Tuesday 30 November 2010
Monday 29 November 2010
Who can fail to be uplifted by this? Forget Gangsta Rap; "Happy Days are Here Again!"
Sunday 28 November 2010
Saturday 27 November 2010
It's official; an Eiffel Tower replica is being assembled in the woods very near to our cottage.
This giant structure is ostensibly to increase mobile phone coverage, but I'm wondering if there isn't a more sinister side to its construction. Big Brother maybe?
I'm told that if I leave a prepared casserole out on a window-sill in view of the mast, it will cook to perfection within an hour. I also hear that our pool will now stay at a permanent 28 degrees, and that the honey from bees will turn green and taste of Friars Balsam.
However, that same loony brigade tell me that if I'm cautious, and wear an aluminiun foil overcoat and matching balaclava for the rest of my life, all should be OK.
p.s. I notice that they're going to attach spikey things to it to deter hooligans. So when it's up, and no-one's looking, I definitely intend to climb to the top, and attach a Christmas Barbie Doll Fairy to the pointy bit. Well someone's got to!
Friday 26 November 2010
Thursday 25 November 2010
This creature is a relatively new member of our little community. He goes by the name of 'Scotty'.
The strange thing about him (amongst many others) is that his eyes look disturbingly like human eyes; almost a reason to believe in reincarnation (but not quite).
He belongs to some neighbours where he is totally ignored, so he comes to us for company and long walks.
Wednesday 24 November 2010
Tuesday 23 November 2010
Monday 22 November 2010
"Off to the colonies with you m'boy; and send back tea!"
No doubt my grandfather gave such instructions to my uncle (my father's older brother; front row, snappy suit, two tone shoes, 2nd from left), when he was sent off to Ceylon; now Sri Lanka.
Well he did send back tea, as well as some furs, and a few jewels. Then he got ill; paratyphoid I believe. And my poor grandfather had to send out an English doctor, all the way to Colombo, to bring him home.
Typical. You send your errant offspring off to the colonies, then (just when you thought you were rid of them) it costs a bloody fortune to have them repatriated.
I'm posting this picture of my uncle mostly for the amusement of my oldest son Kimbo, who holds a morbid fascination for the more licenscious members of my family.
Sunday 21 November 2010
Saturday 20 November 2010
Friday 19 November 2010
This 'American primative' of a dog is a real favourite from my collection of paintings.
This is what's written (in very faded ink) on the back of the split wooden panel.
'Mrs Ellen McAulay. Fitts Corner. Wyoming. 13th November 1842'.
No name for the dog, or why he was painted. I quite expect that originally the wooden panels were part of a cupboard door. On several occasions when I've had dogs in the house, they've put their front paws up against the wall (below the painting) and barked. I think the artist would have been highly amused.
Thursday 18 November 2010
I recently wrote of the destruction of my late parents' Shropshire orchard. Included in the massacre was a large netted fruit cage that contained a dozen or more rare varieties of Gooseberry. Some were large smooth and green, some were tiny hairy and red, and the others were all colours and sizes in between. It was a remarkable collection of unusual varieties that must have taken years to amass. All of these were destroyed in the mindless clearance.
Anyway; I love Gooseberries. I did plant a few bushes here in France about 40 years ago, but they all succumbed to some horrible disease. Recently I've noticed that they are making a come-back in the area, so I'm going to re-plant.
Gooseberries to me are a bit like like Rhubarb; essential in the garden, and eaten every so often as a special treat. Stewed Goosberries and thick clotted cream, Gooseberry fool, a Gooseberry tart. Does no-one eat these delights any more? Well, from 2011 onwards I certainly intend to.
Wednesday 17 November 2010
If you like guitar playing pure & simple, then give this a listen.
The late great Chet Atkins with Mark Knopfler showing total mastery of their instruments. What CAN'T they do!
A 70cl bottle of 50% alc Vodka on sale at just €7. Next to it a 70cl bottle of 40% alc Armagnac for €15. The Vodka is half the price of an ordinary 'cooking quality' Armagnac.
Personally I don't drink spirits, but a lot of children DO. In the UK it's the spirit of choice for teenage party-goers whose main ambition on a saturday night is to get as drunk as possible.
France sadly is catching up with its northern neighbours in this respect, and young French revellers are now staggering and vomiting around town and city streets at weekends; something never previously seen. A sign of the times perhaps.
Selling very strong Vodka at €7 a bottle seems to me irresponsible; if not dangerous. The only reason to buy this stuff is to get DRUNK.
€7 = £6= $9.6 for a bottle of 50% alc Vodka! How does that compare with where you live?
Tuesday 16 November 2010
I bought this early plaque when I was in my late-teens; it must have been one of my first delves into the world of antiques. Made around 1800, it is obviously influenced by the Gillray/Rowlandson school of satirical cartoonists.
Its message is all too clear. Two men are fighting a legal battle, but it's the lawyer who milks the rewards. A lesson as poignant today as it was in the late 18th and early 19th C.
Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose!
Monday 15 November 2010
Who amongst us hasn't dreamed of setting off in a Gypsy Caravan, and leaving all the stress of civilisation behind.
Not too long after we'd moved to France (around 1975), we were visited by a young London couple who'd done just that. They parked their wagon behind our barn (above), put the horse to graze in our field, and settled down to a couple of months rest chez Cro.
Their Welsh Cob, Joe, had been a London Rag-n-Bone man's horse, and pulled the wagon for just 15 kms each day. As such, they had taken 3 months to travel from the north coast of France to where we live, and later took another 3 months to travel down to the south coast where they eventually sold the whole horse/wagon caboodle, and returned to Blighty where, I believe, they wrote the obligatory book.
At the time we had two small children (above), and we were all perfectly happy living where we did, but as I sat in the doorway of that tiny caravan, I too dreamed of that open road.
The owners of the wagon were both inner-city London teachers (she was Weggie-Benn's niece), and were taking a sabatical for essential recuperation. It must have been very hard settling back into work again after such a spectacular year away.
Sunday 14 November 2010
Saturday 13 November 2010
The above picture from Thursday's Rememberance Day in London is a good example. These nice young people had just been showing collective gratitude to their country of adoption, by waving at the police, and keeping themselves warm over flowery open fires. Their amusing placards, all obviously of the same origin.
During my student days I went up to London to demonstrate about something that seemed important at the time. When we stepped out of the coach (where the march was due to begin) there was a man standing by the steps with a huge pile of banners. He handed one to me which was large and red. I looked at it carefully, and it had absolutely nothing at all to do with the reason for my protest; it was simply a standard Communist Party rant about smashing government. I returned it to the man at once, but was horrified to see so many others blindly walking off with their handed-out banners held aloft.
Our protest had been hijacked by a political agenda, and I wanted no more to do with it. Lady Magnon and I spent the rest of the day wandering in galleries, whilst, sadly, the sheep went off and (placards in hand) bleated loudly.
Friday 12 November 2010
As a child, my Christmases would never have been the same without the annual book of Rupert's adventures. I adored him, and his pals Edward Trunk, Algy Pug, Bill Badger, Ping Pong, Tiger Lily, Sailor Sam, The little Gypsy Boy, etc etc.
Rupert (that's him above; red jumper, yellow trousers) came from a perfectly normal bear family, whose friends were all perfectly normal other-animal families. But all around them were humans and somehow this never seemed odd. His father wore chunky tweed plus-four suits and smoked a pipe, and his mother baked perfect pies and cakes. They were just like any other next-door-neighbour family.
No intergalactic wars, no alien threats to destroy mankind, no violence or explosions. Just good exciting and thought-provoking adventures.
Forget all that plug-in or battery operated X box, Wii, Game boy, stuff. Buy your boys, nephews, or grandsons (it is a bit boyish) a Rupert Bear album for Christmas; they'll be reading it for years to come.
And yes! I do still have my very own Rupert Scarf; it was hand-woven for me by a lovely friend way back in the late 60's.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm just off to spend the day in Nutwood!
Thursday 11 November 2010
When my people retired, they moved from their beautiful thatched house in a small Sussex village, to the above house in Shropshire. It came with a small coach house, a few brick-built sheds, greenhouse, paddock, large orchard, pond, well, formal gardens, vegetable garden, and a netted soft fruit enclosure (which contained goodness knows how many rare varieties of gooseberry).
Their residency didn't last too long, and sadly my parents are both now resting in the neighbouring churchyard.
I sold the house to a local farmer who I knew. He had two major hobbies; owning racehorses and flying his helicopter.
I heard later that the gardens didn't suit his needs, and the 44 tree orchard, which contained many very rare varieties of apples, had simply been bulldozed and levelled.
There are few things in life that make me mad, but this was certainly one. On reflection I should have asked him what plans he had for the place. Had he mentioned anything about destroying the beautiful ancient orchard, I would have looked for another buyer.
I recently looked at the house on Google Earth, and noticed that a second house has been built in the paddock. No doubt the racehorses have gone, which somehow makes the orchard's original destruction even worse.
Wednesday 10 November 2010
If one wanted to live in a French city, then Toulouse has absolutely everything to offer. Its architecture is good, it has galleries, the river, the university, the best rugby club in the south, great restaurants, and of course Ikea.
Unfortunately I didn't get to see any of this yesterday, as I was simply driving Lady Magnon to the airport. She's off galavanting again in Blighty, leaving Cro, once again, home alone.
Tuesday 9 November 2010
These large, and very beautiful, Wasp Spiders are not uncommon in the garden; this female above I found whilst trimming some Ivy. What I've not seen before, however, is the accompanying walnut-sized striped 'egg sack'. It's HUGE.
I understand that Wasp Spiders, especially the males, can give a nasty bite, but they're not venomous. Several friends who are normally a bit iffy about spiders have found them to be fascinating. Maybe the Wasp Spider is the answer to arachnophobia.
It's not easy to measure spiders, but this one (from front to back legs) was about 3.5 inches.
I've just noticed that there are several egg sacks dotted around in the ivy. Are we about to have a Wasp Spider population explosion?
Monday 8 November 2010
Sunday 7 November 2010
I can't remember quite how I met portrait painter/writer Ms Leighton, other than we were close neighbours in Chelsea. Sara (quite naturally dwarling) had a beautiful house and studio in fashionable Glebe Place, whilst the penniless Cro lived in an oversized broom cupboard in Bramerton Street; the next street up.
It was probably in 1965 or 6 when, completely out of the blue, she asked me if I would go to Archie Nathan's (the London theatrical costumier) to pick up a suit of armour. She was painting the portrait of a well-known actress (can't remember which one), who was playing St Joan in The West End, and she needed the armour 'pronto'.
Sara wasn't the sort of woman to whom one would refuse a request. She was beautiful and statuesque, and her Maureen O'Hara style red hair demanded to be taken very seriously!
The suit of armour was waiting for me when I got to Nathan's. I stuffed it into the taxi, and a short while later delivered it to her studio where I spent another hour or so setting it up in the right pose; complete with waving tricolore flag.
By way of a thank you, Sara invited me to dinner at a local restaurant (235; remember it?). She arrived just a short while after me, wearing a pale beige, detective style, trench coat. When I asked if I could take it for her, I was a little surprised when she replied that I'd better not, as she had absolutely nothing on underneath. Ahem...
The last I heard of Sara was that she'd bought some huge old monastry in Tuscany that she was running as an artists colony/hotel. I suppose she'd be in her 70's now (very indescreet Cro!) and is no doubt still causing a rumpus somewhere in Italy. She was quite a lass.
Friday 5 November 2010
At present the 'lower classes' have (in many areas) the upper hand. We are told that England's top universities, for example, will now give preference to a 'lower class' applicant who has poor exam grades, over an 'upper class' applicant with traditionally good grades.
A 'lower class' person may insult or make disparaging remarks about the 'upper classes', but visa versa is strictly verboten.
TV reality shows/talent shows/soaps are all exclusively 'lower class'. The get-rich-quick notion of celebrity is designed to demonstrate that ANYONE can be famous/rich/a star overnight. No brains brawn or breeding is required!
So how would a foreigner tell these classes apart? Certainly not by wealth, nor by what car one drives, and not even by the cut of one's twenty-first century cloth.
I'm told that one should try to find someone who holds their knife like a pencil, and calls the letter H, haitch and not aitch, and you've probably discovered your 'lower class' citizen. But watch out; the 'upper classes' will soon be imitating him or her 'just for fun'. "Oh Harry, just look how I'm holding my knife; and does one spell Harry with a haitch?" Guffaw, guffaw.
Will aristocracy ever be replaced by meritocracy? I doubt it; not in ye olde England.
Thursday 4 November 2010
Let me introduce you to Robbie Baskerville. Robbie's a big boy, and in his hey-day looked as if he'd have your arm off just for a light morning snack. Nowadays he's getting old; he's greying around the muzzle, his bones ache, and the younger whipper-snapper local dogs like to taunt him.
He belongs to my friend and neighbour José, and he's the boss of three farm dogs; the other two being Jimbo (who has a broken ear), and Robbie's young and inseperable side-kick; the hooligan Duke.
Robbie is very independent, he walks about a mile to see me at least once a day. He tidies up all the scraps, does a couple of tours around the garden, then pisses on anything previously un-pissed-upon.
I've known Robbie all his life, and we have a sort of mutual understanding about dog/human relationships. He looks (or did look) totally ferocious, but is a complete softy. I don't suppose he's got many more years (or even months) in him, so I'm presenting him to you before it's too late.
A wonderful dog is our Robbie; a real local character and a really great friend.
Wednesday 3 November 2010
Take this 'poster' for example. South West France is renowned for its gastronomy, and in particular its Duck and Goose products. At this time of year all the supermarkets compete with each other to offer the very best, and most reasonably priced, products for us to prepare our own gastronomic conserves. Duck breasts, legs, hearts and gizzards, are all there; as well as Foie Gras in various qualities.
Personally I buy all my Duck products ready prepared (they're excellent), but I do make a large amount of Pork based Paté each year, into which I put Foie Gras. Any day now we'll start to receive special offer adverts for Pork products as well, but with Lady M about to go away to Blighty, I'll have to restrain myself until she returns; she's become as addicted to the Paté making process as me.