In various ways I was fortunate to have been born just after the end of WWII. It was an age of austerity, and appreciation; it taught us a lot. Even in families such as my own, who were reasonably affluent, we still grew as many of our own vegetables as we could, had our own hens bantams ducks and geese, and grew plenty of fruit.
We were still in the days of rationing, and I think we appreciated every small luxury that came our way.
We ate steamed puddings, plenty of dumplings in stews, and soups that were heavily enriched with lentils or split peas. Whatever was cheap and available would bulk-up our meals, and keep our stomachs happy.
One of the dishes that I particularly liked was my mother's version of Irish Stew. It was made with the cheapest cuts of Lamb, usually 'scrag end of neck', potatoes, carrots, and plenty of pearl barley. The above photo is not of my own, but exactly the same.
It was the pearl barley that I really liked, and I still use it in Irish Stews today. It's an old-fashioned ingredient, and probably unheard of by millenials. In fact I doubt if many supermarkets even stock it.
p.s. Which reminds me. I was buying ingredients for Lady M's Christmas Cake recently, and on her list was a jar of dark Molasses (Mélasse Noire). I couldn't find it anywhere, so eventually had to ask a 'shelf-stacker' who I found in the area where I would have expected to find it. She shrugged her shoulders, and declared "Never heard of it". I'll have to return to the Bio shop where I bought it before.
We've now had the police's estimated cost of all XR's recent fun-n-games.
Policing the antics of these little darlings who are hell bent on saving the world, cost a staggering £37 Million; enough money to pay the annual salaries of an extra 1,200 policemen. This figure will probably rise as further charges drop through New Scotland Yard's letter box.
The authorities also had to clear-up an estimated 80 tonnes of rubbish left behind by these oh-so-holy, anti-pollution, eco-minded protestors.
Well done chaps. Now back to your comfortable Cotswolds homes, your Land Rovers, and your Hunter wellies; and next time would you please demonstrate in some far-off field (after having asked the owner's permission, of course).
My problem is that I agree with much of their cause.... but I cannot stomach their juvenile methods.
The Oxford Union is not to be confused with The Oxford Students Union. The Oxford Union is essentially a debating club.
Past Presidents have included Hilaire Belloc, Viscount Stansgate, and Boris Johnson; intellectual hierarchy of assorted political colours.
The Union is also known for the worst type of Snowflake PC behaviour, the latest example of which has been to ban clapping; yes, CLAPPING.
Various silly reasons have been given for the ban, and this timeless expression of approval is now to be replaced by something called 'Jazz Hands'; which I understand to be 'the waving of both hands at shoulder level'. A practice probably learned from The Black and White Minstrel Show.
Somehow I cannot see people changing their lifetime habits, and even the most snowflakey Oxford Union members may well find themselves reverting to the evil practice of clapping from time to time; by mistake.
One really has to wonder what members might have made of the ban, had it emanated from The White House, and Mr Trump.
In times past, at this season, all red-blooded Frenchmen who owned a shotgun would have been found atop tall trees, in their Palombieres (above), awaiting the passage of these Wood Pigeons.
This annual practice now seems to have all but ended.
Yesterday morning I witnessed a sight that would have made many a French chasseur weep. On my early morning dog walk, I witnessed tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of Palombes passing overhead on their way towards the South West. Some were in huge groups of thousands, others were simply dozens; all were heading in the same direction, at the same speed, and at the same height. It was a scene the size of which I'd never before witnessed; the passage lasted for about an hour. Hunters would have been in heaven.
Most of them passed directly overhead, and I was quite expecting to be splattered with excrement; luckily none came my way.
We always see a certain amount of birds in groups flying off for winter, but I've never seen as many as yesterday. It was quite spectacular.
I did hear a few very distant shots. Some of my chasseur friends used to speak of shooting hundreds every day. I believe they were preserved by being put into the freezer whole, including their feathers. Later they would only eat the breasts, which I considered rather a waste.
I've always rather enjoyed eating Pigeon; Lady M doesn't.
It's worth looking closely at the photo above. This tiny kitchen is as basic as one could imagine, there is paint peeling from the walls, and the 'furniture' has been cobbled together in a rather haphazard fashion; including a rather spectacular French antique walnut armoire. Mr and Mrs Ikea would have a bloody fit.
The lady on the left, holding a glass of red wine (the owner of the kitchen), is of course Elizabeth David; one of the most influential post war cookery writers. The kitchen was in her Chelsea house.
I have quite a large collection of cookery books; mostly of the type that one can read in the way one might read a good novel. My mother had only a very few. Her favourite (most often consulted) was a book that came with her new gas cooker in about 1950. It became her cookery bible.
The Radiation New World Cookery Book was issued by 'New World' cookers, and was designed for use with their 'Regulo Gas Cookers'. It was first published in 1927, but my mother had a much later edition. It's a wonderfully old fashioned ENGLISH cookery book, containing all sorts of recipes for dishes that are now rarely eaten.
Her other favourites which she bought more out of interest than practicality were Elizabeth David's 'Mediterranean Food' and 'French Country Cooking'; both books that changed the whole concept of eating in dull post-war Britain.
I can't say that my mother used David's recipes that much, but she certainly adopted some of the attitude; and we always ate very well. When abroad she would search out certain ingredients that David had mentioned in her books. I remember well her returning from Greece with a large (5 litre) wonderfully decorated can of very large green Olives in brine. I think her purchase was a result of reading David's description of Olives as being "As old as the taste of water itself". Olives were still hard to find in the UK.
After we were married, my mother gave Lady M a copy of the Radiation Cookery Book, and wrote a small dedication upside-down on the back page; she'd opened the book the wrong way round. Lady M still uses the book; mostly for cake making. It's not a book I'd really recommend.
Par contre, I'd recommend every single book written by Ms David; especially her wonderful non-recipe book 'An Omelette and a glass of wine'.
It's Parasol season throughout northern Europe; at least I know it is both here and in Norfolk.
I prefer mine in their young state, before they're properly open (above); when the Italians refer to them as Mazza di Tamburo (drumsticks).
Don't bother with the stems, split the caps into 2 or 3 pieces, and fry in Olive oil until lightly browned. Salt very sparingly, and don't add garlic.... they require no extra flavouring.
Don't waste the opportunity; they are one of the best mushrooms available. If you see some, don't kick at them or whack them with your walking stick, pick them and eat them. They're free, and seriously delicious; what more could you ask!
I can see jealousy ahead. Marley has a rival; the beautiful 'Ami or Amie'.
She's the new gal on the block, and has struck-up a really good relationship with Billy. Other than his own mother (who he probably doesn't remember) this is the first female dog with whom he's made friends.
She comes into the house, wanders around a bit, then plays with Billy outside for a while before returning the couple of hundred metres or so to her own new home (the Gypsy caravan).
She's a big, dark, heavy, impressive, dog, with a beautiful nature; and like Marley has made herself very much at home here. I like that about dogs, they are trusting and kind natured. The children like her too.
The majority of our friendliest local dogs have been German Shepherds. Many years ago one named Rocko would turn-up in the morning, spend the whole day with us, then return to his home (next door) in the late afternoon. His owners never said a word. Above are some of my then 10 year old son Kimbo's drawing of him.
I didn't know either of my grandmothers, so I can't speak from experience, but I have recently been 'observing' one, and I suspect that grandmothers are of paramount importance to most families.
It is said that the last people to remember you are your grandchildren, so it's best to be nice to them.
A grandparent, especially a grandmother, is usually a person you run to in times of need or comfort. Sitting in her kitchen as she bakes a chocolate cake is a memory that will last forever, and of course HER chocolate cake is always the best in the world.
She reads to you, plays cards, and teaches you how to write 'cat' and 'mat'; and how to draw a mouse.
A grandmother is someone you can talk to, someone who will listen to all your woes. When you've been scolded by your own mother, you tell your grandmother how misjudged you've been; and she will always agree.
A grandmother is also someone you take for granted. You turn up, expect food and drink, and leave probably forgetting to say thank you; and she forgives you.
At Birthdays and Christmas you can always guarantee that she will spoil you. She will give you books you will never read, clothes you will never wear, and hopefully some cash that you will waste on some pointless frippery that will quickly be abandoned.
When eventually she leaves the world behind, her grandchildren will be far too busy to attend her funeral; only when they're much older will they shed a few tears in her memory. Suddenly they'll miss her terribly, and regret not telling her how much they loved and appreciated her.
I think it's probably always been thus, and probably always will be.
Here is a visual tour of some of the 'bastide' villages around my area; most of which are within spitting distance of chez nous. In just 5 mins, it'll give you an idea of what the S W of France is like. You may even think of visiting.
Villefranche du Périgord is my nearest village.
Sorry about the funereal music;... what WERE they thinking!
Readers of this page may remember me writing about a nearby disused Séchoir that was nearly blown to bits in a gale in May 2018 (above). I had considered buying it myself to convert into a large ground floor studio, with small apartment above, but it has now been snapped-up by a Dutch lady.
M, who will later make a small house in part of the barn, has for the moment laid a concrete floor, and installed a rather nice replica 'Gypsy Caravan' (in which she lives). M is the owner of Billy's new girlfriend 'Ami' (more about Ami later).
I have no Gypsy blood in me, but Gypsy wagons have been a part of my life even since before I was born. My mother bought one with her best friend, Pud Cumpsty, when they were quite young, and they used to spend weekends there. Later in my native Surrey village there seemed to be quite a few pukka Gypsies around, and our village wheelwright saw to their wagons repairs. In more recent times I've met several Gypsies, and we even had some non-Gypsy friends turn up here in a horse-drawn Irish wagon.
I don't know how long M intends to stay in her caravan, but it does look very cosy for the coming winter.
I have often considered buying some woodland, obtaining an old wagon, and parking it in a central clearing (much as my mother did all those years ago). I can think of no more pleasant way of spending weekends, holidays, etc.
I'm quite jealous of M's home; but I think I'd prefer a more sylvan location.
Border Collies are not really lap dogs, but Billy thinks otherwise.
He occasionally 'leaps' onto my lap from a great distance, often without my having noticed his launch. Luckily (?) Lady Magnon was at hand with her iPad to immortalise this particular leap; performed whilst I was busy sketching.
Thank goodness he's still reasonably small and light; otherwise I might be speaking in a much higher voice.
I very rarely buy 'special offer multi packs', but in this particular case it was almost impossible to refuse.
I do like Lentils, they are versatile, healthy, and delicious; especially when cooked a l'Auvergnate.
These are the dark Puy Lentils, rather than the more popular pink Lentils that one tends to buy in the UK. These large tins each hold 820 gms, and cost me a ridiculous €4 for 6 tins. How could one say no?
Lentils of this type used to be the traditional accompaniment for Confit de Canard, but these days Pommes de terre Sarladaise has become more popular.
We shall be eating these tonight rather like a cassoulet (but replacing the beans for lentils) accompanied by Toulouse sausages, confit de canard, and thick slices of Pork petit salé.
The above photo is NOT of my finished dish, but you get the idea. If you wish to see the pukka recipe, look for Petit Salé aux Lentilles. It's what we peasants eat.
First it was Bok and Marley; they were great buddies, and played together for hours.
Now it's Billy and Marley; again great buddies, although Marley tends to treat Billy as a rather inferior, young whipper-snapper.
We love having Marley around, he's a really lovely dog, and the children adore him too. Sadly I think he'll have to be a little bit careful when he visits, as Lady Magnon recently witnessed some nasty man, who lives nearby, chucking stones at him (and possibly at Billy too). As Kant so rightly observed "You can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals".
There's no excuse to throw stones at such a lovely dog as Marley, all he wants is to be friendly; whether that be with other dogs or humans.
We always go to the St Caprais Chestnut Fair, and invariably it's held in beautiful sunshine.
Yesterday there were some giant Pumpkins on show.
And plenty of Chestnuts being roasted.
Lots of different flavoured Goat cheeses.
My baker was there too with her wonderful bread.
And a nice girl selling plant flavoured syrups.
A pleasant afternoon in a nice village, and I came away with just a large Sourdough loaf; nothing else really tempted me. Next Saturday will be our own local Chestnut Fair, and I expect to buy much more.
Lady Magnon is a world champion Tarte Tatin maker; at least I have awarded her that title myself.
A well constructed Tatin is the pinnacle of Apple Pie making, anyone who says differently is plain WRONG. Those across The Pond who go on ad infinitum about their mother's/grandmother's Apple Pies have no idea how good a pukka pie can be.
A Tarte Tatin is an upside-down pie. First a butter/sugar caramel is made in the bottom of the pie dish, then the sliced (Bramley) Apples are laid out in a reasonably neat pattern, then pastry placed over the top and tucked into the sides. After the alloted cooking time, the pie is turned out onto its bottom to reveal the caramel infused Apple, smiling up at you.
All you then need is a dollop of thick clotted cream, and VOILA. Heaven.
I was recently thumbing through certain pages of my 2008 book 'Je t'adore 24', when I was particularly taken by my description of the generosity and helpfulness of my neighbours, when I'd arrived here in 1972.
Life was very different back in the 70's. Hay bales were smaller and more manageable and we all helped to fill the barns before nightfall, small vineyards were everywhere and needed plenty of helpers at harvest time, and neighbours combined efforts to complete all sorts of tasks.
Today those bales are huge and heavy, and are left outside, the vineyards have long gone, and all those tasks that needed many hands are either done by machine, or not at all.
Most of my neighbours now concentrate on four main crops; Hay, Maize, Sunflowers, and Chestnuts. Some may keep a few cows, hardly anyone keeps Pigs Chicken or Ducks, and much of their land lies idle. A lot of the work is now done by contractors, and share-cropping is common amongst those who grow sunflowers. The only time that neighbours seem to assemble is when making silage, and several giant trailers are needed to follow the harvester.
My next door neighbour made silage from his Maize this year, which was immediately sold to someone else; leading me to suspect that his few remaining Cows will soon go.
Life is certainly quieter for local farmers, but no doubt the money still rolls-in from Brussels and its 'single farm payment'. However, so much has been lost in human terms. The camaraderie of times past has gone, the gastronomic competitiveness at harvest banquets has all but disappeared; and even the traditional cuisine of those peasant farmer's wives has been replaced by packaged Italian fast foods. Not one of my pukka farming neighbours now has Hens in the yard.
Having said all that, it's still a lovely place to live. The genuine natives of the area are still some of the most charming and generous that I've encountered, and, frankly, I still consider myself highly privileged to have been able to live here.
It is the duty of every grandmother to spoil her grandchildren rotten, to bake mountains of cakes with them, and play endless games of Snakes and Ladders; even when really tired!
Lady Magnon loves her role, and makes the most of it. Her days are filled with children, dogs, and flour. Boo Boo is a big-time consumer; no longer has one activity stopped than he insists on another starting. It is seamless entertainment, only occasionally interrupted with a play-fight or two with Billy.
When Boo Boo was born we all offered possible names. His cousins Harvey J and Ollie suggested 'Chump' and 'Jesus'. He was known as Bunny for a while, but we have now all settled on Boo Boo; thank goodness.
Climate change will happen regardless of what we humans try to do about it. Fighting against nature is futile. It is possible that we could slow some progress by reducing our toxic emissions, but halt its advance; no.
I have a certain amount of sympathy with the XR people, but certainly not with their methods. They should be allowed to protest, and lobby parliament, but not to disrupt the lives of ordinary working people. Take your protests to a park or a field, but don't block the streets of central london, or close the runways of Heathrow. London is a 24/24hr city, and it's residents/workers will not be happy.
They must be very careful not to lose the sympathy of their supporters. If just ONE life is lost as the direct result of an ambulance having been blocked in a traffic jam, their less vocal sympathisers will leave in droves. If they think that by demonstrating outside Smithfield meat market, we will all become Vegans, then they are delusional; those traders and porters at Smithfield are a bunch of burly Cockneys, so be prepared for a thick-ear if you disrupt their day's work, and that applies to everyone of any age or sex.
Personally I think we'd do more for the planet by being a 'doer' rather than a hooded and masked 'trouble-maker'. Leave the 4 x 4 at home when you go shopping or for your morning coffee. Buy a bicycle or walk to work (if in fact you do work). Buy loose, if possible, rather than in plastic wrappers. Use a wicker shopping basket for your weekly shop. Stick a few solar panels on your roof to power your TV. Simple changes to our usual practices add up.
These are practical things we can all do on a regular basis; bringing London's streets to a standstill won't help anything; just annoy.
Our fruit season is almost over. There are still Figs and Quinces, but there would be, wouldn't there!
Time to reflect on quality. The Conference Pears were superb, but we had very few. The Reinette Apples were abundant, but they're no comparison to a Cox. The Jonagolds were both good and productive, but they are HUGE.
Without question our best eating Apple (I know they're known for cooking) was the Bramley. The red one in the foreground of the photo, above, is a Bramley. They are crisp, very tasty, and sweetish; what more could one want.
I have other trees which should start to produce next year (Melrose and Gala) so it remains to be seen if they can compare to the Bramley; somehow I doubt it.
We have made a joint decision that this winter we shall throw caution to the winds, and change bedrooms.
Our present bedroom is very small, cluttered, and is lacking decent insulation. However, it's reasonably easy to heat, and is directly above our kitchen and its wood fired oven.
The bedroom to which we intend to move (The Library, above) is much bigger and contains FOUR beds (1 double, 2 singles, 1 child's), and is well insulated. It is situated above our sitting room, and, therefore, our wood fired stove which in Winter is lit daily. It is equally as cluttered as our present room, but that can be sorted. It has low beams, but a pleasant atmosphere.
I have never taken comparative temperature tests, but I imagine that The Library is always a few degrees warmer than our present room.
Others may change bedrooms on a regular basis; but not us! We have stayed faithful to our present lodgings, and have never slept in the other room; keeping it mostly for visitors.
'The Library' may sound like rather an ostentatious name for such a small room, but it's where many of our books are kept. Otherwise it's known as 'The Other Room'.
First it was the Liberals in sunny Bournemouth, where schoolgirl Jo Swinson's only policy was to 'remain' in the EU, regardless of what her party members seemed to think.
Then it was the CommunistsMarxists Socialists in the chic south coast town of Brighton who promised to reduce the standards of education by banning all high-flying private schools, and possibly making Oxford and Cambridge into Polytechnics.
They also want to abolish all illegal immigrant 'Detention Centres' (great idea), force compulsorily purchase of all empty properties, introduce 'rent capping', and have the right to buy any privately let housing.
They want no restrictions on the use of the UK's NHS, schools, or courts, by international legal or illegal immigrants. A true Socialist 'Free for All'.
Also high on their list is to give 10% of any Company's shares to its workers each year, as well as introducing a 4 day (32 hr) week with no pay cut. Voting age would be lowered to 16. 'Re-wilding' 25% of Britain's best agricultural land is also a major policy, which would help with post-Brexit food production (erm; is that right Jezza?). All sooper-dooper policies.
Next it was the Tories (the people's party) in more down-to-earth Manchester. They promise to build 40 new hospitals, outlaw the import of African hunting trophies, give a good-talking-to to anyone found with a knife (or fork) in their pocket, legalise pinching girls bottoms, and make Boris 'King of the World and the entire Universe'.
With a General Election on the cards; the choice is yours!
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!