Tuesday 30 April 2013

The Quince is in Flower.

There's something medieval about Quince trees, and as far as I'm concerned, no fruit-grower's garden is complete without one.

At this time of year the flowers are magnificent, our tree looks like a giant rounded Dog Rose. And later on its harvest hangs like a mass of huge bright yellow pears.

Then comes the dilemma; what to do with them all? Its uses, as far as I'm concerned, are very limited. Quince Jelly, Membrillo, and certain related Jams, are about its limit. I do enjoy thick slices roasted with Chicken or Pork, but otherwise I'm at a blank. I'm already worrying about this Autumn's glut.

Anyway, as you can see by the above, I've kept ours pretty tight; pruning it quite rigorously each Autumn. It's a pleasant tree if only for the drama, but I do wish there was some simple and tasty usage for the fruit which usually ends up on the compost; but even then, I suppose it's doing some good.

NB. If you're thinking of planting one, I recommend the variety 'Vrajna', although I believe one can now buy varieties that are edible straight off the tree. 'Vrajna' is as hard as rock, but probably the best flavoured.

Monday 29 April 2013

BBB (Bad Bloody Back)

The problem with having a bad lower back, is that it completely dominates one's life.

I have both rotovating and digging work to do up at Haddock's, and I know in advance that I shall be suffering for at least three or four days afterwards.

But it's already nearly May, and I haven't planted a single thing. I simply HAVE to do the work, or a whole years' growing could be in jeopardy.

I'm already thinking of reducing my growing area by building raised beds, putting up a shed, and planting more Peach trees. Raised beds could be managed more conveniently and probably be more productive, the shed could become an essential refuge (one man hospital/clubhouse/pub), and frankly you can't have too many Peach trees.

I suppose it comes to most gardeners that the body eventually becomes frail.  I shall never stop growing all our essentials; I'll just have to do it slightly differently. Zimmer Gardening is looking like an attractive option.

I shall make my decisions this Autumn, but for the moment I'm off to do some rotovating... Ouch (in advance).

Sunday 28 April 2013

Best Kept Lawn Competition 2013.

There were just two finalists (competitors) in this years competition. 

Lawn A (Top picture): The Judges liked this lawn. It was quite tidy, with no lumps, stones, or bare patches. A good effort; it was awarded 7 points out of 10. 

Lawn B (Below): The Judges were a little disappointed with lawn B. Even though it was just a few metres from lawn A (on the other side of an orange wall), it had more bare patches than grass, lots of half-buried lumps of concrete, and deep ruts that looked as if they had been made by lorry tyres; it was awarded just 1 point out of 10.

So, this year's winner of the 'Best Kept Lawn Competition' goes to Lawn A (Top picture).

HANG ON A MINUTE: It has just been brought to the attention of The Judges that the terrible state of Lawn B was entirely due to the owner of Lawn A, who recently used it as a building site and rubbish tip rather than damage HIS OWN lawn. So, Lawn A has been disqualified.

The Judges consider this to have been a deliberate case of sabotage, and therefore, the owner of Lawn A has been banned from all further competitions.

No prize will be awarded for 2013.

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Saturday 27 April 2013

Neolithic Stone Tools.

It isn't unusual to find Stone Age tools around here; in fact the fields are littered with them. One needs a newly ploughed field, a good overnight downpour, and in the morning (if you're lucky) they glint at you in the sunshine. 

This rather uninteresting piece I found yesterday. It's broken and bog-standard; not something to make a fuss about. But when I took Monty for a swim yesterday afternoon, there it was looking up at me from a freshly bulldozed bank, and I just had to take it home.

It'll go into a box with all the other bits and pieces that I've found, probably to be forgotten about for another 2000 years. 
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Friday 26 April 2013

Scarlet Runners

These 'Scarlet Runner' seeds have been passed down through my family, from father to son, for generations. Genetically they must be at least 150 years old, but I suspect considerably older.

As non-F1 seeds they can be kept from season to season. A few beans were always left on the vine for the seeds to be kept for the following year.

I used to grow them, but in recent times they have become almost redundant; the French dwarf beans being much preferred for the table.

However, I've just found these few 'Magnon family' seeds, and will grow some (if indeed they will still grow) simply to save the seed from being lost; a sort of one-man seed bank.  

I do find Scarlet Runners a little uninteresting and stringy, but I'm not going to allow myself to be the one who lets the seeds die out. I shall sow a few today; they look as if they still might grow. My fingers are crossed.

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Thursday 25 April 2013

HMS Dangerous-Fun.

Firstly I would like to wish my lovely grandson, Harvey J, a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY. He is 7 today; what a wonderful age. Grumpy sends you 7 very big kisses.

It's just about finished; HMS Dangerous-Fun has been named (especially for Harvey J), and is ready to take its Pirate crew on board.

The safety rails are all in place, the Jolly Roger is flying, and there's treasure just waiting to be taken.

I've suggested to Lady M, that in a few years time I'll build another higher floor that will be big enough to take a bed, and have a pukka roof. Another 6 ft up the branches spread out, making it easier to create a larger floor surface area. But for the moment, that's as far up as it goes.

Access is by rope ladder only (to keep out adults). There's a swing built above a steep bank. When flying backwards it's about 2 ft above ground, and when at full flight forwards it's about 10 ft above ground. I've tried it; it's great. It's the swing equivalent of an infinity pool. Otherwise there will be a hammock underneath, and a large sail above, but those I'll install nearer to when the Pirates arrive.

'Dangerous-Fun' was the theme to last year's holiday, so it seemed only fair to name it thus! Hopefully even more dangerous-fun this year.

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Wednesday 24 April 2013

Androcles Goes Walkies!

Normally, when I take the dogs on their daily walks, they're simply left to their own devices, but in recent times Monty (above) has gone walkabout just before reaching home again, so the last 200 metres or so are now spent with him on a lead, and me with my left arm-socket dislodged

He's a bit pig-headed, our Monty. Mostly he's obedient and home-loving, but occasionally he remembers that he's a dog, and his natural instincts take over. When this happens, there's no stopping him.

If he catches the slightest whiff of a far distant morsel, he's off. Hunger rules his heart, and I'm obliged to take to the Compact Royce until I track him down.

So, our walks have now become predictable. Outward journey; no dogs to be seen. Return journey; as above.

I've also been playing Androcles to Monty's Lion. Just after I took the above photo, Monty stopped, lifted his front right paw, and gave me his 'HELP ME!' look. I knew at once what was wrong, and pulled out the troublesome thorn without even a wince (from him). Almost the subject for a good book!

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Tuesday 23 April 2013

La Boulangerie au Soleil d'Oc.

Typical of any small French village bakery, this is where I buy some of the best bread in the whole bloody world.

Up until about a year ago the shop's fa├žade was pleasantly old-fashioned, with an annoying metal-framed door that grated against the floor every time it was opened and closed. In their wisdom they have recently re-built the entire front, and it now looks like something from the 1950's.

The business end of the bakery is through that white door on the extreme right. 

And this is inside, with plenty of interesting breads on sale, plus a few tasty tarts (stop that sniggering!). Each week I invest in a couple of pukka country loaves, made as bread has always been made, with just flour yeast and water (and possibly a pinch of salt).

And here are the two still-warm loaves I brought home with me (you can also see them at the bottom of picture 2, as well as how much I paid for them); one will be started for lunch, the other popped into the freezer and taken out half-way through the week. Even looking at the picture makes me hungry.

Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't have been a baker; I can picture myself in a village bakery (such as the one above), supplying the needs of a small population. But I'm sure I couldn't bake bread even half as good as this.
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Monday 22 April 2013

Lady Magnon's Buns.

When Lady Magnon returned, recently, from a two week stint of grandson-sitting in North London, she brought back the usual selection of items that we are unable to buy over here. Tinned Haggis for me, Polo mints for journeys in the Compact Royce, and (as it was a Sunday) a 'complete' copy of The Sunday Times for herself. 

She also brought back a 6-pack of Waitrose Luxury (professional) Hot-X-Buns. What a delight!

Understandably, 6 Hot-X-Buns don't last long in the Magnon household, so she decided to make more herself and they were very good (these two pictures are of HERS).

OK, it may no longer be real toasted-bun weather, but they're going down very well with our afternoon cup of Lapsang. A few even went to the freezer, just in case it turns cold again.
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Sunday 21 April 2013

They Stoup to Concur. A Sunday Special.

As a confirmed atheist, I find this one of the church's most bizarre of rituals.

I can almost understand why certain 'god-fearing' (or probably 'devil-fearing') people would take part in mock-cannibalistic, flesh eating and blood drinking, ceremonies. The Protestant religion is inextricably linked to death, human sacrifice, stigmata, etc, and to remove these elements would be fatal to their core beliefs. But having a small container of 'magic water' in one's own home (as so many Catholic families do) I find truly bizarre.

I see it thus. Some bloke, probably wearing a seriously embroidered frock, and quite a lot of jewellery, waves his hands over some tap water, which is then taken home by the credulous and poured into a water-stoup that is festooned with some imaginary likeness of Mary the 'virgin' (rather like the one above). This water is then used in ritualistic facial, or chest, daubing, to ward off evil spirits, help win the lottery, or just as a knee-jerk reaction to people like moi..... and all this IN SOPHISTICATED EUROPE!

One can but wonder if water-stoup adherents ever actually sit back and ask themselves what the hell they think they're doing. One can only presume THEY DON'T.... It's water.... just plain bloody water!

I have a real fascination for these old water stoups, and I find them very beautiful in their simplicity. They turn up regularly at our local boot sales, and I'm seriously thinking of starting a collection. Primitive; or what!  


Saturday 20 April 2013

Just smell this!

And people wonder why I plant so many fruit trees.

This particular tree is a Bramley's Seedling; the world's very best cooking apple.

Just look at those big fat flowers; as good as a Dog Rose any day. And, of course, it doesn't only produce pretty pink blossoms, it also gives us baked apples, crumbles, and Tatins by the dozen.

I don't think I could live without a Bramley growing in the garden!  

As long as no frost comes along (as it did last year) we shall have a bumper crop, and everyone will be invited to come and fill their baskets. Book your flights now!

Friday 19 April 2013

Learning to eat!

Good restaurants were thin on the ground in the Surrey village where I grew-up. In fact, in those days they were pretty thin on the ground everywhere in England.

So junior Cro's experiences of fine dining were limited to very occasional trips to London.

My father's favourite restaurant was Schmidt's in Charlotte Street, and I don't remember visiting any other restaurant with him.

We always ate the same thing; 'Mixed Grill'. It came on a giant silver platter that was covered with just about every type of tasty meat morsel you can imagine. Small Lamb chops, exotic German sausages, kidneys, meat balls, and lots of other bits and pieces. Wonderful; the memories are etched deep.

The only other pukka restaurant I remember visiting when I was small was Veeraswamy's off Regent's Street. I think it was my mother who took me, and the whole experience of eating top-quality authentic Indian food was just fantastic.

Luckily I was one of those children who would try everything and anything; and liked most things (bread and butter pudding being the one exception). Children who won't eat what they don't know miss out on so much, thank goodness I had parents who made sure that I wasn't amongst them.

Thursday 18 April 2013

Gone Pear-shaped.

I've spoken before about this tree.

It's one of the biggest Pear trees in the area, and produces vast amounts of Pears. The only problem is that whilst still on the tree, they're hard and inedible, and as soon as they drop, they turn to mush.

So what can one do? Well, last year I bought a small fruit press, and if my theory is correct they should be perfect for making the most wonderful juice. I might even try to make some Perry.

I'll let you know. But for the moment, just look at all those flowers; each one a potential Pear.

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Wednesday 17 April 2013

Lady Thatcher; a tribute.


"If only she could've donated some of her guts and determination to today's politicians". Mac.

I don't want to praise Lady Thatcher unconditionally, because there are certain things she did that I didn't agree with, but the low-life scum who have been celebrating her death are a disgusting bunch, and they need to be answered. They are the committed communists, the ignorant gullible, and the just-plain-stupid, and one really wonders if they know anything at all of her time as Prime Minister.

There is nothing the extreme left hate more than success from the right; and Mrs Thatcher was undoubtedly the most successful, and admired, Prime Minister of the 20th Century.

People conveniently forget that when she took power in 1979, the country was suffering from high unemployment and ongoing recession due to the irresponsible 'Tax and Spend' policies of the previous Labour government; the country was on its knees. Britain had become known as 'The Sick Man of Europe', and to counteract this her priorities were deregulation, a more flexible labour market, and a reduction of the power of the hard-left trade unions. All her policies were successful, and Britain returned to stability and growth by 1982. 'Wealth' suddenly became an option, and the results were famously parodied by the 'loads-a-money' character played by comedian Harry Enfield. Anyone who wished to succeed in life, was given every opportunity. However, if I agree with any of the rants against Lady Thatcher, it's that she probably created TOO MUCH wealth, and not enough subsequent regulation.

Perhaps the most dramatic event of her leadership was Arthur Scargill's miner's strike; a strike from which certain communities have still not recovered.

On the 6th March 1984, the UK's 'National Coal Board' announced to the government that it wished to close 20 uneconomic coal mines. An enquiry was held, and the go-ahead was given for the closure of 13. As a result, the Communist leader of the National Miners Union, Arthur Scargill, called his men out on strike and it soon developed into a violent national disaster that not only saw the deaths of 6 men, but also heralded the demise of the Coal Industry.

In 1983 (prior to the strike) there had been 174 working coal mines in the UK (Harold Wilson had already closed 200); the majority of which were viable. Today there are JUST 6. But not only did the strike destroy Britain's coal industry, it also had a devastating effect on engineering, the railways, electricity production, and steel production, all of which were inextricably linked to the coal industry. Traditional 'metal bashing' in The Midlands has now all but disappeared, and those industries that did survive were obliged to change their power source from coal to electricity. The strike achieved nothing but unemployment, the coalfields were devastated, and those ever-eager Communist Union leaders are now all living on fat pensions.

The miners themselves, from those dozen pits that were destined for closure, obviously had genuine concerns, but they could never have foreseen the disastrous results of their union's politically led strike action. But good did come of the conflict, in that 'Flying Pickets' and the intimidation of workers, are both now illegal, and pre-strike ballots are compulsory. It is a strange twist of fate that had these laws been put in place by the previous Conservative government, under the weak Ted Heath, the miners could have saved much of their own industry.

During the time of the miner's strike, I occasionally worked with John Biffin. John was Leader of the House of Commons 82-87, Lord Privy Seal 83-87, and Chief Secretary to the Treasury (amongst other things). I remember over lunch, one day, he said that Lady Thatcher's greatest disappointment was the hypnotic power that Scargill had over his gullible men, and the disastrous results of the strike on the country's once great coalfields. The 'enemy within' had been defeated, but it had left terrible destruction in its wake. Scargill had almost won his political gamble; but far too many of his union members had lost everything!

Lady Thatcher's other 'moment of glory' was of course The Falklands War. This really rather pointless war, instigated by the highly unpopular General Galtieri, saw the deaths of 907 Argentinians, and 255 British. Britain re-took control of the islands on 14 June 1982 when after two months of fighting, Brig Gen Mario Menendez surrendered. It was said at the time that the Argentinians should have invaded under a socialist government (who would probably have done nothing) rather than mess with the Iron Lady. Galtieri was later tried for human rights violations and was sentenced to 12 year imprisonment.

In 2000 a poll was taken amongst all the worlds political leaders (both left and right) as to who was the most important and influential world leader of the 20th Century. The result was obvious; they voted for Lady Thatcher.

The foul-mouthed partying detractors of Lady Thatcher (Glenda Jackson, Galloway, Bragg, Mad-Morrissey, etc) will fade into obscurity (where they belong); Lady Thatcher's name will, without question, survive even the worst of their verbal diarrhoea. She was not everyone's cup of tea, but will always be highly regarded by the law-abiding, hard working, and decent people of Britain, and the rest of the world.

I salute her!

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Naughty Fido

Monty: Really Bok, that's disgusting. I though you were house-trained!

Bok: It wasn't me; honest.

Monty: Well it certainly wasn't me, so who else could it have been?

Bok: It must have been that Freddie. Bloody cats!

Freddie: The bastards; they always blame me!!!!
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Monday 15 April 2013

Second Hand Car Dealers.

I have never bought a brand new car, and I never would.

When I bought my current car (The Compact Royce), it was about 3 years old, it had done about 50,000 kms, and it was about half the price of a new one. As far as I was concerned, it was ideal.

It was for sale at a major dealership, and a very attractive 'parts and breakdown guarantee' was included in the price. I was certain that my Euros were being well spent.

On viewing the car, I had noticed that the front left glass headlight cover looked brand new, and that the front left wheel arch panel was a tiny bit different in 'age and finish' to the rest of the car; both parts had obviously been replaced. Without mentioning what I'd seen, I asked the salesman if the car had been in an accident, he answered that IT HAD NOT. I said nothing; and gave him my slow 'knowing smile'.

It really does make you wonder why second-hand car salesmen are totally incapable of telling the truth; all he needed to say was 'yes, it had a little bump, but it's been repaired'.

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Sunday 14 April 2013

Kim Jong-un.

Those who live in free-thinking democracies will be shocked at what is now going on in N Korea.

Before I started writing this, I had so much I wanted to say about such regimes and those who suffer under them, but now that I find myself in front of my keyboard, I'm dumbstruck; not usually a Cro-characteristic.

When I did my CCF Officer Training Course, the first line of the first paragraph on page one of the 'How to Win Wars' book stated; Know your enemy, go in strong, and go in hard. I think a few powerful countries might need to get together, and follow that advice (which they rarely do). Let's just hope the upstart fat boy comes to his senses before it's necessary. 

My sympathy goes out to all those poverty-stricken North Korean citizens who are totally brainwashed and powerless in the face of such awful puerile arrogance and bellicosity.

p.s. Don't you think he'd look better holding a large white fluffy cat?

p.p.s. I've known one or two hard-n-fast Communists; people a bit like the anti-Thatcherite hoodies we've seen rioting in recent days. The one dilemma I always offered was to imagine themselves standing on the border between North and South Korea, and to chose where they would prefer to live. As you can imagine, it was difficult getting a direct answer from them, but in the end no-one actually went along with the courage of their convictions; they'd rather be somewhere where they can express their opinions.

Saturday 13 April 2013

Al Fresco Scratching and Daubing.

Stage 1. Find suitably paintogenic location; hopefully not too far from where the Compact Royce can reach. Go to spot several times just to survey it. Think about it some more. And some more. Decision time.  

Stage 2. Load the car with every possible piece of kit imaginable, even with stuff you know you won't need (like a magic wand). Haul it all to the site. Breathe deeply. Do arm swinging exercises (Bauhaus style). Start daubing.

Stage 3. Will I keep the finished job? 

The answer is 'possibly'. I'll hold onto it for a while, until I go back for a second, more simplified, stab. I do tend to destroy more than I keep.

Friday 12 April 2013


And did those dogs in modern time
Walk upon France's lawns so green
And were both Mont' and Bok 
On France's pleasant pastures seen.

And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Lumberjack builded here
Amongst these light angelic thrills?

Bring me my glass of yearning rouge
Bring me my brushes of desire
Bring me my paints, O clouds unfold
Bring me my canvases of fire.

I will not cease from mental fight
Nor shall my dogs sleep in my home
Till we have built Lumberjack
In France's green and pleasant loam.

N.B. 'Lumberjack' is Mr Spellcheck's suggestion for what he sees as the incomprehensible name of my village.

With apologies to William Blake.
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Thursday 11 April 2013

Another confession.


With all the confessions I'm making recently, I'm almost experiencing what it must be like to be Catholic.

Back in around 1980 I spent a while living in England's Shropshire. My parents were both unwell and they had asked if I would go back to assist; which, luckily at the time, I was able to do.

We had a near neighbour who fancied himself as a Javelin thrower, and it was his wont to practice his art in our paddock. Someone throwing a spear around in your garden, and without having asked permission, is un-nerving, to say the least.

One morning I found him searching about in the longish grass, and asked him what he was doing. He'd lost his bloody Javelin, and his fruitless search continued until lunchtime.

Whilst he was away, I had a quick look myself, and was amazed when, almost at once, I saw a gleaming 'point' peeping out from under a tuft of grass; it was his bloody Javelin. I took it away and hid it in a shed.

He returned in the afternoon and continued his search. I said nothing, and months later used it as a fencing post.

OK, I was probably nasty, and I might even have deprived England of an Olympic gold medallist. But at the time, both he, and his behaviour annoyed me intensely.

I would now like to apologise.  

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Freddies Prezzies.

It's been a while since Freddie brought us a present. In fact I'd begun to think that his small-game-hunting days were over. 

In our pre-dogs days he would bring live mice up to the bedroom at night, which, according to the 'Wives Book of Daily Demands' (Burnt-Bra Publications), I was personally duty-bound to find and dispose of.

Fred is now an outdoor cat (at nights, anyway), and it's good to know that no mouse is safe within easy reach of the house.


And this, above, is where Freddie now spends his days; tucked up underneath the duvet on our bed. Good hunting Fred; and thank you!

STOP PRESS: And here he is again this morning, with another offering. He's just turned up with this trophy!

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Tuesday 9 April 2013


The tentative return of greenery after the long winter is a huge relief; but we're not there yet.

Buds are swelling, most of the fruit trees are in flower, and the climbing Hydrangea (above left) is sprouting leaves. There are signs all around.

The lawn has had its second mowing of 2013, and is looking OK.

We've had so much overnight rain recently that the ground is sodden. A few days of warm sunshine (and no rain) and I should be able to rotovate Haddock's. I'm looking forward, as I always do, to sowing and planting.

Unfortunately there are FOUR MORE DAYS of intermittent rain forecast; the only plus-point being that the watering system for all my newly planted fruit trees has been set on 'automatic'.

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