Sunday 28 February 2010

The Cranes return.

I touched on this subject a while ago, but at the time I was obliged to use a stock photo.

I have just been summoned by the sound of the Cranes flying overhead. An incredible sound that made me rush outside (this time with my camera) as they swirled around re-fixing their bearings. After circling for a few seconds (amongst terrific noise) they headed due north; as they should.

I hope the picture above gives some idea of the spectacle. The wonderful accompanying sound I can do nothing about.

Sunday 28th Feb @ 6.00pm.
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Back in the early 70's, when we bought our first farmhouse in France, it was common to find furniture abandoned in houses. You bought the house, and all that came with it; in our case that even included an ancient Peugeot car that we found half buried in the huge stone barn.

In that first house was a very heavy kitchen sideboard, a dismantled longcase clock (in several pieces), and the dresser above (amongst other bits and bobs).

It's not particularly old, not particularly wonderful, but extremely handy for storing all our white antique bowls, plates, and nick-knacks. I think it probably dates from the early 1900's, and is poorly constructed from cheap knotty pine. Luckily the fashion for stripping pine furniture never really happened in France, and these lovely old painted country pieces are still to be found everywhere.

I'm very fond of our dresser; even more so as it was FREE.

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Saturday 27 February 2010

A poem.

Little lifeless pond
that comes and goes
why don't you
rest awhile, and
make a world.

Let amoeba come
and put down root.
Then in a million years
aquatic life
will think, and love,
and die, like us,
a world within a world

I've written 'poetry' since my earliest memories, but have never considered making it public. Now, behind the anonymity of my sobriquet, I offer this wee ode that was written about a tiny indoor pond, that would suddenly arrive, then disappear; seemingly without logic.

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Friday 26 February 2010

Chateau de Montcléra.

This small chateau is about 10 Kms from our cottage. There are, of course, chateaux everywhere in France, but the Chateau de Montcléra is simply perfect. It is stunningly beautiful, of manageable size, and set in a tiny roadside hamlet surrounded by a small park.

It's a private home, and I don't know the people who live there. But if it ever comes up for sale, Mrs Magnon and I will do our utmost to raise the necessary.

I've owned large houses, very large houses, and several small houses (our present home in France is tiny). But I think that a 'compact' medieval chateau, in this beautiful part of S W France, would surpass just about anything. WE WANT IT.
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Thursday 25 February 2010


These two scallywags (along with Ferlinghetti) were the mother's-milk of poets to my generation. They took us by the hand and, via twisted paths, led us to re-think both our language and how to use it.

Corso was no saint, and Ginsberg almost dangerous. I never met Corso, but did encounter Ginsberg briefly, back in London's mid-1960's (I think he was appearing at the Albert Hall). I remember politely asking him if there was anything I could get for him (meaning drink etc). He replied "What I'd really like, is a young boy". I ignored his request.

Friends be kept
Friends be gained
And even friends lost, be friends regained. Gregory Corso.

I still read poetry from the Beat/Howl era. With Kerouac and Burroughs it's probably the best writing of its time. I doubt if any of today's poets will have the same dramatic influence as they did.

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Wednesday 24 February 2010

They're back.

At 4.40 pm this afternoon, the first of the returning Cranes flew over the cottage. High above in their classic V formation, they sang so loudly that I immediately ran outside.

"Welcome home", I shouted, as I waved to them in the air.

It's a heart warming sight. Having wished them well last autumn as they left for the warmer climes of North Africa, they now return to fly north; up as far as Scandinavia.

My friend, Craig, had told me this morning that they had already been seen, so what a pleasure it was to see them for myself.

A seasonal pointer of significance.
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I was recently invited to dine with my friend José (he of the chainsaw massacre), and the subject of hunting was raised.

He kept on refering to St Hubert, which intrigued me. I've lived in my village for over half my life, so what he told me came as quite a surprise.

Unbeknown to me, it seems that there are three different hunting groups/clubs in the village, one of which is called 'Société St Hubert' (I believe that St Hubert is the patron saint of hunters). The other two roughly translate as 'The Mushroom gang', and 'The Chestnut boys'. Each group has its own territory, and I gather that there is some rivalry between the three of them, as to how many boar or deer each group bags each year.

At a forthcoming annual village bash, the St Hubert lads traditionally supply the boar meat for a rather special Paté de Sanglier. I really must get out more, there are things going on, on my very doorstep, that I know nothing about..

Monday 22 February 2010

I wanna be like you-ou-ou. Part 2.

The Bride and Mr Jackson. What a terrible condemnation of our fin-de-siecle obsession with image.

Both Jocelyn and Michael started life as perfectly normal attractive people; but somehow they became obsessed with how they looked. Both resorted to the cosmetic surgeon's knife, and both ended up as 'monsters'. They are not alone, although their cases are, of course, extreme.

Jocelyn Wildenstein is still with us, and one can only have huge sympathy for her when, every day, she has to confront herself in the mirror, and contemplate how much it has all cost; both in terms of finance, and angst.

With ageing comes the great drift south, and there is no harm in a 'nip and tuck' to repair sagging facial muscles. But, as I said in Part 1, to wish to be like someone else is destructive. I understand that Mr Jackson wanted to look like his sister, and Jocelyn Wildenstein like a CAT. I find that desperately sad.

Saturday 20 February 2010

An ENGLISH classic?

Don't the Italians harp on about food. According to them, everyone in the world who isn't pure-bred Italian prepares everything wrongly, pronounces everything wrongly, and is generally a gastro-ignoramus.

Take the famous Bolognese sauce (ragu) for example. Every Italian will tell you that it HAS to be served with Tagliatelli, and the pasta HAS to be added to the sauce before serving. Never the other way round.

Luckily the English were there to improve matters. We looked at it, liked the idea, and altered it. Much better, we thought, to serve the sauce with Spaghetti, and to serve it placed on top. Voila; Spaghetti Bolognese (now an English classic) was born.

Viva Bacchus.

I've lived in S W France for 37 years. And I think I've finally discovered the elixir of life.

What could be more life-enhancing, or maybe life-enriching, than to sit in the shade of an old pollarded plane tree, outside a small village bistrot, sipping pastis or red wine, watching pretty girls go by, and finding easy solutions to all the world's problems.

Of course my tubes of colour remain temporarily sealed, the pages of my sketch books remain virgin white, and my studio seems permanently abandoned.

Cro can be found drinking red wine outside his favourite bistrot, and the world can go jump. When I'm at play, I play. When I'm at work, I work. Painting, they say, is 90% contemplation, and 10% application. I take my 'contemplation' very seriously, and there's nothing more serious than mixing the ingredients for that great elixir.

Friday 19 February 2010

Coy? Or not so Coy!

At about 7.30am this morning, I was sitting at my laptop, minding my own business, when I saw something in the field outdoors, moving in the slightly foggy morning light. At first I thought it was Freddie (our tabby cat) chasing a mouse, but it didn't seem to have quite the right silhouette. The creature was hunched over, and instead of the beautiful furry tail of our Freddie; it sported a long, bare, and pointed one, like that of a huge rat.

I watched it for a while through the window, then realised that it was something I'd never seen before. I grabbed my small camera and followed it hot-slipper through a recently grazed cow pasture (yes, there was!). It didn't seem too concerned about my presence and I ran along beside it for quite a while, as it went down the field towards our old house.

When I was within about five yards of it, it stopped, turned round, and looked at me. I approached cautiously, took a few photos, then watched as it turned and scampered off towards a small chestnut copse.

This rather ugly creature was, of course, a Coypu; known here in France as a 'Ragondin'.

I have never seen one before, but have always been aware of their existence. In the East Anglian fen-lands (where I was at school) they were particularly hated by farmers, as their persistent digging would destroy the water-draining dyke systems. Here in France I think they have the same reputation, and are often shot on sight; and eaten.

Unfortunately the photos I took were either too blurred or too distant, so I've used a stock picture as illustration.

I'm really pleased that I saw this creature. A little insignificant event such as this morning's makes one's life so much richer. Even if was an ugly orange-toothed Coypu.

Thursday 18 February 2010

Tautou totty?

I am unashamedly reprinting the paragraph below from my previous blog 'perigordlife/je t'adore 24'. It's really just an excuse to post a picture of the very beautiful Audrey Tautou.....

I think I’ve discovered a radical new way of appreciating women! You may well have seen a current TV advert’ for Chanel No5 perfume that involves an exceptionally attractive young woman in a train (Tautou), being pursued (quite rightly) by a handsome young man. During the advert’, the girl is seen RUNNING twice, and she has the sexiest RUN I’ve ever seen. I never imagined that I would describe a beautiful woman as having a ‘SEXY RUN’, but in her case I’m making an exception (actually her ‘run’ is part skip, part ballet, and part pheromone distribution); it’s just sensational! Am I getting old, or will I soon be noticing a sexy cough, a sexy limp, or even a sexy sneeze? I do hope so.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

I cannot express how jealous I am of the person who owns this fabulous building. It's the most iconic feature of our local 'agricultural' architecture; it is, of course, a Pigeon Tower.

These beautiful structures are found everywhere; often (if big enough) being converted into homes. They were originally built as practical farm accessories, much like pig sties or cow bays, but their absolute beauty stands them apart.

The example above is from close to Cahors, in the town of Lalbenque; the centre of the Truffle industry.

If we can ever find a builder, the Magnon's will build a small tower this year to act as a spare room. Sadly it won't have the allure of the above, but it'll probably be OK.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Not for the squeemish.

I recently had quite a bad cough. A friend recommended that I take some laxative pills; he guaranteed that it would stop my cough. It works; the last thing you want to do when you've taken that stuff, is to COUGH.

When I was an irresponsible, care-free, wag-about-town-schoolboy, we would secretly give large pieces of ex-lax chocolate to small lap-dogs as they walked around town with their matronly owners. Toy Poodles were a favourite, but Chihuahuas, Pekinese, or anything that permanently shivered would have done. The effects were quite rapid, and the bemused matrons extremely embarrassed; especially if the dog's bowels responded whilst actually inside a shop.

I hope you can picture the young Cro giggling away behind his hands. Naughty boy.

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Ice age.

I don't think I've ever experienced a winter as cold and extended as this.

For winter we cover our pool with a large black tarpaulin, which becomes permanently filled with about 4 inches of water. This water has been frozen over for weeks, and even Freddie (the cat) now takes short-cuts across its surface.

It's Shrove Tuesday (pancake day) and we are, at last, promised decent mid-day temperatures. I just hope our sub-zero nights are done with.

Sunday 14 February 2010

St Jock's Day?

In memory of Jock Veitch who died in April 2009.

I did several drawings of my old friend Jock (he was an excellent sitter). The one above may not be the best of the batch, but it's my favourite.

It's just 10 months since Jock left us, and I'm posting this on his birthday (St Valentine's Day) simply to demonstrate that he'll not be forgotten.

RIP Jocko, we'll all be along in time.
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Saturday 13 February 2010

Parasol pines.

The Parasol pine (Pinus pinea) is the iconic tree of southern France. It's a tree that has both 'presence' and 'stature'. It's the pine that gives us those little pine nuts, so loved by the Italians.
To the north of us they are almost non-existant, to the south they suddenly grow in profusion. They have become the tree of choice for local authorities when landscaping roundabouts or motorway intersections. They are the trees under which Fernandel played Petanque.
Within a few hundred meters there are several wild examples, but very few in comparison with the bog-standard Mediterranean pine. They are beautiful trees. Difficult to pass by one without making a comment.

Friday 12 February 2010

The End?

Cro turns his back on 'Perigordlife/je t'adore 24' and heads off on his newer adventure which is 'Magnon's meanderings'.

May I proffer my huge gratitude to all those who've followed me over the years, and especially to all of you who've contacted me via Email.

Cro is dead; long live Cro; long live Magnon's meanderings.
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About 100 meters south of where I'm sitting, there are six Roe Deer wandering about, looking miserable. The morning papers talk of McQueen's suicide. And I'm supposed to be interested in Bill Clinton's heart.

It's minus 8C, and my terrace has become like an open aviary. Almost every small bird in the village has heard about my hanging seed feeder and net enclosed grease balls, and they are desperate for their share.

This cold makes me lethargic. If I can get the ice off the car's windscreen, I'll go out. Bloody, bloody winter.
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Thursday 11 February 2010

Blogs, blogging, and bloggers.

I'm a a novice when it comes to computers; always discovering something new (usually things that others have been aware of since birth).

I've recently noticed, in the taskbar above my blog page, the words 'Blog suivant'. Usually I don't like to click on things that sound as if they could wipe my laptop clean, but I threw caution to the winds and clicked away.

There is a strange world out there, of which I was totally unaware. Continuous clicking on 'Blog suivant' led me into the homes of private happy families, tales of extreme tragedy, bizarre religious beliefs, and, most of all, into the lives of young mothers and their babies.

Happy, joyous looking, blogs with underlying insecurity, arrive like London busses. The absence of the extended family means that young women are secretly turning to their laptops in droves, in order to hear confirmation from cyber-friends that they are doing a wonderful job.

The scenario is often the same. A highly decorated page, an eclectic profile, various pictures of marshmallow babies, a few saccarin words of coo-ing, then (wait for it) hundreds of 'comments' from invisible cyber-mums (moms) all coo-ing in echo.

So, now I need to justify my own activities. A few years back I tried to find a publisher for a book about France. Not having a 40DD chest, or having been some overnight success 'Celeb', I naturally failed in my quest. I think it was my youngest son who first mentioned the word 'Blog', and the rest, as they say, is anonymity.
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Wednesday 10 February 2010

What is a 'cottage'?

A cottage should be old, small, cosy, bucolic, cheap, and FABULOUS.

The little window is above our front door and gives into a heavily low-beamed bedroom. The opening is made from just 6 simply cut stones, measures about 1ft 6ins square, and gives me huge pleasure every time I look at it. Without one or two 'features' such as this a cottage becomes just a small house.

The interior shot is perhaps more classic 'cottage'. The big fireplace (now with Godin stove for practical purposes) is essential, as are large section open ceiling beams, hand-made quarry tiles, and not a single wall built with a plumb-line.

Outside, the chocky-box concept continues. Vegetables in the garden, sawn logs in the wood shed, fruit trees a-plenty.

No, I don't want a chateau, nor do I want a rambling old farmhouse. Just leave me in my cottage with a dog that smells of compost, a cat that brings live mice to my bedroom, and, of course, the luxury of our pool for those long hot summer days.
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So who, when, and what, was the true origin of Pop Art? Of the name itself we are all in agreement that it was either first coined by Peter Smithson in his Ark magazine article of 1956 (Ark was the Royal College of Art's student mag'; and still is), or in an article by Lawrence Alloway a couple of years later in 1958. Personally I side with Smithson, as the work itself was being produced at the RCA.

The artists? Paolozzi, Hockney, Kitaj, Hamilton, this list goes on. Almost any South Ken' based artists of the 52-60ish era could claim affinity.

Cro's only contribution to this movement was in 1964 when he produced his 'Dog Shit Union Flag'. It took several weeks to collect the 'medium', and a whole day to adorn each 'element' in either red, white, or blue. On his last day at school Cro rose early, and lovingly created the work on the steps of his headmaster's exquisite medieval house.

What became of it, I do not know. To whom it was attributed I know not either. If, or not, it had the desired effect upon its recipient I care not one hoot. It is the excecution of the work that gives the pleasure. The Hoxton Hooligans liked to think they could shock. Not me, they couldn't, sunshine. Seen it, done it, been there.

You will be pleased to hear that Cro now works in paint, pen, and pencil. Not a dog turd in sight!

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Tuesday 9 February 2010

Planting of the 'Mai'.

France has a charming custom; the honouring of its elected representatives by the planting of a May Pole.

Even in a tiny village such as mine (there are just 233 of us), after each 'council' election a May Pole ('Mai') is erected at the home of a new councillor. Usually these are tall pine trees that have been stripped of their branches; a painted shield and pair of flags being attatched to the very top. These May Poles are lifted into place by gangs of strapping lads, amongst jolity, singing, and of course 'refreshment'.

I imagine that this is a post-revolution activity. Where once the local big-wig owned, and ruled-over, all; now the Mayor and his councillors are taken from amongst the population, and due honour made.

The shield above is from the home of a now deceased neighbour. It was on its 'last legs' so I asked his successor if I could take it. I, myself, added his name (Hervé), simply so that he should not be forgotten. He had no real family.
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The Great Barrier Reef.

Mrs Magnon leaves for a six week stay in Australia. She will be staying with our daughter who lives just a boomerang's throw from The Great Barrier Reef. Mrs M intends to make a close study of sharks, sea snakes, and box-jellyfish; all of which are in plentiful supply. Safe swimming Mrs M.

p.s. If your computer is the same as mine, it will show that the above was posted on Monday the 8th at 22.52pm. In fact it was posted on Tuesday the 9th at about 8.00am. If anyone knows how or where I change the settings; please let me know. I've looked everywhere!

Monday 8 February 2010

Tom Stephenson?

The question I'm most frequently being asked, is 'Who is Tom Stephenson?'

And if I wasn't about to answer that question, no doubt the next most popular question would be 'Why the picture of axes and gumboots?'

Tom and I go back to Art College days. Tom was a sculpture student, whilst Cro studied painting. Tom poured moulten bronze into small doll-torso moulds, whilst Cro chronicled the life of a fictitional Miss Swoon. Tom permanently wore gumboots (he's a veggie) and carried axes that were honed to cut-throat precision, whilst Cro drank prodigious amounts of beer and smoked un-tipped Gauloise fags.

Tom has his studio in the beautiful city of Bath, Somerset. He also writes an essential 'philosophical' blog, which I recommend unreservedly to everyone who 'thinks', or indeed has the capability of 'thinking'.
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Watercolour Painting.

My friend Simon may not thank me for publishing this 1973-ish portrait sketch, which I drew not two hundred metres from where I'm now writing. Anyway, for me, it brings back memories.

Simon, like me, lives in France. He settled, with his wife Julie, in a beautiful small hill village to the North West of Montpellier, where his studio is based.

Only very occasionally do I attempt the use of watercolour, and then it's usually as a monochrome sketch over pencil. It's a difficult medium that requires proper study, and I haven't had the patience. Simon, however, has made this his life-long work, and I recommend anyone who is specifically interested in the medium to look at his web site.
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Saturday 6 February 2010


I have a confession to make. When I left school, other than secretly wanting to study painting, I had no real ambition in life. So I went into 'The City'.

I had no problem finding an employer, and took a job in a highly respected firm of London stockbrokers. I have to admit that I did this solely because I liked the idea of the uniform. I purchased a loud pinstriped suit from my father's city tailor, a slightly furry bowler from Lock's in St James', and a chunky brolly from Swaine, Adeney, Brigg in Piccadilly. I loved it; I became the classic young City dandy with an old-school-tie.

The only problem was the job. Stockbroking is a brainless occupation. One does the work simply to make money; there is no other objective. It drains you of emotion, it kills any desires, it turns you into an automaton.

After my first full year, I learned (much to my surprise) that I was in line for a BONUS, and I received a cheque for TWICE my annual salary; I deposited the cheque, said 'thank you very much', then, with huge relief, I handed in my notice. Almost at once I bought a 'plane ticket for Paris.

I spent a week or so just wandering around; looking at the sights, visiting galleries, admiring the girls. I ate like a king in tiny bistrots, I stayed in an hotel that boasted a couple of 'stars', and I drank wine in bars that had been frequented by famous artists from the impressionist past.

I began to live as one should; thinking about purpose, experiencing the real. My life changed almost at once, and although my sudden freedom had resulted from my temporary City incarceration, I regretted nothing. Maybe it WAS my period of 'misspent youth', but it offered me the chance to look forward. The suit, the hat, and the brolly have stayed locked away for good.

The Generous Earth.

I was given this book back in 1970 by a neighbour in the UK. Two years later I moved to France, and have continued living in the area it describes for the past 37 years; well over half my life. Anyone interested in S W France should try to get hold of a copy (it HAS been re-printed); it makes an interesting comparison to today's Périgord, even though the book itself does now cost a little more than five bob.
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Friday 5 February 2010

The other Cro

It is often said that the time to go looking for stone-age implements is just after a good downpour. This one, above, I found after heavy rain, and it glistened in the sunlight. The first Cro Magnon lived just to the north of here, and it's a sobering thought to know that the last person to have held this tool was amongst his extended entourage.

Stone implements such as these are not uncommon, but to find one and hold it in your hand, just as someone did about 6,000 years ago, is a magical and rare privilege.
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Mushroom Mania.

These giant carved wooden mushrooms stand on a roundabout, about 5 Kms from my house. The biggest one stands almost 8ft high. They represent the area's obsession with mushrooms; and in particular Bolitus Edulis, the Cepe, or Penny bun.

People are killed for mushrooms. Fights occur on a regular basis. My own village is renouned for both the quality and quantity of its (usually) annual crop. In our nearest small town there is a market devoted solely to the sale of these beauties. Our local gastronomy is dependent on their exquisite flavour.

During the growing season, I dream of mushrooms. I become excited at the very thought of heading for the woods first thing in the morning. I am prepared to brave almost any weather to track them down. Mushrooming becomes all-important and all-enveloping. We watch the weather like hawks, we measure rainfall and temperatures, we study every little movement in the woods, we look for cars parked by the side of the road. Every small sign is meticulously observed.

We haven't had a proper crop of Cepes for three years, but I've recently been told by a neighbour that a really cold winter (such as we've been having) is the sign of an exceptional harvest to come. I believe him... I believe him... I have total faith.
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