Wednesday 31 August 2011

A Tricky Decision.

We've now named our 3 new hens. It wasn't an easy job, but with the help of Harvey J and Ollie (my grandsons aged 5 and 3) we've finally come up with what we believe to be the perfect names.

The darker one (rear of the two on the right)  had already been named Edwina (she just had to be, didn't she). And the other two are both now to be called Richard. One Edwina and two Richards. Easy to remember, and no need to bother sorting out the two non-Edwinas, who ARE very similar.

Why did they choose a boys name; twice? I have no idea, but if you're 5 and 3 the difference between male and female chickens is probably still a little confusing; and heck, why bother with two names when only one will do.
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Tuesday 30 August 2011

Summer Lunch.

We nearly always eat veggie at lunchtime.

At the moment there is maize (corn) everywhere, Haddock's is dripping with wonderful tomatoes, and a plentiful supply of salad leaves and roasted red peppers finishes the picture. I usually add a few capers, some tinned fish, or an egg or two.

Voila; lunch is served. Simple, appetizing, and most importantly... delicious.
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Monday 29 August 2011

Lady Magnon: 40 Glorious Years.

In 1969 I was at art college, where I met a young woman. She was wearing a mini-ish skirt and leather sandals with criss-cross thongs that went up to just below her knees. I was so impressed with these sandals, that I decided at once to make an honest woman of her; amazingly she accepted. We signed papers in Gibraltar, and decided that we should make our home in Southern France.

As women do, she presented me with a few children along the way. Firstly a son, who now has two sons of his own. Then a daughter, who also has two sons. Then another son, who's still thinking about things.

We ambled along, did lots of silly things, and are still doing lots of silly things today.

So this is a little 'Thank You'. It's been a lot of fun, and if I know Lady Magnon, the fun will continue.

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Sunday 28 August 2011

We're all going on a summer holiday.....

They sailed from Southampton to Bilbao, tested the waters of northern Spain, then, when at their destination, took to the boats again for a few laps around the pool. A holiday isn't a holiday without lots of water.

It's that time of year when small clothes are to be seen hanging on the washing line, and I'm called 'Grumpy' for a couple of weeks (not, this time, by Lady M).

Harvey J and Ollie (plus their parents) are with us again. Favourite toys have been re-discovered, scuffles break out over who plays with what, and chaos reigns where previously there was calm. It's WONDERFUL.
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Saturday 27 August 2011


I'm right in the middle of my vegetable preserving; late August is when we have a glut of EVERYTHING.

Yesterday I did a batch of Courgettes in Tomato Sauce, and today I was to start my Ratatouille campaign; but I ran out of capsules (I use the Le Parfait, Familia Wiss, capsule method of sterilising).

I jumped into the Compact Royce, tore off to the nearest hardware store, and was somewhat stunned to see that a pack of 12 (100mm) capsules costs €7.90 (usually they just go in with other shopping, so I take no notice of price).

This tells me that each capsule costs 66 centimes. And how much does a 500 gm tin of Ratatouille cost in the shops... around 79 centimes. Meaning that, after the cost of gas etc, I'm probably not even saving 10 centimes per jar!

So, is it worth all the trouble? Well, of course it is. I know exactly what goes into each jar, I've grown it all myself up at Haddock's, and it's bottled to my own taste. I've never worked in a vegetable canning factory, but I think I can guarantee that they don't take the same care and attention as I do.
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Friday 26 August 2011

Maureen O'Hara.

What a beautiful woman. This red-headed, orange lipped, Irishwoman (not evident in photo) must surely have been one of nature's most outrageous creations.

She also did a spot of movie-acting. How Green Was My Valley and Miracle on 34th Street being two of my own particular favourites. I salute you Miss O'Hara.

Thursday 25 August 2011


Regular visitors to these pages will know that I write about any old rubbish that comes into my mind. I have no interest in impressing, or influencing, or even shocking. Today I simply looked at my lunchtime cheeseboard, and here is the bloggo result.

France quite rightly boasts of having a cheese for every day of the year (The UK has over 700, but don't mention it to a Frenchman).

I've lived south of La Manche for the past 40 years, and I can confirm unequivocally that most cheeses here are tasteless, uninteresting, and fit only for the pig trough.

Above is a typical daily Magnon cheeseboard which contains 3 quite different cheeses that I can recommend without the slightest hesitation. Firstly a simple cheap 'Chevre' (goat's milk cheese), that needs to be kept out of the fridge until it feels really soft and runny (dee-bloody-lish). Then Saint Agur, an industrially produced blue cheese that is always deliciously strong and creamy (I almost prefer this to most Roqueforts). And lastly a Dutch Gouda with Cummin seeds, which caters for my addiction to this wonderful spice.

Otherwise we tend to eat President 'Campagne' Camembert, Brie occasionally, and (when we can afford it) vieux Cantal. This may sound a bit limited, but five out of 365 ain't that bad.
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Wednesday 24 August 2011

The Final Tally.

If you find the mention of filthy lucre distasteful, please consult another page at once. I would hate to upset!

I suppose the very last thing to do when building, is to calculate the total cost; which is what I've now done. Kevin McCloud does it; so why not Cro (sorry; this is a reference to some UK TV prog').

The whole 'tower' caboodle (which is already much more verdant than in the pic), including the connecting wall to the house, the gate, etc, came to €8,390, or £7,500, or $11,900. Had I employed a builder to complete the WHOLE project, it may well have cost €30,000, if not more; and we'd have relinquished all our fun and danger.

I only mention this because it gives some idea of how much it might cost to build one's own house. If one began with a house comprising of SIX times the size of our 'tower' (not a bad size), it would cost less than £45,000.

I didn't skimp anywhere during the process, in fact I made a point of buying the best locally hand-made materials wherever possible, and chose quality over price. As an artisan myself, I always try to buy products made by small, individual, 'craftsmen'.

So, if you're passing this way, do drop in and have a butcher's at the finished 'tower'. You'd be very welcome to a glass of chilled Champagne to accompany what would amount to a very short tour! I shall now not mention the 'tower' ever again (unless it falls down).

p.s. Since the finish, it's been constantly inhabited. Other than a lingering aroma of linseed oil, it really is a lovely room, and the morning view is simply stunning (for which I claim no responsibility). We recently also experienced our first 'tower' night-time storm, the whole effect was wonderful; a true 'son et lumiere'.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Gregorian Calendar, The No 10, The No 12, The New Millennium.

I reprint this rant from my book 'Périgord Life. Je t'adore 24, encore'.

A year is based on 365.2425 days when averaged over 400 years. In pre-Gregorian days, they had failed to notice those important decimal points and over the centuries a discrepancy of 10 days had built up which needed to be corrected. In 1752, Britain jumped from the 4th directly to the 15th of October to compensate, and at the same time changed New Year’s Day from March 25th to January 1st.

Originally we had 10 months in the year, hence SEPTember, OCTOber, NOVEMber and DECEMber. Julius Caesar was the first to ostentatiously immortalise himself in calendar form; squeezing in the extra month of July. Then Augustus Caesar, not to be outdone, followed suit with August, making 12 smaller months with the Latin numerical references to 7, 8, 9, and 10 remaining.

12 is a GOOD number, it is divisible by 2, 3, 4, and 6. 10 is NOT so good, being divisible only by 2 and 5. Why, therefore, is there such a concentration throughout Europe on decimalisation when we all quite happily cope with 12 months of each year? One would have thought that, by now, some overpaid number-cruncher in Brussels would have insisted that we all revert to the pre-Caesar calendar, and its 10 month year.

For many years I’ve thought in Kilometres, Centigrade, and Kilos, but I still have a nostalgic hankering for twelve pence to a shilling, buying 8 ounces of gob-stoppers at the corner shop, swallowing pints of Old Peculiar down at the ‘Horse-n-Bucket’, and measuring a cricket pitch in yards. Is this because I was born when such things were unquestioned? Or am I just being nostalgic? Twelve-ism is alive and well as far as I’m concerned, but I have reluctantly embraced the simpler, yet less user-friendly concept of ten.

In the decimal system we count from 1 to 10; to count from 0 to 9 would be folly. Yet only recently, look how many people mistakenly welcomed the new millennium on January 1st 2000 (i.e. counting from 0 to 9) instead of on ‘the first of the first of the first’ (i.e. 1 Jan 2001). Were they simply blinded by zeros? Strangely, on the change from the 19th to the 20th centuries there was no such confusion, and The Times (of London) newspaper of the day records that celebrations correctly took place on 1st Jan 1901. During the following century some of us don’t seem to have advanced that much mathematically. For me, it still wrangles that the majority of revelers acted a year too early, then sadly failed to welcome the correct ‘New Millennium’ at the start of 2001 (i.e. the first day of the first month of the year MMI). 

For anyone who's still confused 1. 1. 2000 was the first day of the last year of the 20th Century.  1. 1. 2001 was the first day of the 21st Century (i.e. the new millennium).

Monday 22 August 2011


After leaving college, I taught for a couple of years; once in a Shropshire girls upper school (14-18), and then in a Sussex co-ed prep' school (6-14).

At both locations I stressed my attitude towards the profession by repeating to the children what I, myself, had been told whilst at school, that 'Education should not just provide answers, but also provoke questions'.

I have since collected a few other wise words about education and teaching. Here are just a few.....

W B Yeats said 'Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire'.

Anon said 'Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance'.

Mark Twain cleverly said 'I have never let schooling interfere with my education'.

And once again, the very prolific Anon said 'Education's purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one'.

All wise words; can you add better?

Sunday 21 August 2011

Night Time Swimming.

Jeez, it's been HOT here recently, and in the daytime we spend most of our time just trying to keep cool. However, there's something really special about swimming at night.

We switch on the pool's floodlights, shine coloured lights up into the palms, and cavort like spring chickens in the fabulously irredescent water.

The number of nights when this is possible is limited, but at the moment the weather is perfect, and swimming is so much better than lying in bed unable to sleep.
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Saturday 20 August 2011

Hattatts International Ltd.

Many of you will have visited The Hattatts blog ( But, I am duty-bound to divulge, this is probably NOT a private blog at all. 

I suspect that it's really a large well-equipped OFFICE in the Cayman Islands, where at least two dozen full-time ex-Fleet Street hacks are responsible for the lengthy and informative replies to all the comments they receive.

This instantly popular Blog was started only a few months ago (April?), probably as a joint venture between the Brighton (UK) and Budapest (Hungary) tourist boards. This can easily be confirmed by a visit to their latest offering 'A Taste of Brighton'; a blatantly mouth-watering advertising campaign on behalf of one member of the Brighton (Kemp Town branch) Chamber of Commerce, which has already received nearly 120 comments (commercial inquiries).

So be aware; this highly informative and readable blog is possibly no more than a huge commercial venture, run by an army of writers, photographers, researchers, and quasi-journalists. It just has to be; there simply aren't enough hours in the day for a husband and wife team to cope with the huge work-load!

So, come on you Hattatts; own up NOW. Cards on the table. Let's have the TRUTH.

Friday 19 August 2011

My First Proper Job.

My new found retirement (what retirement!) has made me reflect on my 'working' past.

It was only about a week before I left school that I suddenly realised that life was about to become serious, and I'd have to get myself some sort of paid employment.... Strangely, no-one had mentioned this before.

I wasn't prepared to sweep streets or run a tobacconist's shop, so I plumped for the easy option and joined London's biggest playground for overgrown ex-schoolboys; The Stock Exchange.

My father offered me free use of his city tailor, I bought my bowler from Lock's, and my brolly from Swain Adeney Brigg. I had my stiff white collars hand-made in Jermyn Street, and bought my striped collarless shirts from good-old Marks-n-Sparks. I was ready to conquer the financial world.

I took a position with Sheppards and Co, London's oldest firm of brokers, at the staggering salary of 500 guineas a year (this was in 1964), and became what was then called a 'Blue Button' (I don't know if this title still exists); a trainee dogsbody broker.

Almost at once I realised that this was NOT what I wanted to do with my life, but I stuck with it because it afforded me a tiny place in Bayswater, with enough left over to live in reasonable style (all on 10 quid a week). I enjoyed the dandy-ish side of city life, and the kudos of being someone with 'prospects'. One of our senior partners even insisted that I, along with one other Blue Button, attended certain city held 'coming-out parties', where the country's most eligible fillies gathered throughout 'The Season'. (The idea being to make an honest woman out of one of them, and have millionaire prospects over night).

I'd been with Sheppards for just over a year when the word 'bonus' started to be bandied about, and when I opened THAT envelope, I was stunned to discover that mine was twice my annual salary. I couldn't believe my luck, I suddenly had £1000 in the bank and the temptation was too much. I handed in my notice (not what they were expecting) and headed directly for Paris.

City life is brain-numbing. It is simply about MONEY; nothing else. There is no soul in the work, and no creativity. Often I didn't know what on earth I was doing, but I knew HOW it was done, and I did it reasonably well.  As long as the bottom line was healthy everyone was happy. On reflection, I HATED EVERY SINGLE MOMENT OF IT (other than my bonus).

I chose the picture above because when visiting The Bank of England it was traditional for certain brokers (my firm in particular) to wear a silk hat. Nowadays I can hardly believe that all those years ago I used to strut around Throgmorton Street wearing a freshly brushed topper, but it was all part of the wretched job.

Thank goodness I was wise enough to look for pastures new!
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Thursday 18 August 2011

My Nomadic Boy Wills.

"I think the sea's over there!"

Wills was born here in France, in the beautiful bastide town of Villeneuve-sur-Lot, and ever since has traveled about like a Gypsy with itchy feet; always in search of new experiences and knowledge.

I suppose that most of his life has been spent in England, simply because he was at school there, but since those days he has moved around almost continually. He's spent quite some time in Australia (where his internet business is based), Holland, Germany, Thailand, Morocco (above with beloved, but long gone, dreads), and France. And he still doesn't know where he REALLY wants to live.

However, I think he's finally coming to a compromise. The Spring and Summer here in France (when the barn conversion is complete), then the Spring and Summer in Oz. Two Springs and two Summers sounds very sensible to me....and it makes me wonder why we don't all follow his example.

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Wednesday 17 August 2011

Here Come The Girls.

It all started here at our local agricultural co-operative, where, some weeks ago, I ordered our 3 new point-of-lay hens. They arrived yesterday morning.

First things first, here are the little darlings having their wings clipped (with Cro wielding the clippers), You may have noticed that we've bought 'Turkens'; a rather ugly breed with bare necks, but with a reputation for being very good layers.

And here they are in their new hen-house. I'll leave them inside for a couple of days so that they understand fully that it's their new home.

I shall be checking the nesting boxes with great care. They'd better get to work pretty quickly; I don't suffer non-layers gladly.

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Tuesday 16 August 2011

You Dirty Rat!

One of the hazards/enjoyments/shocks of dealing with old barns, is what one will find amongst the detritus.

So far, no treasure; but plenty of the above, dried (I imagine poisoned) RATS.

Some years back I had rats in my compost heap, so I put down poison. Later when spreading the compost I came across a large cavity within the mound that was filled with the familiar red-coloured-wheat rat poison, as well as one very dead rat. He was big and fat, and surprisingly attractive. Unlike town sewer rats, he was well coiffed, clean, and not at all evil looking.

However, I'd still rather have them dead than alive.
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Monday 15 August 2011

Olympic Frog-Style Swimming.

We're always on the look-out for something new to do in the water (no, not that), so here is Magnon Minor demonstrating our newly developed 'Frog-Style' swimming method.

We suggest that the Olympic committee take a very good look at this; it combines all the excitement of competitive swimming with a certain amount of humour. What more could any Olympic spectator ask for?

Sunday 14 August 2011

Then This...

Vegetable gardening is a funny old business. Just a few days ago there were no Aubergines, then today there were huge ones everywhere. I picked just a few to start off my 2011 preserving campaign.

I have just finished my first batch of Aubergines in Tomato Sauce.

I take as many tomatoes as I can spare, cut them up into roughly 2 cm cubes, and cook. I add roughly the same quantity of Aubergines, cut up into 3 cm cubes. I add salt, pepper, garlic, tom purée (if needed to thicken), and olive oil. When all is softened I decant into 500 gm Le Parfait, familia wiss jars, seal with new capsules, and sterilise for 45 mins after a rolling boil has begun.

When I have my next glut of Courgettes I shall do Courgettes in Tomato Sauce. Then later I shall finish up with Ratatouille.

We SHALL eat this winter.
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Saturday 13 August 2011

Rubber Chicken.

Who invented the Rubber Chicken?

I've consulted Wiki to no avail, but whoever was responsible I salute you!

Every home should have one (we still don't).

Viva henus rubbarum.
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Friday 12 August 2011

Looters hit 10 downing street.

Behind you!

Kitchen PC.

I've just noticed these two everyday products sitting side-by-side on our kitchen shelf.

In today's PC obsessed England, I quite expect that both would have been banned long ago (Shock, horror. Nanny, Nanny).

Just in case you were wondering, Banania is a hot milky breakfast drink that tastes of banana flavoured chocolate (thankfully, usually only drunk by les enfants!!).... The other one is cheap wine vinegar.
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Thursday 11 August 2011

This is where it all starts!

If children are to achieve anything in life, then this is where it starts. All teachers are much the same, all classrooms are similar, and I would suggest that ALL children start off in life with a sparkle in their eyes, eager to learn.

Then something strange happens. Certain children in our socialist controlled, no-discipline schools run riot. Those who wish to learn cannot, and those who do nothing but disrupt, control the whole caboodle (until they are removed).

Every single classroom in the world should be there for the benefit of those who WISH TO LEARN; not a crèche for unruly louts. And yet those same unruly louts could so easily be separated and taught a 'trade' elsewhere. There will always be those who wish to further their education, and always those who wish to leave school to find work. 

The less academic amongst them should be given the opportunity to start earning.The world is crying out for builders, plumbers, electricians, etc (all trades that earn good money), so why not make this a part of main-stream education, and grant the more academic pupils a less disruptive environment in which they can excel.

Idle hands run riot, smash windows, thieve, and set light to cars. The great loony-left educational experiment has FAILED miserably; it's time to think again.   

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Cèpe Market; Villefranche du Périgord.

The Cèpe season has now ended.

Not since 1969 (so I'm told) has there been a crop like it. Mushrooms were everywhere; one almost needed a scythe to harvest them.

The market price was between €10 and €15 per kilo, and many remained unsold; the merchants were simply inundated.

The last time I, personally, remember a similar crop was when Wills was still young (25 years ago?); together we filled our baskets, then filled our T shirts, then anything else we could find. On the way home I remember saying to him 'just look in the air, don't look down'.

In the picture (thanks to our guest Sam) you will notice a couple of boxes of orange mushrooms. These are the delicious Caesar's Mushroom  amanita caesarea. Where on earth they found all those, I can't imagine. I consider myself lucky to find ONE every ten years....  It's been a strange Summer!

p.s. The above market used to be MUCH bigger. Nowadays the merchants tend to go from farm to farm to collect, hence a much reduced gathering under the ancient 'halle'.
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Tuesday 9 August 2011

Toms; not Tom's.

Our toms have now started in ernest. The variety above is simply known as 'Le Portugais'; the (non F1 hybrid) seeds of which are carefully guarded from year to year. The fruit itself is very dense and solid, with no watery filled caveties inside. This is a 'carving' tomato.

The one above weighs in at 825 gms, and I can assure you that its flavour is magnifique. Exactly how a good tomato should be.

Tonight it shall worship at the altar of Pizza, and feed 6 people. I shall make two; one topping will be of green pesto spread all over the base (right to the edges), then thin slices of the above tomato, then thin slices of buffalo mozzarella, then anchovies olives and basil, and the other much the same, but with gently fried cepes instead of the anchovies. Both very simple and totally delicious.
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Monday 8 August 2011

The Great Fruit Wastage.

We wait for months for the trees to bear fruit. We dread a late frost, we quivver at the thought of hail, and we 'pray' that the pot of pestilence doesn't spill-over.

Then, when all has survived, and the trees are filled with fruit; we can't cope. We make jams, pies, and crumbles. We freeze, bottle, and dry. And we simply eat as much as we can.

But there's always waste; and I hate it. It really troubles me that I have planted all these trees and cannot do justice to their bounty.

The problem, in the country, is that everyone has a glut, and no-one needs hand-outs. I've told some of the local children to help themselves to peaches (middle picture), but otherwise.....

There is an Amish saying 'better to burst your stomach, than to waste food'. They're right, but I can do nothing about it.
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Sunday 7 August 2011

Vide Grenier; Condat.

Just back from a local 'boot sale', where I purchased this antique brass and leather dog collar.

I don't think I'll be using it for Monty. I'll give the leather some treatment and hang it in the fireplace.

It cost me a staggering ONE EURO.
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Saturday 6 August 2011

Cro's Internet Café.

With 'children' and guesties in the house, our dining table has become home to FOUR laptops; my own laptop being just through the door on the left (my studio).

The couple on the right (Sam-n-Serge) were 'Skyping' their son in London, who was still in bed.

What the hell did people do before the existance of the WWW?
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