Monday 31 May 2010

The long man of Wilmington.

The 'Long Man' is a figure carved into the chalk downs at Wilmington; a small village near Lewes in the wonderful county of East Sussex in the south of England. I've painted it several times.

Its origins are unknown, but archaeologists believe it to date from the sixteenth century. The man himself measures 70 metres tall and holds two long poles; one in each hand. Theories abound as to the significance of the two poles, one of the more rational was recently explained by Tom Stephenson in his posting entitled The Hog's Back (Tuesday 25th May). Any further theories will be gratefully accepted.

There are plenty of these hill-side chalk pictures around England. Two of the most notable being the White Horse at Uffington in Oxfordshire (white horses are the most popular), and the Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset (famous for childless couples spending the night on a certain part of his anatomy.... Look it up on Wiki).

But for a Sussex/Surrey chap like myself, nothing beats The Long Man at Wilmington. It's a place of mystery, ancestry, and pilgrimage.

Sunday 30 May 2010

The Sunday Story.

Yes, there is a Sunday Story (Chanctonbury), but for some reason it hasn't appeared on the 'Reading List'. I'm just hoping that this WILL!

To read, click on 'Magnon's Meanderings' above, then you should find it below this!!!!

The Sunday Story: Chanctonbury.

For Sussex/Surrey folk (I count myself amongst those privileged few), Chanctonbury Ring is the centre of the world. Non-Sussex/Surrey folk may not be aware, but it is in fact the very navel of The Garden of Eden. It's the bit on top in the picture.

In his excellent book 'The Four Men', Hilaire Belloc recounts the story of how Chanctonbury's original inhabitants (an honest couple of good Sussex stock, not dissimilar to Lord and Lady Magnon) were disgracefully booted out for having eaten a Cox's Orange Pippin apple. However, the bailiffs decided that it would be 'rather petty' to send them on their way without means of survival, so gave them the following 'minimum' with which they could be expected to survive elsewhere (possibly over the border in Surrey).

They were offered a basic tool box. A cock and six hens (Sussex lights, of course). Paint brushes and a tube of sepia. Six pencils from 4B to 2H. Tobacco in a tin. A latin primer. A selection of verse and prose by good writers (probably including Belloc). A small printing press. The elements of jurisprudence. A compact medicine chest. A collection of seeds. And two pigs (one of each gender).

Had I been in charge of the list-making, I would have included a No 8 Opinel pocket knife, a decent ball of twine, and possibly a one-way ticket for the Dieppe ferry. But bailiffs, being bailiffs, can't think of everything.

With apologies, to all his hiers and descendants, for my liberal translation and occasional alteration of Belloc's original words.

Saturday 29 May 2010


I know almost NOTHING about flowers. I'm a fruit-n-veg' guy. Even so, I'm responsible for the design and upkeep of the garden, and to my eyes, it looks OK.

At this time of year the Weigelas are in flower, and I really love them. At present I have just the three varieties above, but I intend to obtain more.

I don't know their names (I'd probably forget them anyway), as they all came my way by the traditional method of secretly stealing cuttings. I shall be on the look-out for more in the next week or so; anything I find that looks different to the ones above will end up as a cutting in my pocket.

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Friday 28 May 2010

First mushroom of 2010.

I popped out briefly this morning to see if any 'girolles' were up (they won't be long), and was amazed to find one of my favourite AUTUMN mushrooms; a Parasol.

Lepiota procera, more commonly known as The Parasol Mushroom, is probably the easiest of all mushrooms to recognise. It stands about 30 cms tall, and has a cap of 25 cms wide when fully open. Personally I don't eat the stems, and always try to collect them when they are still younger than the one above, when the Italians refer to them as 'Mazza di Tamburo'; drumsticks.

Fried in olive oil with a light sprinkle of sea salt, they are simply delicious. But as I have only one, I shall make a lunchtime omelette, with parsley and garlic.

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Thursday 27 May 2010

Our National Amy W.

I first saw Amy Winehouse performing on one of Jools Holland's New year's eve 'Hootenanny' programmes; it was probably 5 or 6 years ago.

I was totally bowled-over by her performance. It was the first time I'd seen her singing live (even on TV), and her two songs were terrific. She was basically sober, coherent, and MAGICAL.

OK, most singers probably have a drink or two before going on stage, but just look at what being a total smack-head does to you. Take a look at the clip below from 2008. If it doesn't want to make you take her in charge, I don't know what would. A huge talent gone to waste? I hope not; lets 'pray' she manages to sort herself out!

Wednesday 26 May 2010

'Champagne' time.

The hedgerows are awash with Elderflower (at least they are here), so now is the time to make that tastiest of all summer drinks 'Elderflower Champagne'. This is how I make 5 litres, with a bit left over for a smaller bottle. Please note the type of bottles I use in the picture above. These are what you need!

Take a spotlessly clean bucket, into which you place 4 heads of Elderflower (ideally the flowers should be fully open, have had some sun on them, and be picked before mid-day), the zest of 1 lemon (no white pith), the juice of one lemon, 1 and a half pounds of sugar, and 2 tablespoons of white wine vinager (or any other that's colourless) . Into this pour 6 litres of water and stir until all the sugar has disolved. Cover with a clean cloth and wait for 24 hrs.

The following day, strain the liquid through muslin as it's poured into the bottles, and leave for 2 weeks before drinking. The resulting 'Champagne' should be extremely effervescent, so always open outdoors. Serve chilled. It's as easy as that!

On the thorny question of alcohol, I suppose there must be a tiny amount in it, but really not enough to deprive children of the fruits of their labour. Just don't give them too much.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

I've cut the ribbon. The pool is offically OPEN.

My late father was totally useless at DIY. He taught me NOTHING. However, I've managed to pick-up enough skill with a screwdriver, saw, and hammer to be able to knock up this new gate for the pool. My last one (which was made from two palettes) lasted a staggering 4 years; I'm hoping this one will last a little longer.

It's official. Summer's on her way. We have daytime temperatures well above 25 degrees C, and I shall now wear SHORTS until at least September (oh yes!).

I have a fairly well-organised mind (unlike the rest of me), and I always pencil-in June 1st as the date on which the pool is opened. This year, however, I've broken with strict tradition, thrown caution to the winds, and opened-up a week earlier (oh what it is to live so dangerously).

Anyway, all went well. The pump started up OK. There were no dead badgers at the bottom when it was uncovered. And the water has returned to its normal crystal clarity after just one day. I'm now waiting for the water temperature to rise a bit, then it's FUNSVILLE.

Monday 24 May 2010


Bringing all the bales together.

The machine that wraps the bales into one long tube of white plastic. This is a new method that my neighbour, Claude, has used for the past couple of years.

Loading the bales into the back of the wrapping machine. This method produces a product that is half silage/half hay. The advantage being that one can cut, bale, and wrap all in one day, regardless of the hay being not quite dry. This was early afternoon, and it was 30 degrees C.

The farm in the background was our first home in France (we've had three); I bought it in September 1972. You can see the huge stone built barn better in the top picture. I sold it eight years later. If you walk up about 150 yards to the right; that's where we live now,

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Sunday 23 May 2010

The Sunday Story. Hermitage?

I was reminded of this story, having read a posting by Tom Stephenson.

I had a second-cousin (Actually, I think our relationship was much more distant than that, but...) who was a graphic designer for the Church of England (a black sheep, obviously). In roughly 1969/1970 he bought a very beautiful, but run-down, house, just off the Hog's Back between Farnham and Guildford, in England's leafy county of Surrey.

Having restored the house to a livable standard, he moved in, complete with wife and two small children.

Spring approached, and Mrs second-cousin decided that the impenetrable garden needed some serious work, so she engaged a local firm of slashers and burners. After several days work a path was opened to the bottom of the extensive garden where they found a small rickety shed (not at all like the one above). They had not previously known that the shed existed.

Mrs second-cousin saw at once that a well trodden path went from the shed to a hole in the overgrown hedge; someone had definitely been going in and out.

She pushed open the door to find an elderly tramp installed, complete with makeshift bed, chair, table, and camping stove. I imagine some short conversation took place, then she left him in peace.

The tramp, let's call him Jim, had been living in the abandoned shed for years, and my second-cousins had no heart to evict him. He soon became 'Uncle Jim', and even volunteered to do odd jobs for them in the garden.

I only visited this distant cousin once, and by this time 'Uncle Jim' was actually living in the house with the family. He was smartly dressed, articulate, and, had become a 'normal' member of society.

Many would have turfed him out of the shed at once, but these kind people had slowly re-integrated him into a more comfortable way of life. And they'd left the shed exactly as it had been found; just in case....

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Saturday 22 May 2010

A chip off the old block.


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Teaching is so rewarding.

"See that one Ollie, that's Papilio Machaon, also known as the Common Swallowtail. And that one with the yellow wing edges is Nymphalis Antioipa; the Camberwell Beauty".

"And what's that one Harv'?"

"A very good question, Ollie. It's a Large White, sometimes known as a Cabbage White. That's the one that makes Grumpy's blood boil when he sees them up at Haddock's".

Two of my grandsons, Harvey J and Ollie, having a day out at The Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh.

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Friday 21 May 2010


Lady Magnon has recently been extremely busy; she's discovered a new talent, and has become a cat whisperer & hypnotist.

She's been practising on Freddie (our tabby cat), and her results, so far, are interestingly varied. Mostly he just slopes off somewhere for a quiet sleep, but occasionally he gives in to her insistant demands, and lies down on his back on her whisperer's couch.

Once she has his undivided attention, she waves something in front of him (a strand of wool is a favourite), and insists that he fall asleep. Then, as soon as her back's turned, he slopes off again.

Lady Magnon is quite pleased with her progress, and is already planning clinics in London, Paris, Rome, and New York. So if you've got a moggy that needs whispering to, or putting to sleep (careful, Cro), then she's your gal.

Thursday 20 May 2010


People who know me in 'real life', will be aware that this subject matter has followed me through my 'career'; man and boy.

I must have drawn and painted this simple subject hundreds of times, and I recently came across this little sketch in a dusty old portfolio; I have a feeling that it was the VERY FIRST one I did, and probably dates from my college days.

Keen dancers may spot something odd in the drawing....

Lady Magnon attended a rather exclusive girls school (no nasty boys). So when dancing was taught, SOMEONE had to be the boy. It seems that Lady M took to her 'boy' role, with rather more flourish than was decent, and she picked up the habit of 'leading'. She still occasionally tries to when we take to the floor!

Anyway, when I started doing these 'dance' drawings and paintings, I thought it fun to make reference to Lady M and her predeliction for the MALE role.

And NO, she's not taking up 'hammer-throwing'.

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Wednesday 19 May 2010

Haddock's; mid-spring.

Things are progressing at Haddock's. In the top picture you should be able to see the artickokes, two varieties of tomato, and a few rather well-hidden Chasellas vines.

In the lower picture are the spuds, broccoli, red onions, carrots, aubergines, peppers, perpetual spinach, cherry toms, Brussels sprouts, and Swiss chard. And in the little section right at the top are the still tiny courgettes, cucumbers, and butternut squash plants.

Still to go in are winter brassicas, red cabbage, more butternut squash, and more leeks.

I have left one broccoli plant, and one kale plant to produce seed for next year.

My only real worry at the moment is a reasonably serious infestation of WHITEFLY. If anyone knows of a non-chemical solution to this (mostly cosmetic) problem, I would love to hear from you; THANK YOU.... Otherwise, all looks set for a bumper harvest.

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Tuesday 18 May 2010

Rico sings L-O-V-E.

Here's the wonderful Rico Rodriguez again, singing at Jools' 2009 New year's Hootenanny TV show. He never quite hits the right notes whether singing or playing, but who cares; the man's a legend. And he is about 76.

Rico Rodriguez.

Rico Rodriguez is a Ska legend. At present he plays with the Jools Holland big band (and elsewhere).

Here he is (in the middle, above) with Jazz Jamaica, featuring Courtney Pine, playing a Don Drummond number called 'Green Island'. Courtney manages to squeeze some mighty sounds out of that big sax of his. Rico is just his usual self on the slide-trombone. Get that tea-cosy; I've seen him wear worse!

Dog Danger.

Many friends will remember that my friend Terry's dog 'Molly' died recently.

The dog above 'Poppy' belonged to my next door neighbours. Not long after I did this drawing she was run over, in our nearby town, as her owners dropped their daughter off at school. Unfortunately 'Poppy' jumped from the car and was hit by an oncoming vehicle.

A few days ago I learned that another friend's dog 'Freddie' was killed in the same nearby town by another motorist. In this case he was just wandering around; as dogs do, and was hit.

I suppose it's not the fault of the motorist if a dog runs in front of his or her car. But the tragic results are upsetting for everyone; owner and driver alike. Maybe all dogs should be kept on leads whilst in town.

We seem to be losing a lot of dogs recently.

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Monday 17 May 2010

Anyone for Elderflower Champagne?

It's almost Elderflower Champagne time again (here in France anyway) and this is a reminder to get those bottles ready.

If you don't have any, now is the time to aquire some of these wired flip-top, sometimes known as Corona, bottles. They are the only ones that really do the job! This stuff can be firey.

Otherwise you will need about 4 dry sun-kissed elderflower heads (obviously), a lemon, some sugar, and a splash of white wine (or red wine) vinegar.

I shall give the recipe later (if you don't already have your own). This is for the kids, so get them prepared.

I usually make 5 litres (at each brew). So, if you wish to follow my method, you will need five 1 litre bottles.

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Sunday 16 May 2010

The Sunday Story: Couscous, marriage, and John Lennon.

When Lady Magnon agreed to become Lady Magnon, I whisked her off to Paris for all the legal stuff. Unfortunately we would have to have stayed for two weeks before becoming eligible to marry there, so we decided on Gibraltar instead.

Being a sort of upside-down person, I thought it would be fun to have our honeymoon first, so we took the ferry from southern Spain to Morocco.

This was culture-shock 'par excellence'. One minute Europe, the next Maghreb. In Spain the people were just like anyone else, but over that tiny strip of water it's all change. Morocco is another world; another culture. Everything is different. They even made Lady Magnon cut off my 'art student' shoulder length hair!!!

We found a hotel thanks to one of those 'charming young boys' who pester you around the docks, and ended up sharing a large hotel room with 3 Americans. The guy was a New York dentist, and the two girls were secretaries (I think).

This was the first time I'd heard of, and tasted, couscous; and I've never looked back (I'm actually writing this mid-tagine-cooking). I love it, and not a week goes by without my preparing a big dish of couscous, with a chicken or lamb tagine, merguez sausages, and plenty of firey harissa.

We had to return to Gibraltar by 'plane, as the Spanish were in a huff again, and had closed the border on their side. We were married a couple of days later, just after John Lennon and Yoko. The registrar thought 'she' looked like a little rat (but don't tell anyone he said so). I once cut most of her clothes off (you can tell people that).

Couscous then disappeared from my life for a while, but when we first moved to France in 1972 I was amused to see couscous on several menus in and around our nearby town of Fumel. I soon learnt that a high percentage of its population was from either Algeria or Morocco.

Couscous is now available, and popular, everywhere, but back in those days it was almost unheard of outside of north Africa. As with potatoes, pasta, and rice, life now wouldn't be the same without it.... Bon appetit!

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Saturday 15 May 2010

Ah, the love of poverty!

I've no idea when or where this photograph was taken, but it just proves that my parents were FRIGHTFULLY POOR, and couldn't afford to buy me a swimming costume! Nor did we have a Rolls Royce, a tennis court, or an indoor pool. Life was tough back in those days!

It's also good to see that my ample paunch is a congenital condition. Another sign of dreadful poverty.

Yesterday I heard some radio presenter ranting-on about how proud he was of his poor, working-class, and uneducated background. Poverty is highly revered in certain parts of Britain (mostly the north), as personified by this classic comedy sketch

If the link above doesn't work (which is quite likely), go to 'youtube' and search for 'Original 4 Yorkshiremen sketch'.

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Friday 14 May 2010

Fyfe Robertson.

Fyfe Robertson was always one of my favourite TV personalities of the 1960's.

His relaxed but heavy Glaswegian accent, and the sporting of his trademark-tweed-trilby, made him instantly recognisable.

I remember one interview he did with an Irish Gypsy man at the Appleby Fair (a big annual Gypsy gathering).

Fyfe asked him "Is it true that you always leave a terrible mess behind you?". "Yes sir, it is", replied the man.

"Is it also true that you steal chickens and vegetables?" asked Fyfe. "Yes sir, we do that", replied the man again.

"And I've also heard that you break down fences to gain illegal access to fields", said Fyfe. "Yes sir, I have to admit that we do", said the Gypsy.

End of interview. His honesty was admirable.

Don't you just wish that Gordon Brown had said "Yes, she was a right bloody bigot!" and been done with it!

(Non-Brits may not know that wee Gawdy McBrown was recently overheard calling some old bigot, a bigot. Instead of being true to his opinion, he spent an hour apologising to the woman, and got slaughtered by the press as a result. Will we EVER get truth and honesty in politics? Thank goodness he's gone)

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Thursday 13 May 2010


Amy Saia ( recently posted this picture of Alain Delon, and the whole question of attractiveness surfaced. I hope she won't mind my using it again!

Women often talk of each other as being 'pretty', 'beautiful', or even 'gorgeous'; men never do that. I have never heard a man refer to another man as being 'handsome', or 'good looking'. We just don't go down that road.

Many years back I had some dinner guests (women) who broached the subject of handsome men. When asked for my suggestion, I just couldn't think of anyone. I simply didn't know, or understand, the criteria. About two days later I suggested to Lady Magnon that maybe Imran Khan (the cricketer) could fit the bill; she agreed.

Alain Delon (above, in his younger days) was unquestionably 'handsome'. Strangely though, I don't remember his name being bandied about at my dinner party. Actually, I can't remember anyone who was named.

So, here you are girls. One of the world's (I'm told) most handsome men. No swooning!

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Wednesday 12 May 2010

Interior. That other wall.

My late father-in-law worked abroad all his life. When he retired, he never really settled. The world is filled with such people.

He never re-acclimatised to the English winters and would up-sticks pre-Christmas; only returning to Blighty in late spring.

He over-wintered in Spain (he spoke Spanish), in Morocco (he spoke French), and in Turkey (he spoke Turkish). He also spent time in Syria, and in Lebanon.

On one such winter trek (possibly around 1978), he was crossing some desolate mountain range between Syria and Lebanon when, miles from anywhere, he came across a tiny shepherd's cottage set back from the track. Outside the cottage was hanging what you see above. A hand spun, hand dyed, and hand woven, rug. It measures 1 metre wide, by 1 metre 30 long (without the tassles). On the question of knots per square 'whatever', it is pretty tightly woven.

My father-in-law asked the lady of the house if it was for sale, and predictably the answer was yes. She explained that she made two such rugs each year, and the money she earned was for HER use only. The asking price for her 6 months work was £5. This poor woman (presumably having sold both rugs) had just £10 to spend on herself each year.

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Tuesday 11 May 2010

Sugar and spice, and all things nice...

This rather battered photograph hangs on our wall at the cottage. It was taken in June 1954 at the embassy in Washington.

Churchill was making some very important speech, and was accompanied by Sir Anthony Eden (who I think was Foreign Secretary).

Unfortunately most of the media attention was focused on the small girl sitting against the pillar. No doubt she was extremely bored, and was getting up to all sorts of mischief.

So dear friends, who was that naughty little girl?

Well, you knew all the time, didn't you! It was indeed our own dear Lady Magnon. Winston was not amused!

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Monday 10 May 2010


This is our sitting room (or part of it). I've previously posted a picture of the fireplace, three posts ago, and people have asked to see more. It's nothing special.

Homeowners (ex-pats) in this part of the world often ask you on a first visit, if you would like to look around their home. I always reply 'no thank you'.

Anyway, this is 'chez nous'. The small niche was my doing. Previously there had been a large cupboard that filled half the wall, so I cut some stones with chamfered edges, and reduced the size to what you see now. The painting 'Odette' is from 1997. Odette was a Parisian lesbian zen-buddhist; she was also my lovely next door neighbour. She used to admonish me for wasting time mushroom hunting, when I should have been painting. The painting was my reply. (Sorry, you can only see part of it. On second thoughts, it's probably a good thing).

The dresser is made of very solid beech. I bought it at an auction sale in Shropshire about 40 years ago; it cost a staggering £5. The lamp base started life as the cap of a banister newel post, and cost nothing. The green chair was about to be burnt and I saved it; maybe I shouldn't have.

Post Scriptum: On the other side of the room is something much more interesting. I shall post that in a couple of days.

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Sunday 9 May 2010

The Sunday Story: Illegal immigrants.

A few years ago I'd driven non-stop up through France and was feeling pretty tired; it'd been a long day. I was waiting for the ferry, in a shortish queue, at the port of Dieppe (Northern France). It was late at night but the whole port was well lit. In front of me was a huge UK registered lorry, like me, on its way back to England.

The port was reasonably quiet; there's always a stark eeriness about these places at night. Suddenly some 'officials' began to poke long metal rods into the back of the lorry in front; then having registered some anomoly, opened the back to reveal about a dozen young men who jumped out and ran off. One jumped from a great height, fell awkwardly, broke his leg, and had to be carried off.

The whole scenario seemed unreal, but for the French officials, and the English driver, this was just another everyday occurance. For me, it had been quite a dramatic experience; for them it was just normality. The driver even said to me "They'll be back, it happens every night".

Stories about illegal immigrants, and their bizarre antics, abound. But to witness it quite so closely was something of a shock; at first I didn't even realise what was happening. These young men (they're always young men) have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. They are prepared to do the unimaginable to get access to the UK.

I don't see any easy answer to this problem. Every bar-room politician has his own solution, but I've not yet heard of one that is fool-proof. It's a very sad situation.

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