Sunday 31 March 2013

Easter Curly Kale.

Haddock's looked so bare about a month ago, but I've been really amazed by how much is still being produced.

The Purple Sprouting Broccoli arrived perfectly on time (about 2 weeks ago) and the tall gangly stems of Curly Kale, which I reluctantly left to over-winter, are now suddenly sprouting all over again.

The little side shoots of Kale (which are now desperate to flower) are being sent up almost everywhere, and it's difficult to keep up with the supply.

I don't know if Curly Kale is a standard veg' internationally, but if available I do recommend putting in half a dozen plants. At this time of year the taste is less bitter than pre-Christmas, and these small side shoots (which are growing out of the whole length of the stems) are sweet and very tender. A great stand-by.

We've been dining off them for about 2 weeks already, and there's no sign of them stopping. The only thing now to halt our consumption is the fact that we also have a huge supply of Purple Sprouting Broccoli. My very favourite green vegetable of the year.

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Saturday 30 March 2013

Unclaimed Dosh (A Cautionary Tale).

I was listening to an interview with writer Anthony Horowitz on the radio last night. Fast-talking Horowitz is the writer of TV's Midsomer Murders and Foyle's War, amongst other things.

At the end of the interview he mentioned that his late father had, not long before he died, deposited a large amount of money in a Swiss bank account (or maybe it was Cyprus); but had omitted to give the family any details. This reminded me of my own father; but not of the same important sum of money.

Back in the 1960's the British government imposed certain 'Exchange Control Regulations'; in effect, an annoying limit on how much money one could take abroad when on holiday.... I think the limit was £60 in any foreign currency.

During this period of unnecessary deprivation, my people had stayed for a while at the Aga Khan's famous Hotel Romazzino on Sardinia's Costa Smeralda (Princess Margaret was amongst the fellow guests), where a single night's stay was then about £60; so the problems of 'Exchange Control' were immediately obvious.

To cope with such petty bureaucracy, father decided that he needed a foreign, secretive (ahem), bank account, and when next in Andorra he deposited an emergency amount of cash with the small Principality's National Bank. Having mentioned this to me, he subsequently forgot all about it, and the money remained untouched; earning a small amount of interest each year.

Not long before he died we were watching some TV programme about Andorra, and he suddenly remembered his bank account. I was instantly instructed to write to them (including his UK bank account details), in order for them to close his account, and refund his deposit. After about a month or so a correct-looking sum of money (from said bank) appeared on his regular statement, and all was resolved.

But, having listened to Horowitz's tale of his own father's folly, I wondered how many bank deposits there must be, in far away places (or even in the UK), which remain unclaimed. I imagine there is some 'Statute of Limitations' on such accounts, and the bankers presumably become rich on their contents. Easy money!

Had my father and I not watched that particular TV programme, his unclaimed dosh would be there to this day. Phew!

Friday 29 March 2013

What did you just say?

Cro: Brakes like Broccoli?

Lady M: What?

Cro: You just said I was to be careful because the driver in front has 'Brakes like Broccoli'. (It sounded like an Irish expression, so I stressed the words in my finest Irish accent).

Lady M: Actually, I said 'He might brake abruptly'.

Cro: Oh right; nothing to do with Broccoli then... (hearty laughter all round).

p.s. This 'conversation' was able to take place because Lady Magnon has recently passed her 'Senior Advanced Back Seat Driver Certificate', and was giving me some very helpful tips about road-safety.

Thursday 28 March 2013

1st Mowing of the Year.

Yesterday afternoon was hot, so out came the trusty Honda-engined mower, and the 'lawn' was given its first trim of the year with the collecting box off; there wasn't enough grass to bother with composting.

A couple of weeks ago I had brought the old gal out, cleaned her up a bit, and squirted some WD40 into her innermost workings; she started up almost at once and purred into action. Oh how pleased I was; there's nothing worse than machines that refuse to do what they're supposed to do!

Now all I need is for the old gal to behave herself, start every time she's asked, and deliver the perfect lawn that I desire (some hope!). 

Tidied up well, don't you think!

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Wednesday 27 March 2013

Misty morning walk; Spring 2013.

It's 7.30 am and there's a slight chill in the air, but the sun is showing through the early morning mist, which suggests that it'll be a fine warm day.

We walk through open fields, and the dogs have fun putting the bejeezus up a few surprised looking deer as the mist slowly begins to lift. 

Here is where I once found a perfect stone-age tool, not far from this ruin. Then, as we turned a corner, I noticed Monty's hackles rising and wonder what on earth he had seen.

Oh my god, it's the bloody bull. What's he doing here?  

Bok's the brave one of the two dogs, and went immediately to confront the old boy. Me; I turned around and slowly retraced my steps. I do know he's an old softie, but one ton of bull-muscle can be unpredictable.

So; another unremarkable early morning walk.

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Tuesday 26 March 2013

Another Day; Another Vineyard.

Anyone who has tasted unadulterated, natural, wine, direct from the producer, will know that returning to commercial ready-bottled wine is to be avoided at all costs.

I used to visit this 'Chateau de Calassou' often, many years ago; it's only about 15 kms away. We would buy their best AOC wine, bottle it at home, and drink after about 5-10 years.  I stopped buying their wine, simply because I stopped bottling; pure laziness on my part.

The business end of the vineyard is busy with animals. This pig is called Maurice, and he just wanders around, hoping for either titbits or a tickle behind the ears. I must say that the whole idea of keeping these Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs (as pets) has always disturbed me; but Maurice is a real vigneron's 'gentleman piggy'. There were about 6 small dogs keeping him company.

Calassou must have at least 30 hectares of vines; all now newly pruned and attached to their wires. The 'Vin de Table' that we bought is 100% Malbec, and is delightfully fresh and fruity (plum and anise). Our 10 litres cost just €12.

So all that remains was the tasting. The verdict; delicious!

p.s. I would have shown you a photo of the 'Chateau', had it been a Chateau. Unfortunately it's just a rather plain house surrounded by tractors, a fat pig, and lots of very scruffy dogs. The word 'Chateau', in France, has many meanings.

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Monday 25 March 2013

Dr Cro talks about Heartburn.

Do you suffer from Heartburn?

I have, personally, experienced this on a handful of occasions, and each time it was extremely nasty.

A couple of days ago I could feel an onset after having bent down to do some small task, and I couldn't remember what immediate action to take; so I went directly to my laptop, and Googled 'Heartburn'.  

Amongst the self-help solutions was to consume either chewing gum, toothpaste, lime juice, baking soda, apple cider vinegar, milk, ice cream, or even tahini paste. 

One person, however, said that she drank 'PICKLE JUICE', and proclaimed that it had an instant effect. I liked the sound of this one, so went directly to the 'fridge (where there was a newly opened jar of large gherkins), and I helped myself to a four or five soup-spoonfuls of the juice.

She was right; the effect was instantaneous. The heartburn disappeared.   

So, remember; if you suffer from heartburn, keep some pickles handy, just in case. It really does work!

Sunday 24 March 2013

Jonagold Apple.

The orchard expands.

I've been looking out for a Golden Delicious apple tree at my local DIY/Gardening store, but they've either sold out, or have given up selling them. So I've plumped for, what I believe to be, the next best thing; a 'Jonagold'.

Jonagold is a 1953, American produced, cross between the Jonathan and the Golden delicious apple, and has (I'm assured) conserved the best of both varieties.

An orchard should not only contain one's absolute favourite apples, it should also represent a broad variety of early/late eaters, cookers, and juicers. The fun of having plenty of apple trees is knowing that at least one or two will probably do well each year; although nothing (except figs) is safe here from late frosts.

I think I'll also plant another two varieties of cherry this year. I'd like to end up like my friend José, who has three huge trees that fruit in succession over a period of about 8 weeks. Wonderful.

My photo of the newly planted Jonagold was rubbish, so I've borrowed one (of its fruit) from Mr Google.

Anyone else out there have a Jonagold? Your opinion would be appreciated.

Saturday 23 March 2013


Yesterday I visited the medieval town of Sarlat; about an hour's drive north of where we live. The old quarter is filled with the most wonderful buildings, I could bore you rigid with all the photographs I took, but here's just a few to whet your appetite. 

There are plenty of knockers (ooh matron),

and beautiful ancient doorways,

and more knockers,

and spy holes,

and yet more beautiful ancient doorways. 

In summer the town is awash with tourists; yesterday it was warm, filled with sunshine, and almost tourist-free.

My only complaint; far too many foie gras shops.

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Friday 22 March 2013

Proud Monty.

Were he human, he would have been giving a speech. "Stiffen the sinews, summon-up the blood, disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage, etc, etc".

He really does fancy himself as someone to reckon with; a Prince amongst dogs. I suppose that's why we love him so (in reality, he's something of a scaredy-dog wuss).

Any more observations about his unknown fathering would be welcome (we do know his Mum was a Lab'). Great Dane is still a popular suggestion.

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Thursday 21 March 2013

Assad's Hippocratic Oath.

12th Century Byzantine Hippocratic Oath.

On reminding myself that Syria's delightful President, DOCTOR Bashar al-Assad, must have taken this oath, I'm wondering if he has now been STRUCK OFF. Read it, and see if you think he should be.

I swear by Apollo Physician and Aesculapius and Hygiena and Panaceia and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfil according to my ability and judgement this oath and this covenant:

To hold him who has taught me this art as equal to my parents and to live my life in partnership with him, and if he is in need of money to give him a share of mine, and to regard his offspring as equal to my brothers in male lineage and to teach them this art—if they desire to learn it—without fee and covenant; to give a share of precepts and oral instruction and all the other learning to my sons and to the sons of him who has instructed me and to pupils who have signed the covenant and have taken an oath according to the medical law, but no one else.

I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgement I will keep them from harm and injustice.

I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.

I will not use the knife, not even on sufferers from stone, but will withdraw in favour of such men as are engaged in this work.

Whatever houses I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional injustice, of all mischief and in particular of sexual relations with both female and male persons, be they free or slaves.

What I may see or hear in the course of the treatment or even outside of the treatment in regard to the life of men, which on no account one must spread abroad, I will keep to myself, holding such things shameful to be spoken about.

If I fulfil this oath and do not violate it, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and art, being honoured with fame among all men for all time to come; if I transgress it and swear falsely, may the opposite of all this be my lot.

re: the final paragraph: I think Assad probably qualifies for the latter. One really has to wonder how he thinks his killing spree will all end; methinks at the end of a hyppocratic rope! 

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Gerald 'Bunter' Campion.


Those of us with enough years under our belts will fondly remember Gerald Campion as Billy Bunty; the obese boy from Greyfriars School, who was always either eating or attempting to steal something to eat.

My family were late-comers to TV, but I do remember seeing the Bunter programmes at a friend's house. He and his friends weren't unlike my own school friends; but I don't think we had an equivalent of Bunter himself.

I loved Bunter, and it's amazing how many of his classmates are now household names. Amongst those schoolboy actors in the original TV series were Anthony Valentine, Michael Crawford, Ron Moody, the wonderful Sam Kydd, and David Hemmings. All of whom, I imagine, were experiencing their first TV roles at Greyfriars.

After his acting career came to an end, Campion ran a series of well known clubs and restaurants in and around London's West End, where his hospitality was legendary.

Campion was also a real-life gourmet, and he retired to Agen in S W France, not far from where I live; which is where he died in 2002 aged 81.

I say, you fellows; anyone got some cake?

Tuesday 19 March 2013

My 15 Greatest Nightmares (I can only think of 15).

As a follow-on from my 30 greatest pleasures, it seems only decent to now go the other way, and offer my hates!

1. Bread and Butter Pudding (always at No 1).
2. Being cold.
3. Being ill.
4. Arrogance.
5. Snakes.
6. My late, Great Aunt Lillian's cooking.
7. Excessive belief in superstition.
8. One-up-manship.
9. Violence.
10. Netball/Basketball.
11. Celebs.
12. Toothache.
13. Most politicians.
14. Complicated Hi Tech machinery.
15. Late Spring frosts.

I feel I should explain No's 6 and 10.

No 6. My late Aunt Lillian didn't know the inside of a pancake from the outside. The last meal I 'enjoyed' with her was 'unroasted chicken'. She had roasted it (complete with internal plastic bag of giblets) for about 15 minutes. It was completely raw, and without saying a word, I was obliged to take it from the dining table and return it to her kitchen. Aunt Lillian simply sighed.

No 10. Any game that involves running from one side of a court to the other, whilst counting how many times they go up and down, and ending up with a score something like 101-102, must be total lunacy. Why not fight over the ball like in Rugby, or do it blindfolded on stilts; but to run from A to B then back to A then back to B then back to A then.... Complete madness.

Monday 18 March 2013

A Tailor's Tale.

When my late father worked in The City, he took a couple of rooms in Milk Street; just off Cheapside, up towards St Pauls Cathedral. Milk Street led into the tiny Russia Row, where he discovered a wonderful tailor; Sol Hyams.

Hyams was one of those real old fashioned Jewish tailor shops. A complete jumble to the untrained eye, they'd have you measured and suited in a matter of days. Day one measurements, day two fitting, day three you paid your bill and took away your suit. It was a no-nonsense business, and they took huge pride in their work. During his whole life, my father never had his suits made elsewhere.

When my own time came to work in The City, my father advised me to visit Hyams, and generously said he'd pick up the tab.

I turned-up unannounced, and old Mr Hyams immediately began to take my details and measurements. He asked where I was working and what was my job description (I was a stockbroker's blue button). He suggested a heavy pin-stripe, a slightly waisted jacket, and two pairs of trousers (as I'd be spending much of my time sitting down). I don't think he even once asked my own opinion. 

He chatted about my father, threw huge bolts of material onto the enormous cutting table, and went through illustrated books. Eventually HE decided exactly what I wanted; he showed me a picture which I think he described as a 'Guards Officer' cut, with sloping jacket pockets, and slightly sloping trouser bottoms. It was single breasted, with a double vent, and a pinched waist. I thanked him, and arranged for my fitting in a couple of days time.

When I returned, the suit was waiting. It was all stitches and brown paper, and looked a complete mess. I tried it on, and after a couple of slight alterations I was told to pick it up the following day.

Hyams certainly wasn't Savile Row, their main business was the mass-production of cheap men's fashion suits. Their premises was filled with pale grey Duke of Windsor pattern, bum-freezer, Mod suits, that would have looked more at home on the back of a Lambretta, than in a City tailors; they were churning them out by the thousand, and they all hung in plastic bags from a primitive type of ceiling conveyor belt.

My suit was perfect, and it lasted for years; but unlike my father, I never went back for more. I wonder how many other 'private clients' they had; I imagine not very many. 

I doubt if Hyams is still there, but oh how I'd love to go back again; just as a tourist.

Sunday 17 March 2013

R I P Edwina.

If you think you've already read this over at John's; well it's just that occasionally subjects unite.

Anyone who keeps animals must be prepared for losses, and yesterday morning one happened.

Edwina (named, of course, after the UK's Edwina Currie) had been unwell for about two weeks. Her beautiful red comb had turned purple, and her breathing had become laboured. She was suffering from heart failure; a common ailment amongst hens.

We decided not to end her life ourselves, but to leave it to nature, as we could see no sign of her actually suffering.

Richard and Richard, our two remaining hens, have definitely been the 'layers' of the trio, so our egg crop will not be affected. However, Edwina was certainly 'Top Hen', and ruled harshly over her all female roost.

So, the Sandalwood awaits, and this morning she will be given a good send-off. 

Goodbye old thing; we'll miss you. 
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Saturday 16 March 2013

The New Orchard.

There's nothing I enjoy more than planting fruit trees (other than photographing Lady Magnon's backside, of course).

I've always wanted to plant a really good sized orchard, but up until now our fruit trees have just been stuck-in wherever there was a suitable space.

However, since the purchase of our old tobacco drying barn (below), we now have room for a pukka job, and we've made a tentative start.

We planted two more trees yesterday. Above is a 'Bigarreau Van' cherry; an early-ish, very dark skinned, large variety, that comes highly recommended. We already have a 'Bigarreau Blanc', which is pale yellow but with a slight pink tinge.

And, above, is my favourite pear 'Conference'; a variety that requires no introduction. Our other pear is the famous 'Doyenne de Comice'. Pears are the most rewarding of trees.

Others already in, are a Brugnon (Nectarine), several Figs, and a few Peaches; all of unknown varieties.

The only other tree I wish to plant this year is a 'Golden Delicious' apple. People usually cringe when I mention this variety, but when home grown they tend to be much better than the ones you would otherwise buy in the supermarket. The mass produced 'Golden' tends to be tasteless and insipid; home grown they are crisp and flavoursome.

We are having to restrict our planting for the moment, as the 'bloody JCB man' will be coming soon to install a 'Fosse Septique' in the upper part of the orchard. Heaven help us!

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Friday 15 March 2013

Not again.....

Only a slight dusting, but even so...

I do remember it snowing on Easter Day (about 38 years ago), but for this year we really had thought that winter had gone.

The equinox is only a week away, and we're still having snow and frost. Let's all hope for better things to come.
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Thursday 14 March 2013

Wild Boar Behaviour.


Whilst deep in the woods recently, I came across a Wild Boar wallow which was surrounded by several classically rubbed tree stumps. There's nothing a Boar likes more than a mud bath and good rub against a tree.

At the same time I noticed that their favourite trees were covered in a black shiny liquid that seemed to have dribbled downwards; demonstrating (I presumed) that it had been put there by men.

I ran my hand over the blackened surface, and smelt the unmistakable aroma of TAR. 

So, on reaching home I Googled 'Wild Boar and Tar', and was immediately given the answer I was looking for.

Beechwood Tar, it seems, is a Wild Boar attractant, which is painted on their usual scratching trees in order to keep them in a particular area. No doubt this makes them easier to shoot later on.

The hunting season has recently finished in France, so the hunters are now looking after their next season's interests. They wouldn't want them all heading off onto a rival group's territory; however would they make their Paté de Sanglier?

I'm a country boy at heart, but there's always so much to learn.

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Tuesday 12 March 2013

Early March, and Sprouting Sprouts.

There are Daffs bursting into flower in the oddest of places, Daisies are carpeting the lawn, and the pink buds are swelling on the Peach trees. Underneath the Sumacs there are Violets, Cowslips, and purple Clover flowers.

Catkins are dangling from the hazels, Pussy Willow now lines the woodland paths, and tiny leaves are appearing on the Quince.

Neighbours arrive bearing green gifts, talk is of sowing Onions and Garlic, and the hens are laying. I'm grubbing-up last year's finished Chard plants, and, 'praise be', my purple sprouting Broccoli plants are sprouting purple flowers (below); my absolute favourite veg' of the year, we'll be eating these tonight.

At Haddock's, I've noticed that each remaining sprout on the Brussels Sprouts stems, are beginning to sprout. I shall leave them (as an experiment), as it looks likely that I'll soon be eating flowering sprout sprouts. Not much to sprout about; but still.....

Has anyone else ever eaten sprouting sprouts?

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Monday 11 March 2013

Time Wasting?

Most painters, or even sculptors, will tell you that they spend most of their time 'sketching'; not creating 'great works'. We scratch about with pens and pencils, recording the smallest and most unimportant of things, just in case they should come in handy at a later date.

Above is a good example. A quick-fire sketch that I came across in one of my books, that eventually got worked-up as a painting.

This VERY rough drawing (above) has yet to be used anywhere, but who knows! It may not appear in its entirety, but just the positioning of a window might find its way into some composition.

I hate to think how many sketchbooks I've filled with inconsequential drawings, but I consider every single line to have been worthwhile. Even the half-dozen lines of this sleeping dog might, one day, turn up in the corner of a much larger work.

Most painters protect their sketchbooks with their lives. They ARE their lives, and can never be replaced. But on account of their nature, you'll rarely be invited to look inside; they mean nothing to anyone other than the hand that made them.  
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