.
I think I'm getting there, just a few more months of practicing and, like, I'll be word perfect, innit. (did you notice my cheeky use of that other essential word 'innit'; I'm making progress).
p.s. USA readers should be aware that whereas in the UK they use the additional word 'like', it becomes 'like man' on their side of the pond.
When I was at school, of course we smoked and drank, but it was done in private; in our studies, away from the prying eyes of anyone senior. To have been caught would have meant a whacking.
My study was rarely without a packet of fancy Sobranie cigs, as well as a bottle of very cheap and nasty British Sherry called 'English Rose'. We thought ourselves very sophisticated when we offered visitors a glass of this foul Sherry. Our only saving grace was that it was served in nice pukka Sherry glasses.
I have just come across this hazy (smokey?) photo of boys at my old school openly drinking and smoking at someone's school birthday bash, and I must say that I find it rather disappointing.
Making such activities 'legal' (as I presume it now must be for V1th formers) takes away all the fun and subterfuge of hiding a sherry bottle in an emptied Fire Extinguisher, or burning toast to mask the smell of tobacco (as we did).
Do today's boys no longer learn the art of deceit and circumvention? It's a disgrace.
The one local tradition that I like above all others, is to faire chabrol.
I presume the above photo is 'staged', but it illustrates the practice perfectly.
Lunchtime here is known as La Soupe, because that's normally what is consumed. Most homes will have either a vermicelli or bread-enriched soup for their lunch, and when down to the last few spoons-full, red wine is added and drunk direct from the bowl.
Voila; that is to faire chabrol. The wearing of a beret is optional; I always do!
I've previously mentioned that a relative 'newcomer' neighbour had applied for, and was granted, permission to build a small holiday village right bang in the middle of our tiny hamlet. He wished to install 5 semi-buried converted old shipping containers.
Quite naturally all the surrounding neighbours complained; we were horrified at such an idea. No-one had been consulted, or informed, and the first we knew of the project was when he began digging huge holes in his field.
We consulted a lawyer. Letters were written to the Mayor, and to the planning authorities.
We have now just received their reply (above) which states that everything is in order, and the planning permission stands. But that was hardly the point; they have totally ignored the wishes of the neighbours, or even the devious ways in which matters were handled.
Above is a rough idea of how the neighbours surround the proposed holiday park. Our house is under the toy car (bottom right). Where is says Parc de Loisir Proposé is the area where he intends to install the 5 old shipping containers; these will house a maximum of 20 holiday makers. He also has a Gite which houses another 7.
What was once a haven of architectural beauty, and bucolic tranquility (the reason why we all bought our homes here), is soon to become a noisy holiday camp.
In the above letter it states that the containers must be buried, covered with 'vegetation', and any bits left showing must be disguised with wooden cladding. The whole area must also be surrounded by hedging. In other words the authorities perfectly understand how pig-ugly it will be, and he must do his best to hide them from the rest of us. That's as far as their recommendations go.
No consideration has been given to the fact that our tiny hamlet is composed of very beautiful ancient vernacular stone-built houses. As far as we are all concerned, his project is an eyesore. OK, we may have lost Round 1, but we ain't finished!
Personally I have gone overboard to ensure that all my building work is in harmony with local style, and that materials used are sourced from locals artisans. Then along comes someone who totally ignores such things. It makes me wonder why I bloody bothered.
As usual I mention no names in such circumstances, but I am very tempted to do so. We are all fucking annoyed!
There is a butter shortage in France. Where once was a butter mountain, there is now a butter black hole.
Not a single pack of butter in the shops yesterday!
So, what has happened? Well it seems as if there are two reasons. Firstly, like most of my farming neighbours, none of them can be bothered to produce milk only to make a loss, and secondly it seems as if China has suddenly found a taste for French butter, and the big dairies are cashing-in.
No butter rich croissants at the bakers, Lady Magnon will no longer make crumbles, and even our Christmas cake had been put on hold.
Obviously I blame young Macron, and if things don't change by Monday I shall take matters into my own hands.
I have never understood the desire to go 'Collective Rambling', especially of the type where people carry ski sticks.
Surely a walk in the country should be relaxed, taken at one's own pace, and in reasonable meditational solitude.
This lot above (there were many more behind) passed by our house recently. They all looked miserable as they 'marched' at a military pace, all looking straight ahead as if desperate to reach their destination as quickly as possible. They seemed to take no pleasure from being out in the peace and quiet of the countryside.
I usually go for a couple of walks every day; weather permitting. Bok joins me, and we go where our noses lead us. We take our time, and are as happy to walk 5 kms, as we are to walk 20.
There was a sense of determination about the people above. They were there to take sensible outdoor exercise, and to follow a prescribed route; not to be seen to be enjoying themselves. For them, walking was not for enjoyment, but for achievement. I quite expect they all wore pedometers, stopwatches, and heart monitors. They will no doubt all return to their urban homes to record in their efficient 'log-books' where they went, how far it was, and what rotten bloody sandwiches they ate for lunch. Not one of them will have noticed any fauna or flora, or even what the weather was like.
They might, of course, consider my style of walking as ramshackle and aimless, but that's how I think it should be.
Some things are best decided by the throw of a dice, or the spin of a coin. Personally I prefer my home-made dice.
It can be anything as simple as which route to take for my morning walk, or if I should prepare Pork rather than Chicken for supper. If I can't make my mind up about something; the dice will do it for me.
Last Friday, for example, I was undecided about visiting a particular distant town; between 1 and 3 was 'yes', and between 4 and 6 was 'no'. I threw a 5, so we stayed at home. It was a lovely day, and we took full advantage.
However, yesterday we did go to the town in question, but by determination rather than 'chance'. Each method has its moments.
Both my immediate neighbours are off on their holidays; one lot to London, the others to Marrakech.
I've never bought a Straw Donkey from Spain, nor a foam Stetson from the US, but I have returned home from holidays with some quite interesting stuff.
I once returned from the US with a man in front of me on the 'plane wearing about 10 foam Stetsons piled one on top of the other! What a plonker.
We always used to buy strange, interesting looking, foods. I remember once buying small tins of Thrushes in sauce, which were not terribly nice (or PC), and I also remember my mother getting very excited over the purchase of a big, very decorative, 5 litre can of expensive Greek Olive Oil, which turned out to contain big fat green olives in brine. Her knowledge of Greek was zero; but the tin, and the olives were nice anyway!
These rustic dishes (above) come from the tiny Balearic Island of Formentera. I would have bought more but I didn't trust the baggage handlers. I've now had them for over 40 years, and we still use them daily.
And these Olive wood stacking Egg Cups from the Italian Riviera seemed like a very good idea at the time, but don't get used too often. Even so, they haven't joined all those donkeys and stetsons at the tip, and remain prospectively useful. I wouldn't encourage people to buy tinned Thrushes, but there are plenty of other tinned delights awaiting you.
I've bought Argan and Patchouli Oils in Morocco, strange small 'stamped' metal depictions of ears, noses, and eyes, from Greece, and some wonderful 17th C wood carvings from Palma (which went directly to Sotheby's, and paid for the trip many times over).
Part of the fun of travel is what one brings back.
It's very nice to go trav'ling to Paris London or Rome Bla bla bla But it's so much nicer to come home (with some half-decent souvenirs).
The end-of-year C word seems to have been resurrected recently, so it's time to think of what will accompany our cold Turkey.
There are two main pickles I associate with our winter feasts; onions and red cabbage. As we are now less than 90 days away from the big feasting and fattening season, I have begun the preparations by starting with the pickled onions.
I cannot envisage my Boxing Day slices of cold Turkey without a few pickled onions.
The small onions were peeled (with lachrymose difficulty), put into a light brine for 24 hours, then bottled in spiced wine vinegar with some sugar. I don't bother with weights and measures when it comes to such things; I do it by eye, and memory.
The pickled red cabbage will be prepared about two weeks before the big day, otherwise it loses its freshness colour and crunch.
I'm almost beginning to feel 'festive' (no I'm not).
I've only been to one professional Football match in my life, and that was at Brighton & Hove Albion, back in the 1960's. I can't remember who they played.
The noise was so loud that I had a headache for a week.
On Saturday, Kimbo and Ollie went to watch Spurs playing Bournemouth. I'm not a big Football fan, but I do kinda support both Chelsea and Brighton, because they're the only places I've lived that have decent teams.
Ollie was given the Spurs tickets by his school, and as you can probably see, they were way up in the gods.
The score was Spurs 1 Bournemouth 0. Predictable.
My son-in-law is in the UK at the moment, and no doubt he'll be going to watch Arsenal while he's there. He's a fan-atic! I see that they lost against Watford; so he won't be happy.
My wonderful children (yes they are) continue to surprise me.
Some while back Wills (above) surprised me by speaking fluent, and what sounded like, near perfect German whilst booking an hotel room in Frankfurt. I had no idea that he could speak anything other than just English and French.
Now he has surprised me again by showing a sudden interest in Sailing. Not only is he learning all about how to make boats do what you want them to do, and go where you want them to go, he is also planning world trips in a two masted ketch; which he has yet to buy.
I must say; I thoroughly approve of this new hobby, I just hope he invites me along as crew. Me and Boo Boo could catch and cook the fish.
I also hope he buys himself a yacht with no holes in the hull (seriously!).
On 17th September (not even a month ago) I reported that the nice egg man at our nearby market was now following new EU regulations, and was stamping his eggs with some silly nonsense that told us where they came from, and when they were laid, etc (if we could be bothered to decipher the smudged red writing).
Well, I'm pleased to report that in true French style, the new regulations are already being ignored, and my last Saturday's purchase of eggs (above) were all STAMP FREE!
For a moment I'd imagined the French were becoming lackeys to Brussels' bureaucrats, but my faith has been restored.
Aux armes citoyens, formez vos bataillons. Marchons, marchons. No more red stamping on local free range eggs!
If next Saturday I see him being hauled off to the Guillotine; I'll let you know.
When Lady Magnon bottles her annual supply of Apricot and Strawberry jams, invariably she uses old 'Bonne Maman' pots; I'm sure you know the ones, they have gingham tops (see below).
However, before Bonne Maman cornered the commercial jam market, people used purpose-made jam pots, which were coveted, and used year after year.
In my more esoteric days, I used to buy antique jam pots. I liked the idea of such things having held home-made jams over several generations. I seriously considered the age and aesthetics of such objects could only improve the quality of the contents, and in a way I think I was right.
I used to have quite a lot of them. No doubt they are still around somewhere, but gawd knows where!
Anyway, here are our current Bonne Maman pots.They're not a patch on the old ones which are very chunky and heavy; they had real jam kudos about them.
Suddenly morning temperatures dropped to frost warning levels. I think it was simply a false alarm, and I certainly didn't rush to bring all my Butternuts inside. I'm an optimist.
It isn't light here until around 8 am, so unless I wish to take Bok for his morning walk in the dark, I just have to wait. This is a temporary nuisance, but I expect the clocks will change quite soon.
This view (above) took my breath away yesterday. The low sun was so bright as it flooded along the little path behind the house, that my cheap camera could hardly cope with the brightness.
So, it's cool mornings, clear skies, and warm afternoons. I haven't yet lit an evening fire, but I quite expect Lady Magnon will be complaining before long.
For the moment I'm on top of all my tasks. I'll probably have a Flu' jab at the end of the month. Traps and poison have been laid for Winter-holiday-making rodents, and I have bought extra lots of flour, rice, pasta, and butter in readiness for the Winter siege.
Amongst Lady Magnon's Christmas presents, I usually add a year's subscription to one of her favourite magazines. Typically Elle Deco, Paris Match, or Elle à Table.
Some years back, I noticed in one of her mags an advert for a wine appreciation club called 'Expert Club'. After enlisting they would send you a free gift, then later inform you of their special offers of 'fine wines'; there was no obligation to buy anything. I happily subscribed.
They sent me the above Waiter's Friend as my free gift. I always prefer to use these rather than the standard corkscrews, and this particular one is of extremely good design and quality.
I believe the 'Expert Club' soon went bust (the name was later used by supermarket chain Intermarché), but I still regularly use my free gift. Who ever thought of sending out such 'freebies' by post must have made a very poor financial calculation.
There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but free corkscrews; yes! I can't think of any other free gift I've received that was nearly as good.
Following on from yesterday's page; I doubt if it will happen, but this man keeps being being touted as a future British PM.
Over the recent Summer months Rees-Mogg has gone from obscure backbencher to front page news. Ever since he named his sixth child 'Sixtus', he has been called both a 'toff from a bygone age', and the 'hope for a Greater Britain'; depending on what colour of newspaper you read.
I'm afraid I know very little of our Jacob. He received an upper 2nd in History from Trinity Oxford, he drives a 1936 3.5 T Series Bentley, and he's a supporter of Somerset Cricket Club. He is also anti same-sex marriage, and anti abortion, which doesn't win him many friends. His superior educational credentials would also rule him out from being admired by anyone to the left of centre.
His first foray into politics was in 1997 when he contested the Scottish constituency of Central Fife, where he carried out his canvassing accompanied by his nanny. It was said at the time that Rees-Mogg couldn't understand a single word of the local broad Scottish accents; nor could they understand him. He was not elected!
A future PM? Probably not, but he'd be a lot of fun as a future Mr Speaker!
When I was a wee lad of just 14, you may be surprised to learn that I became a Latin Scholar. Somehow in my school entrance exam I'd managed to score the highest marks in the Latin paper of my entry year; a staggering 90%.
My Prep' School Classics master was amazed, I was amazed, and just about everyone I knew was amazed.
Attached to the kudos of being a Latin Scholar was an annual bursary of 13 guineas which had to be spent on books. It was also part of the deal that I wrote an annual letter to the bursary committee about which books had been chosen, along with a reasonable critique; about 1000 words was enough.
My Latin studies didn't last for too long. My new teacher was tedious, and made the study of Latin a total bore rather than a pleasure. However my bursary continued for my full 4 years at school.
There was never a question in my mind as to what type of books I would purchase; they HAD to be books about Painting or Sculpture, and the best bet for someone like myself (at that time) were the Thames and Hudson 'World of Art' paperback publications that were very popular, and cheap.
It must be said that the illustrations were very poor, but they gave a general idea.
I have no idea how many books I bought over the four years, but the bookshelf in my study became stuffed with them; friends borrowed them at such a rate that I was obliged to use a Lending Library style system to keep track of who had what.
I only have a dozen or so here in France, the others are in boxes back in England. I still look at them occasionally, although with Google now at my fingertips, referring to them has become rare.
I would never get rid of them. They are like old friends!
I must admit that I was not over enthusiastic about having an Olive tree, but now that it's there, I'm determined to process the fruits.
The tree is young, and the crop small, but I have consulted Signor Google (Olé) and he has given me a simple process to follow. This year is just an experiment, but even so I hope he's right.
Each individual Olive was given a whack with a kitchen hammer to break the skins (I'm sure people in Spain or Greece have a simple machine for this) then I put them all into a jar of cold water. This water must be changed every day for a week, and the glass jar thoroughly cleaned at each change. This, apparently takes away all the bitter juices.
The Olives will then be put into in a brine, consisting of water, salt and vinegar, and stored away somewhere cool.
I will let you know later how things went. Signor Google says it's all very easy; we'll see!
About two months ago I awoke with a nasty pain in my upper right arm, up by my shoulder.
I imagine that I must have pulled or torn a muscle during the night, so I rested said arm for about three weeks, hoping it would heal.
Then our wood arrived, and I helped unload it without any problem; the arm seemed to have healed quite well, although I was still in some pain.
Rather stupidly, after my neighbours had left, I covered the wood with a tarpaulin, and moved a huge lump of tree trunk to hold it down at one end. As I was shifting the lump of wood I suddenly felt the most horrible tearing in my upper arm, and realised at once that I'd just undone the three weeks of healing. I was rightly furious with myself!
At this time of year there's so much that needs to be done. We still need to mow, there are logs to be sawn, the pool needed to be thoroughly cleaned and closed-down, and Haddock's needs to be weeded dug-over and tidied. Everything seems to require the use of strong arms. I felt totally buggered, and seriously wondered if the damage would be permanent; I could hardly lift my arm.
More than a month has now passed, and I have recently managed to start the mower without further damage, and I have also managed to start the chainsaw. I still have considerable pain in my upper arm, but I'm taking things gently, and am hoping that the pain will go in time. I still feel as if someone has given me a really hard punch on my arm.
I've been feeling quite depressed about this simple injury; not being able to complete all those Autumn/Winter tasks would have been disastrous. We rely 99% on sawn logs for our heating, etc.
I'm now feeling more confident, but I'm certainly not being complacent. It's permanently at the back of my mind that the same could easily happen again, and I'm praying that I can get through winter without that happening.
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 (except the obdurate and dictatorial) 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), 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!