Wednesday 30 June 2010

Haddock's: End of June .

Everything's doing quite well up at Haddock's, and all is looking lush. I'm still battling against the wretched weed invasion, but I think I'm winning; maybe I'm simply becoming more philosophical. In this particular shot are all the standard veg's that are essential for survival. Carrots, Red Onions, Potatoes, Beans, Broccoli, Aubergines, Peppers, Kale, Spinach, Swiss Chard and (probably out of view) Leeks.

Just as last year, the Artichokes are going mad. I'd just picked all the biggest heads before taking this picture, but still there are hundreds. Lady M and I share a dozen or so for lunch, twice a week. I'm sure I needn't describe how deliciously tender they are.

Peppers, Spinach, Kale, and those baby Leeks, from the top end. The bare bit of earth on the left is the last successional sowing of French beans; not yet up. On the packet is says 'nain' (dwarf), but they are all over the place. Whatever happened to those nice neat little haricot-vert plants of times past? Nowadays they're almost like runner beans!

Carrots, Red Onions, and Potatoes from the top end. The potatoes are a variety called Charlotte. I don't know if these are only available in France, but they are excellent. I've not tried it yet but I think they will make spectacular 'mash'; I recommend them. We've already pulled a few baby carrots, but, as delicious as they are, I'm going to leave them to grow a little bit more before really tucking in.

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Tuesday 29 June 2010

Cold Comfort.

It's summer, and almost everyone is looking for that special book to read in the shade of a swaying palm. A book that you can pick up and put down at will, between sips of Champagne, or dips in the Caribbean Sea.

This has to be one of my all time favourite novels. Predictably it takes place in Sussex, and is the story of city girl Flora Poste (Robert Poste's child), and her visit to the run-down family farm in the (fictional) Sussex village of Howling. I shall say no more.

I believe Ms Gibbons wrote two sequels to Cold Comfort, but I've neither read them, nor heard spoken well of them.

There's also a film version of the book which is excellent. John Schlesinger's 1995 film, with Kate Beckinsale as Flora, is a beautifully filmed and faithful interpretation of the book, but I would always recommend to read the book first. There are so many small details in a book that the medium of film is simply unable to express. The film also features Joanna Lumley, Stephen Fry, and Ian McKellen, amongst other notables.

If you're looking for a fun read (that you'll never forget) I can 'wholeheartedly' recommend Cold Comfort Farm. The Library maybe?

Monday 28 June 2010

Garden Tour.

These green glazed garden planters, are very typical of southern France. They even make our bog standard Petunias look good. The piece of chipped glazed terracotta is the top of an old pinacle. It must originally have stood atop a very impressive building.

This medieval carved stone cow has certainly seen better days. Still, it makes a reasonable garden ornament. The rusty candalabra was an experiment, by a blacksmith friend, that went wrong. He chucked it out; I saved it.

The uppermost pot contains a plant that came from a friend's house. I half-inched (stole) a tiny morcel and stuck it in some earth. Now, several months later, it's a thriving, and attractive, flowering plant. Some knowledgeable person may like to enlarge the picture, and let me know what it is. It's a type of succulent.

The fountain that no longer flows. Never mind; it's the thought that counts! We no longer have fish either. Having survived a very harsh winter, they all died this spring. We have no idea why.

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Sunday 27 June 2010

The Sunday Story: Family Picnic.

Almost summer; and everyone decided to get together for a huge family picnic in the grounds of Willow Manor. Blankets were spread on the ground for the children, rickety camping chairs opened up for the adults, and baskets of assorted home-grown fare taken from the boots of cars.

Tom knew people in the music business, and had organised a band for the day. 'Amy and the Soul Seekers' (from Kansas) would sing two spots; a few 60's and 70's classics (Lennon, McCartney, etc) through lunchtime, then a selection of numbers by America, Fleetwood Mac, Bread, and the Ting Tings in the evening.

At mid-day Linda and ElizabethM joined forces to make sandwiches, wash salads, and peel a mountain of hard-boiled eggs (courtesy of ElizabethM's hens).

The children all got together to play games. Potty had been put in charge of kids entertainment, and all of Linda's grandchildren joined up with Sue's Charlie (and Potty's own children) to play 'Pin the tail on Tom', and 'Musical Chippendale Chairs' (kindly supplied by Willow).

Everyone had been allotted a task for the day. Maiden picked armfuls of sweet scented roses for the long white-draped tressle tables, Simone suspended romantic swathes of Indian silks from the flowering Magnolia trees, and Molly acted as official photographer, promising to post her results on the net the following day.

The day flew by as clouded skies gave way to the warm star-studded black of night. The men-folk sat around the improvised stage, drinking beer and listening to Amy's singing as they awaited instructions. Cro and Julie did drawings with those children who thought they were too grown-up for party games, and encouraged them to illustrate some of Willow's specially composed picnic poems.

When all was nearly over, the paraphernalia of the day was packed away. And as they were all saying their goodbyes, and promising to return the following year, Premium T, and her friend Melissa, circulated with huge wicker baskets, handing out mementos of neatly packaged bags of sweets to all the smaller children.

Then, as if the day had been no more than a page from a romantic novel, Simone mounted her gleaming white steed, and in a haze of flowing white ruffled silk disappeared, side-saddle, into the misty night. Tom and Her Indoors loaded up their trusty Volvo with the borrowed sound system, and took off with Amy and the two band members. Cro and Lady M retired to their compact Royce where they sat a while watching shooting stars. And the many families with children, who had come in such numbers, patiently awaited their voluminous chauffeur-driven cars and coaches.

'Next year'. Said Amy, as she mused over the evening. 'Not only would I love to come back again to perform, but I shall also offer every family a signed copy of my latest book'.

Thursday 24 June 2010

Sick Bed.

Cro is feeling slightly unwell, but Nurse Magnon is seeing to his every need. Here she is, trying to force a small mouse up his right nostril; a popular old Swedish remedy which, apparently, cures everything.

Everyday life in June.

The walnuts are now in their sweet pickle. Not to be touched until Christmas (I still have plenty from last year).

The mid-day sun is not to Freddie's liking. He stays indoors and rests until supper time.

This is the first tasting of this year's Elderflower champagne. Not quite as fizzy yet as we would like, but in a week or two's time that should change.

From our covered lunchtime terrace we look through potted figs at the unspoilt landscape beyond. With the sun overhead at mid-day, it's only mad dogs and Englishmen who venture out.

Black Hollyhocks (well almost). Aren't they wonderful?

These are on my grandson Finn's Pear tree. I had said I would remove all the fruit as the tree (like Finn) is so young, but I couldn't resist leaving just a few. It's a Doyenne de Comice; the world's very best pear tree!

Builders eh? Don't you love em! The foundations are in. The concrete screed is laid. But we now wait for a load of building sand to arrive before Baptiste can actually put the walls up. Classic!
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Wednesday 23 June 2010

R.I.P. Frank. 1956-2010.

The wonderful Frank Sidebottom (a.k.a Chris Sievey) has just died, aged 54. Comedian, aspiring singer, general odd-ball, he had become a national institution.

'Dressing-up' seems to be a very British thing to do. From The Beatles to Adam Ant, from Boy George to Frank Sidebottom, the desire to attract attention through eccentric clothing crosses all boundaries within British music and comedy. Who could ever forget the Glam Rock days of Slade's Noddy Holder and Dave Hill, or the teeny-bopping Bay City Rollers?

So, goodby Frank. You made us laugh, and you enriched our lives. We keep saying 'You'll never see the likes of him again', but they keep turning up, and no doubt someone else will come along to take his place; the tide never really turns.

Just imagine spending your whole professional life inside a big papier maché head!

Tuesday 22 June 2010

My Boys.

This is NOT really a sentimental babies-n-booties Magnon Family Blog; it's more of yer average Bloke's Waffling Blog. However, I do occasionally like to post a picture of my blonde cake-eating grandsons, Harvey J and Ollie, just to demonstrate the miracle of genetics.

My daughter in law has just sent this photo of her two boys at their Edinburgh 'school' summer fair. They'll be with us in about three weeks time, so we're stocking up with sticking plasters, wasp-sting ointment, story books, and chocolate gold coins.

Adventures-a-plenty. Treasure trove to be found. Dogs to be taken for walks. It'll be non-stop fun and games, and Grumpy and Grumsy can't wait.... Roll on mid-July.

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Monday 21 June 2010

Courgettes, New Potatoes, and Raspberry Vinegar.

The courgettes have really taken off, and from now on it's quite a job to keep up with them. We're having a lot of 'twins' this year (see top right), almost every plant has supplied them; a bit like chicken and their double-yolkers.

Only treasure hunters and vegetable gardeners can really understand the excitement of discovering what hidden secrets lie beneath the soil.

Other than having 'tickled' a few small potatoes a week or so ago, these are the first proper new potatoes of the year. They are unblemished, good sized, and plentiful. What more could one ask.

I shall cut them into quite large pieces, boil them in salted water, and when cooled to 'tepid', eat them drenched in Walnut Oil and lightly sprinkled with Maldon-style sea salt. Wonderful.

I've just noticed that my new bottle of Raspberry Vinegar is featured in the photo above. Our first raspberries are always made into vinegar. We have a variety that fruits twice each year, and we only actually 'eat' the second autumn crop (Raspberry Vinegar is much more important).

To make Raspberry Vinegar: Take a good handful of ripe raspberries, pour over plenty of colourless vinegar, add as much sugar as you think decent, and wait 24 hours before straining, boiling for 5 mins, and bottling. This is inaccurate science, where common sense is essential. Your summer salads will be eternally grateful. Google will of course offer correct quantities, but frankly....

I believe it's also very good for sore throats, although, as I consume Raspberry Vinegar throughout the year, I never actually have one.

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Sunday 20 June 2010

The Sunday Story: The Old School Photo.

I can't remember what this photo commemorates, I expect it was sport related; probably cricket (someone in the middle row is holding a 'score book'). For some reason I failed to write anything on the back.

One always loses contact with old school friends; they tend to live in distant lands. But I do know a little about what happened to some of those above.

One became a trans-atlantic airline pilot, one is the manufacturer of a well known brand of exclusive leather gloves, one is a big-wig at the BBC and presents arts-related programmes on BBC1 and BBC2 (some of you may recognise him!), one designed famous record covers for Pink Floyd-Led Zeppelin-Wings-and others, one organised private 'safari-style' tours to difficult untrodden locations; and (shame be upon him) one became a painter.

And now for the story: About 30 years ago I had visited a friend who lived a couple of Kms from us, and just before taking my leave he asked if I would help him move a big lumpy piece of furniture for one of his neighbours; a fellow Englishman.

The Englishman had just added a spectacular conservatory extension to his sitting room, and as a result, a beautiful, but very heavy, antique 'armoire' needed to be shifted a few metres.

When the job was done we accepted the traditional offer of a glass of rough red and half a dozen stale crisps, and we chatted about nothing in particular. It was only then that I noticed one of those typical long school photos hanging on his wall. It featured a very familiar looking classic medieval crest, illustrating King Edward the Confessor. I looked more closely at the photo and asked my host why it was there. He screwed up his eyes, then pointed to a small figure amongst the crowd of anonymous schoolboys and said 'that's my son'. I then pointed to another small figure and said 'and that's me'.

I knew his son quite well; I think we'd played in the same school Rugby team, and had later both worked on the London Stock Exchange (he stayed; I didn't). He had been regularly visiting his father in France (at least three times a year), and although I lived just down the road, our paths had somehow never crossed.

Over the last two 'Sunday Stories' I've talked about another ex-school-friend, who, I'm pleased to say, does NOT feature in the above photo (un-fit, lazy, and inept). Although I would quite liked to have added..... 'one became a swindling, cheating, bastard'.

I should perhaps explain that King Edward the Confessor was a fellow old-boy of my school. That might give you some idea of its age, and therefore the age of its wonderful buildings.
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Saturday 19 June 2010

Oy; Fatso! Look, but don't touch.

I am a reasonably big guy; 6 ft 1 inch, ex Rugby player, ex rower. But whilst Lady Magnon was away in Australia this winter, I have to admit that I did make a bit of a pig of myself (you are what you eat). I took advantage of her absence to indulge in all the forbidden delights of charcuterie and pork butchery; and paid the price!

On her return, Lady M noticed at once that I'd put on weight, and informed me that I was looking a bit bloated. In fact, in the two months she was away, I'd gone up from 16 to 17 stone; the heaviest I've ever been.

Since then I've given up eating certain foods, and it seems to be working. I no longer eat cheese or charcuterie. No bacon for breakfast, no lunchtime joints of roasted belly pork, no slices of chorizo every time I pass the fridge, no slabs of emmental or cantal on the cheese board, and no paté to start every meal.

Otherwise I'm eating and drinking as before, even if summer food is naturally less calorific than winter's.

So far I'm down to 15 and a half stone, and I shall keep going. I don't have any specific aim in mind, I just want to feel lighter, and possibly more energetic. Nothing has been difficult, and I'm not feeling deprived. No doubt if I also gave up drinking the huge quantity of red wine that I do, I would lose weight much quicker, but certain things are simply SACRED.

Friday 18 June 2010

Cottage from the Vines.

I'm very pleased that I painted this little picture when I did, as the vines are sadly no longer there. In fact there are no vines around us at all any more.

When we first settled in our village 37 years ago, every household had their own vines, and, naturally, made their own wine. At harvest time we would go to a different neighbour every morning, gather the grapes, gently crush them through a metal mangle, take them to the cellar, then transfer the grapes/juice mixture to the huge oval wooden 'cuves'. As far as I understood, it was then simply a matter of waiting two weeks before the wine was drawn off via a tap at the bottom. This new wine was deliciously fruity, but after a few months it always turned into what is known here as 'piquette'; somewhere beween wine and vinegar, an aquired taste! (The French word for vinegar is 'vinaigre'; literally 'sour wine').

Apart from the vines in the picture having disappeared, nothing much has changed. Our little cottage (in the distance with tree in front) is still standing. The randomly dotted fruit trees still provide treats for the cows in autumn. And the field boundaries are still roughly in the same places..... But, I do miss the vines.

I enjoy this type of loose oil-sketching. It's really just drawing with paint. I don't think I dated this picture, but I imagine it must have been around 1980.

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Thursday 17 June 2010

We could do with less of this!

The rain, it raineth on the just.
And also on the un-just fella.
But mostly on the just, because
the un-just stole the just's umbrella. Lord Bowen.

Frankly, I'm a bit fed-up. It seems to have been raining continuously all month, and the ground just hasn't had enough time between downpours to dry out. The weeds up at Haddock's have become depressingly all-invading. I've always tried to be philosophical about weeds, but this year they really mean business. I'm sure that I'll get on top of it in time, but this year especially I could have done without all this extra work.

Of course, being gardeners, we curse everything; it's always too wet, too dry, too hot, or too cold. Like farmers; gardeners are rarely happy.

On the brighter side, most of my courgette plants are now producing; I shall have some this evening. I like them sliced on an angle, and lightly sautéed in salted butter. We also have a good supply of perpetual spinach, artichokes, potatoes, and onions, so something must be doing OK.

It's just those wretched WEEDS.

p.s. I've just heard that yesterday we had 18 deaths as a direct result of all this rain in southern France, so maybe I should be thankful to be alive.

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Wednesday 16 June 2010

Mode du Jour 1924 v Mode de la Nuit 2010.

This magazine is dated March 1924. I found a bunch of them in an attic that I was clearing out some years back, and, rather than throw them out, I just stuck them away in a folio.

Some might find these 20's designs 'elegant'. I find them 'cynical, and sexless'. The designer was no doubt trying to hide the natural shape of women. They appear to have no breasts, no waist, and no hips.

On the other hand, the current UK's friday-night street-wear often directs its emphasis unashamedly towards certain parts of the body (I'm sure everyone knows what I mean). Not a pleasant sight, especially when paraded by those who have no natural femininity, or have considerably over embibed. Or both!

France has always been rightly known for her chic and elegantly dressed women, and I'm very pleased to confirm that the ghastly excesses of the UK's bimbo-friday-nighters have, as yet, failed to cross the channel. But, having said that, I do hope that we never go back to those dreadfully austere designs of the 20's.

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Tuesday 15 June 2010

Kitchen tour.

I was recently very impressed by fellow-blogger Molly's tour of her garden in Wales. Unfortunately I can't reciprocate, as I simply don't know the names of the plants, so, instead, I thought I'd give you a small tour around my bijou kitchen.

On a central beam, I pin up all sorts of wierd bits and pieces of paper. My motoring fines, parking tickets, and even soup packets from Jamaica. And yes, we did consume the contents!

This is my Pastis glass and water pitcher. I can't drink Pastis from anything else, luckily this type of kit is standard boot-sale fare.

When I first came to live in France I couldn't stand the taste of Pastis, but as it was offered just about everywhere I had to train myself to like it. I bought myself a bottle of 'Ricard' and over the following months drank a little each day. My method worked, and I'm now a dedicated aficionado.

All foodies love cook-books, and as the 'chef' of the family, I am no exception. This is only a very small selection, and they're all quite standard. A few veggie books in there, and lots on 'preserving' and 'charcuterie'. Elsewhere I have some really beautiful Indian food books; a quick delve between their pages is almost as envigorating as a short holiday

The store cupboard. With all our fresh and preserved vegetables from Haddock's, meat in the freezer, and all the tins, dried-pasta, rice, etc, we have enough food in the house to survive at least a month's siege. Please note the jar of Spanghero 'Rillettes de Canard', one of the true delights of the south west, and only 99.9% fat. Delicious.

I was going to offer more kitchen views, but isn't it amazing how cobwebs show up so well in photos!

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Monday 14 June 2010

Scruffy Oscar.

Regular readers might remember Oscar. He's the one who caught the deer (18.03.2010).

Regular readers might also remember that my friend Terry's dog, Molly, died back in April.

Anyway, Oscar's owners wanted rid of him, so guess who said she'd give him a new home; yes of course, it was my old friend Terry.

Oscar's one of those dogs that you just know will become a really good family pet (given the right owner!). Sadly, he's been previously owned by the WRONG people. He's been slightly mistreated, locked up in a garage, and when he became surplus to requirements, just cast aside. I imagine he was a Christmas present for the previous owner's two small girls, who've probably now discovered the delights of inanimate dolls instead!

He's about 3 years old, begs attention and affection, and just loves having fun. On the same principal as Molly having been my niece (and I her uncle), I'm now hoping that when Terry goes away, she'll leave the lovely Oscar with me, and I shall return to playing Uncle Cro. I can't wait.

The only sad thing is, that the poor dog looks so pleased to be rid of his previous owners who live just 100 metres away.

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Sunday 13 June 2010

The Sunday Story: Adonis in Y Fronts.

'Adonis in Y Fronts' by Richard Hamilton 1963.

I used to own a copy of this famous silk-screen print. I bought it back in the mid 60's, and it didn't come cheaply. It was one of a run of just 40, and I was extremely lucky to aquire it. It came 'loose', and as I was so ridiculously proud of it, I had it very expensively framed

If you read my last Sunday's Story, you would have heard me talk of an ex-school-friend who bought a perfect copy of Millais' Ophelia when he took over a London flat. Well it was this same ex-friend (Nick Lewis) who sold me the 'Adonis in Y Fronts' print, along with a couple of Hockney Cavafy portrait engravings, that were part of this same job-lot purchase.

A short while later he asked if he could buy the Hamilton back, and, very much against my better judgement, I eventually agreed (he was pestering me, and offering me a huge profit); but I NEVER GOT PAID. And to me that is THEFT.

I would still like to own a copy (or indeed to have my own copy back), but I expect it'd cost £thousands today. At the time it was quite a shock to discover that this person should have behaved in such a back-handed way. Certain school friends remain friends for life; but sadly others become thieving bastards. So, if anyone knows of a slimey little antique dealer named Nick Lewis; perhaps you could send me his address (or an ear, or his scalp, or a knee-cap.....!)

Saturday 12 June 2010

Pickled walnuts.

Any lover of strong cheese will know that there's no finer, or more sophisticated, accompaniment to a really good mature Cheddar than pickled walnuts. Back in Sussex we always prepared our walnuts during Goodwood week; here in France we just have to be vigilant, but early June is usually about right.

At this stage the most important thing is that the nut's interiors are wood-free. After 'topping & tailing', piercing several times with a fine stainless blade, and removing any blemishes, the nuts are washed and put to soak in a brine made from a ratio of 500 gms salt to 6 litres water. They need to soak for between 10 to 12 days, with the brine being changed at least twice.

When their time is up, they're washed and drained, and put out into the sunshine for a couple of days until they turn black. Then they are placed in sterilised jars and covered with a hot sweet boiled spiced vinegar, made from 1lb brown sugar, 3 pts malt (or red wine) vinegar, 1 tsp salt, a few peppercorns, and some cloves.

Leave for at least 2/3 months before tasting; I leave mine till Christmas (I always have plenty in reserve from last year).

Now all that remains is to try to get the brown stains off my fingers. I was going to buy some rubber gloves, but as usual.......

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Friday 11 June 2010


Oh my beautiful lawn. What have I done! What have THEY done!

After all the perfect weather we've been having, my builder has finally turned up in the rain, complete with mini-mess-maker & chain-smoking driver. They've been digging out the foundations for the 'tower', and making a terrible quagmire in the process (above was only half way through, before it started really pouring).

I know it has to get worse before it can get better, but for the moment all I can see is back-breaking work ahead; and it's pouring out there..... Really POURING..... MUD, MUD, MUD.

I've also just noticed that a huge lorry is unloading blocks and bags of ciment at the end of the drive.

I just want to sleep for a week, and wake up when they've all gone; hopefully leaving everything in a perfect state. Some hope.

This, of course, is only STAGE ONE. I'm getting my builder to do the initial heavy stuff that my dodgy back forbids. Then when the walls are up I'll continue skywards at leisure with the lighter, more decorative work. No doubt I'll bore you stupid with my progress later!

Actually, I have to admit, my builder (Baptiste) is a wonderful guy in whom I have total confidence. I just like to moan.

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Thursday 10 June 2010


It'd be almost impossible NOT to learn something new each day. If, however, one managed the impossible, I would consider that day wasted.

Yesterday afternoon, for example, my friend Laurence popped in to see us unexpectedly, and I quizzed her about her field, above, of (what I now know to be) Triticale.

We've all heard of Wheat, Barley, Oats, and Rye; but TRITICALE?

Developed in the late 19th Century by Scottish/Swedish researchers (hence the peculiar name), it's an ingenious cross between Wheat and Rye. Wheat playing the female role, and Rye the male (i.e. Rye provides the pollen).

It's only recently been perfected as a viable crop, and is already being grown extensively across Europe, China, and elsewhere. So, have you eaten it? Quite possibly, as it turns up in breakfast cereals, pasta, health-foods, and some breads.

Laurence said her own crop would probably be sold as cattle feed, but research is also under way to use it to produce bioethanol. I also understand that it contains much higher protein than Wheat. The plants themselves are very sturdy, so little chance of it being knocked down by wind, as one sees so often in ordinary Wheat fields.

So the next time you see a nice solid looking field of Wheat, it could in fact be TRITICALE. Pub-quizzers take note!.... (couldn't they have called it Reat?)
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