Tuesday 30 November 2010

Nature Tidied.

Isn't this beautiful.

We probably all know the old joke about the priest looking over a garden wall, and saying to the gardener:

"Behold; aren't God's works wonderful". And the gardener replies "Yes, but it wasn't quite so wonderful when he was tending it by himself".

Nature is fine. But well organised nature can, occasionally, be even finer. The photos above are of my friend José's nearby Chestnut plantation (but you knew that). I was walking through yesterday, and was amazed by how the leaves have fallen in the most photogenic fashion (unlike those untidy ones in the woods).

I saw this plantation being planted, I've watched it mature, seen the crops harvested, and even bought 9 of its thinned-out trees which I'm burning in my cooker at this very moment. Love it!

Monday 29 November 2010

All Together Now... "Happy Days are Here Again!" (Ben Selvin and the Crooners, 1930)

Who can fail to be uplifted by this? Forget Gangsta Rap; "Happy Days are Here Again!"

Sunday 28 November 2010

Cro Builds A Snowman.

OK, it may only be 4 inches high, and it may be an indoor snowman, but I made it with my own frozen hands, and suffered for my art. Bah. Humbug.

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Saturday 27 November 2010

Look What I've Found.

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!

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Friday 26 November 2010

Moral Dilemma.

Maybe I'm venturing dangerously close to the realm of 'morality', but I've always thought that Voltaire was absolutely right when he famously said "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it!".

Nowadays I'm not so sure. When 'Free Speech' is abused by a radical minority in order to corrupt a gullible and causeless public, maybe it's time to say 'No'.

The great problem is where one draws the line between what is acceptable and what isn't. I certainly wouldn't trust it to politicians or the judiciary, so who could make such decisions?

Perhaps 'public taste' should be the final arbiter, although how this would be implimented; I have no idea! What I do know, however, is that the 'public' is becoming increasingly angry about too much so-called 'Freedom-of-Speech', and if nothing is changed, that anger may well spill out onto the streets.

Take To The Barricades Citizens; but maybe not just yet.

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.

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Wednesday 24 November 2010

Congratulations Sir.

Now that the initial hullabaloo and brouhaha has calmed slightly, I would like to offer my open congratulations to England's foremost happy couple.

Wills will, in time, make a very good and popular king, and Kate seems to be the perfect consort.

How wonderful it'll be to have a young princess who not only knows how to behave, but also has an IQ over 80! (ahem)

I'm just wondering what I should give them as a wedding present...!
Now, I really must get my morning suit off to the cleaners.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

It's Paté Making Time.

Yesterday I made my first lot of 'every-day' Paté. Everything necessary is now 'on offer', and I bought a whole 5 kg Pork Belly, a whole 2 kg Liver, and about 1kg of 'throat' meat and fat.

My only bit of serious paté making kit is this electric mincer, with which I processed (on the coursest setting) 2 kg Belly, 1 kg Liver, and 1 kg 'Throat'. Oh, and some truffle.

I added 5 eggs, dried herbs, salt and pepper, Armagnac, and a few dried chilli flakes.

The mixture was potted into 350 gm jars, and sterilised for 3 hours on our wonderful wood fired stove 'George'. Unfortunately the photo gives no idea of all the steam and heat involved.

And here's most of the finished product, which I've just cleaned and checked-over, ready to be tasted in about 3 months time. Last year I slightly under-salted, so my fingers are crossed.
Today I'll do it all again. My second batch will be slightly different, with more Liver to Belly ratio (1 kg of each). Happy days.

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Monday 22 November 2010

Uncles eh! Oo'd 'ave 'em.

"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.

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Sunday 21 November 2010

Top Secret.

Look what I've found!

Every summer when my grandsons visit, I take out my infamous 'Grumpy's Top Secret Adventure Book'.

Each day I place it in clear view of the boys, who are given the strictest instruction that they should NOT OPEN IT on any account. They can't wait for my back to be turned. What small boy could resist!

Inside, there's a small secret department into which I place a clue about hidden treasure. Nothing too complicated; they'll become more difficult in time. See Harvey J, above, holding one such clue.

Eventually they find two hidden gold coins (one each), filled with chocolate. They are always ecstatic; and I am too. Summer wouldn't be the same without Grumpy's book.

My apologies to George Eliot. I'm afraid I massacred a copy of her very first novel 'Adam Bede' in order to create my little game; but in the name of adventure, I think she might almost have approved.

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Saturday 20 November 2010

W H Schmuck.

NB: For those who are unaware, W H Smith is the UK's largest chainstore newsagent/bookseller, with a branch in every town, railway station, and probably public lavatory.

As such they are the current defenders of Britain's literary heritage; not that you'd know it.

A series of recent pre-Christmas TV ads is promoting a bunch of dreary, lacklustre, self-promo, ghost-written, junior Z list celeb's so-called autobiographies, all of which make me want to vomit.

Epitomising this rush for dim-wit cash, is glamour model 'Jordan', aka Katie Price. Proof that a size 48DD chest (is there such a thing?) is far more important than the ability to read and write if you wish to claim a Christmas best-seller.

Amongst my blogger friends (and elsewhere) are those who work really hard at their writing. It makes me mad that some twit can become rich and famous simply because of their surgically enhanced 'threepenny bits'.

Go on Katie; spell autobiography... Er... is it O R T A B Y O G R I F F E E?... Yes, well done Katie. Here, take the money!!


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.

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Thursday 18 November 2010

Glorious Gooseberries.

When was the last time you heard the word 'Gooseberry'?

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

Chet Atkins & Mark Knopfler - Ill See You In My Dreams

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!

Gunna Get Slau'ad.

I mentioned recently that we receive a huge amount of supermarket advertising material. I always have a quick look through the stuff sent by the one where I shop, and was quite shocked yesterday to see the above!

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?

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Tuesday 16 November 2010

The Law Suit.

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!

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Monday 15 November 2010

Gypsy Cro.

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.

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Sunday 14 November 2010

The Sunday Story: Lionel Burleigh.


Please read below before clicking above.

I mentioned this last sunday, but whilst living in London, back in the mid-60's, I met some really interesting, bizarre, and notable people.

Amongst the bizarre list (and very close to the top) was a man called Lionel Burleigh.

I first met Lionel at a rather smart Bond Street vernissage, when he sidled up to me and whispered 'Just say I'm your uncle'. We toured the lacklustre show together, then went off for a couple of beers at a nearby pub'.

Lionel fascinated me from the beginning. Over the time it takes to down a few pints, he revealed several of his more interesting recent exploits. He'd managed to fix one of his own paintings to the wall of a Picasso exhibition at The Tate, he'd published the world's most unsuccessful newspaper (The Commonwealth Sentinel, which first appeared on the 6th of Feb 1965 and closed the following day), he'd persuaded British Rail to reinstigate The Brighton Belle (a dining/drinking train service to the south coast) losing BR a fortune, and he'd sent all of his 9 children to Drama School and managed to live off their bit-part earnings.

Somehow Lionel persuaded me to allow him to use my premises in Chelsea (I was in the antiques business at the time), for a 'Painting Marathon'. His aim was to paint several hundred pictures in one day, and sell them off at a few shillings a time to passers by.

All went according to plan, except that he only sold about two. At the end of the day he gave loads of them to me, but they were such rubbish that I threw them away at once. We remained friends for a while then he simply disappeared. No doubt he'd found some other mug to tolerate his eccentricities.

Anyway, I recently came across the above clip of dear old Lionel. He's doing what he did best (or worst), and making our lives just that little bit more fun in the process.

It was good knowing you Mr Burleigh. But you were a dreadful bloody painter!

Saturday 13 November 2010

Protest Banners.

Have you noticed that in most protests the banners are all made by the same person. Some lone fanatic who, probably, is the only one who can spell.

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.

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Friday 12 November 2010

Happy Birthday Rupert.

Rupert the bear has just turned 90. Originally the idea of Mary Tourtel, he came to my attention under the pen of the great Alfred Bestall.

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

Scorched Earth Policy.

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.


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Wednesday 10 November 2010


Yesterday I was in Toulouse. For many years we've considered buying a small city 'crash-pad' in Paris, but really Toulouse would be a much wiser location. It's a fabulous place.

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

Wasp Spider.

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?

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Monday 8 November 2010

Dieting for Dummies.

BEFORE (Genuine authenticated photo)

AFTER: (2 Weeks later: Genuine authenticated photo)

I have a glut of spectacular cabbages up at Haddock's, and we've been eating them regularly in our lunchtime soup. It reminded me that a while back there was a fad for a 'Cabbage Soup Diet', so I asked Lady Magnon if we were both suddenly to become extremely slim as a result of our lunches; surprisingly she replied 'No'.

Dieting, and dieting books, are lucrative buisness. Therefore I would like to announce the publication of the following.....

Cro Magnon's 'Stop Stuffing Your Face With Pies, Easy Diet Book'. And it's sister book Cro Magnon's 'The Eat Far Less Fat and You'll Lose Weight Diet'.

As you can see by the GENUINE illustrations above, I have myself tested these revolutionary diets, and these GENUINE photos prove that they are effective.

So, if you are morbidly obese, send as much money as you can afford, and the 2 above mentioned MIRACLE (easy to follow) diet books will be forwarded to you asap under plain cover.

GENUINE photos courtesy of Dr Lady Magnon.

Sunday 7 November 2010

The Sunday Story: Sara Leighton.

When I was living in London I met some really interesting people; as one does . Over the next two sundays I'm going to highlight a couple of them. Neither is particularly well known, so this is not a 'name dropping' exercise, but both were painters and both left their indelible marks.

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

The English Obsession.

The English are obsessed with CLASS. Their politics are class based, education is class based, and even employment is class based.

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.

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Wednesday 3 November 2010

Fat Fair?

We receive an inordinate amount of advertising stuff through the post. Supermarket special offers, local fetes, political handouts; you name it, we get it. I could of course put a little 'No Schmuck Thanks' sticker on my letter box, but in fact I rather like the stuff.

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.

p.s. The only thing I actually bought from amongst these offers was a pack of Duck Sausages (bottom right, upper picture)...... Unfortunately they were NOT as good as expected.

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