Friday 31 May 2013

Paulownia, NOT Catalpa. Part 2.


Having learned that my Catalpa trees were NOT Catalpa trees, but Paulownia trees, I had to find out what qualities they possessed.

It seems that Paulownias are slowly becoming an extremely important world timber crop. They are one of the fastest growing trees; up to 20 ft per annum. They can be harvested in as little as 5 years. And they naturally regenerate from the sawn stump.

The timber is used for various purposes. Soundboards of stringed instruments, surfboards, clogs, and chests, are amongst the most popular.

Traditionally, in Japan, they were planted when a girl was born, and the timber used to make a dresser for when she married; a bit like the planting of roadside Poplars here in France which were cut down to pay for a daughter's wedding.

Another interesting aspect of the Paulownia is its financial value as a crop. It is claimed (in a USA video that I watched) that a 6 year old tree sells for between 6,000 and 10,000 dollars. CAN THAT POSSIBLY BE RIGHT? I think he might have his figures slightly wrong, otherwise every farmer in the world would stop growing food in exchange for Paulownia!

Another USA source tells me that the timber fetches 800 dollars per cubic meter (I buy my oak for €40 per cubic meter). A simple calculation reveals that for a tree to sell for 10,000 dollars, it would need to contain over 12 cubic meters of good usable timber. That sounds like a helluva lot to me!

I shall wait a while before I plant up our entire property with Paulownias; I can envisage a slight fall in the market.

This Paulownia example (above) is in my village, right opposite the church, and is probably the source of the seeds that were later deposited by birds in the woods where I found my saplings. 

I had a close look at it when I took the photo yesterday, and I noticed that it has a LOT of dead branches. I do hope this is not usual, as I hate dead branches on trees!

Thursday 30 May 2013

Paulownia, NOT Catalpa. Part 1.

Not long ago I posted a piece about having found several small Catalpa trees (below) deep in the woods; I managed to rescue several, a few of which were given to friends.


One such friend (St Theresa of the Floral Tribute) recently stopped me whilst in the Compact Royce, and insisted that it was NOT a Catalpa. I, who know absolutely nothing of such things, accepted her word and waited for further info about what, instead, it could possibly be.

We now have the answer; they, apparently, are Paulownia trees (below). The same huge leaves, but with light purple, bluebell type, flowers instead of white.


I've already planted one, so I suppose I'll leave it where it is. It looks pretty good to me! Any info about a 'Paulownia' in your own garden would be welcomed!

More on Paulownias tomorrow....

Wednesday 29 May 2013

May Pole (Mai).

An English May pole, and a French May pole, are two very different things.

In England they are festooned with long ground-length ribbons, from which a bevy of pretty young maidens weave complicated patterns onto the pole itself, whilst dancing. All dangerously erotic.

In France no young girls are involved, they are simply erected to celebrate an event; usually the election of a Mayor or Councillor.

The one above appeared at a nearby house recently, and I was rather surprised to see that it celebrated the forthcoming marriage (or engagement) of the recently installed youngish couple. It states 'Honneur aux futurs mariés' (honour to the future married couple).

It is, without doubt, the very best May pole I've ever seen; I congratulate whoever was responsible for its decoration. Traditionally it should stay in situ until it falls apart.

I do hope you can enlarge the picture enough to see the details.

This, above, is much more representative of a local May pole; in this case honouring an old friend (now deceased) when he was elected to our tiny village council. I managed to save the important bit when it eventually fell down. It was me who added his name; Hervé.

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Tuesday 28 May 2013

Finders Keepers.

I openly admit to being a beachcomber, rubbish tip scavenger, and all round objet-trouvé opportunist.

About 35 years ago I found the above in a nearby municipal dustbin; I had just deposited my filled black plastic rubbish bag, when this small child's watering-can looked up at me and said 'take me home'.

To me it's a beautiful object, and I can't understand the mentality of anyone throwing it out. Surely it must have had memories for someone.

My youngest son had hours of fun with it, along with his fork and trowel set (the red things), and I still look at it daily because it lives about 3ft from where I'm sitting.

Of course, nowadays, it's my grandchildren who use it. They fill it with water, put it into their junior sized wheelbarrow, and help Grumpy with his watering at Haddock's.

Thank goodness I found it (or it found me), and it was not sent to the crusher. Life would not have been the same without it. 
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Monday 27 May 2013

More on Breakfast.

Lady M: Cro, are you REALLY going to eat that for breakfast?

Cro: Yup.

Lady M: You're disgusting.

Cro: If you say so dear!

Lady M: Can't you eat Marmalade, or Jelly and Peanut Butter, like everyone else.

Cro: I'd rather pour boiling water on my nether regions than eat Jam with Peanut Butter; now that really IS disgusting. Am I obliged to eat whatever you eat; is that what you're telling me?

Lady M: Not at all. I'm just saying that there are more appropriate things to eat for breakfast.

Cro: You're becoming a closet Socialist, aren't you!

Lady M: There; you see! You eat that stuff for breakfast, and already you're insulting me!

Cro: If I'd wanted to insult you, my dear, I'd have called you a 'bloody closet Socialist'. Just 'closet Socialist' means I worry about you some times.

Lady M: You've been reading P G Wodehouse or Evelyn Waugh again, haven't you. I can always tell; you become belligerent and unpredictable.

Cro: Is there another jar of caviar in the fridge? I've finished this one.

Lady M: Get it yourself!

Cro: Charming.

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Sunday 26 May 2013

Cro's Style Awards: No 1.

You have to hand it to them; these guys are seriously image conscious.

Those hats (Shtreimel), the long silky black coats (Bekishe), the pigtails (Payot), etc; only certain Amish groups even come close to such rigid adherence to a 'fashion' style. 

So, my first award goes to Israel's hyper-orthodox Hisadic Jewish community. Congratulations, I think you all look fantastic!
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Saturday 25 May 2013

Harvest Expectancy.

I love this time of year, there is a real sense of anticipation in the air. We had no late frost, so the fruit harvest should be excellent. Our huge Bramley, above, is already groaning with tiny fruits, and as with all bounteous years we'll be wondering what to do with it all.

These, above, are Greengages. A strange plum that, when truly ripe, is so sweet that I can't eat them. I'm obliged to catch them when they're still slightly crisp, when they are delicious. Unfortunately they are much loved by some winged creature which tends to leave a small grub in each fruit.

We shall also be having barrow-loads of Quinces,

Quite a few Pears,

And of course buckets-full of grapes.

Still, I'm not complaining. I just wish I could encourage those who have less fruit to come round and take some. People are very reluctant; or maybe they just don't know how to deal with it all.

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Friday 24 May 2013

The Portsmouth Sinfonia; just for you.

Sit back in your most comfortable chair, pour yourself a glass of wine, turn the volume up to 11, and enjoy.

Thursday 23 May 2013

Bloody Ticks.


Before I came to live in France I knew nothing about Ticks. I'd once seen a dog in Normandy with the inside of his ears looking like bunches of white grapes, but, back in the UK, our own dog, Hamlet, had never suffered.

Then back in about 1975, poor old Hamlet caught Tick Fever here in France. He was pissing coffee-coloured piss, and was obviously un-well. Luckily it didn't take much to cure him, and after a couple of days he was fine.

Since Hamlet died, back in about 1980, we didn't have a dog until Monty arrived just over two years ago. And now Ticks are once again a daily problem.

Monty's fur is pale honey coloured, and when returning from walks any ticks can usually be spotted and removed quite easily. Bok, being black, the Ticks stand out as dark red in colour, and again can be quite easily removed.

But there are always others that hide under their fur, and eventually dig-in and fatten themselves on their blood, so we are obliged to keep a constant look-out for the little beasts by running our hands over them several times a day.

This year Ticks seem to be everywhere; in fact I don't think I've ever known a year as bad. We're taking extra-special care with their Tick treatment, and checking them over almost constantly. When the hay is cut things might improve, but for the moment it's a bloody nightmare.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Impatient Cro.

I should have left them where they were; in two days time they would have been considerably bigger.

But, that's a mushroom fanatic for you! I just had to pick them, and will throw them in with my roast chicken this evening (last night), along with a few chestnuts (it's feeling a tad autumnal here today).

The earliest I remember gathering Girolles was on a May 13th, so this is not far off my record. With any luck there'll soon be a few Cèpes around too.

I photographed them next to my small egg cup, just so you can see how desperate I was.

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Tuesday 21 May 2013

Earliest Memories: Lingfield Sy.


Our first impressions of our surroundings are the ones which stay with us the longest, and for most of us that probably means 'where we were born and brought up'.


I was very lucky in this respect, because my first 14 years of life were spent in the beautiful Surrey village of Lingfield. At that time (1946-60) I can honestly say that it must have been one of the best places on earth to live.


It boasted a 14th Century, grade 1 listed, church; complete with wonderful brasses and monuments, including the tomb of Reginald de Cobham (below).


As well as some really beautiful old domestic buildings dating back to Tudor times.


Of course, as a child, I took all this for granted, as it was all I knew. But on reflection I now realise how very fortunate I was.


This last picture is of the small ancient street that leads up to Lingfield church. The building on the right is The Church Hall where we used to hold dances and birthday parties.

p.s. I've mentioned before that due to Lingfield's proximity to Gatwick airport, the noise pollution is now all-invasive. I could never live there again. Sad!

Monday 20 May 2013

Yesterday's Village Fair.

Well, the weather was a bit better than last year, but what was on offer was much the same.

A few plants, a few animals, and a few caged birds. That was it really, other than a couple of food stalls, and a tack salesman.

This is my friend Henriette (foreground right above) with her stall of organic plants and herbs. She seemed to be doing quite good business, and keeps to the spirit of the day by 'swapping' her plants. Henriette has a wonderful fruit and vegetable garden, which puts mine to shame.

And look; someone had obviously been painting black splodges on this horse; I hope it'll wash off OK.

All my other pictures of the day's events were rubbish, so I'll finish with one of my strawberries instead. There's a tiny blush on a couple of them, so they won't be long. Strawberries are the true sign of advancing Summer.

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Sunday 19 May 2013

The Ideal Home(s).

I've posted the photo of this local Pigeonnier before, and the more I see of it, the more I view it as a 'perfect building'.

'Homes' to me have never been places to show-off in a 'look how smart/rich I am' sort of way. This doesn't mean that I haven't owned some impressive houses; I have, but they've always been bought because of what they've offered, rather than for Kudos value.

Nowadays the idea of having several small homes appeals much more than just a single impressive one. And to add to where we now live, I'd like to start my collection of tiny homes with the above Pigeonnier. Just enough room for a bed, table and chair.

One room in each of several perfectly positioned small homes would be ideal for me. The essential would be they are old, vernacular, and have jaw dropping views (they'd also need to be incredibly cheap). 

So there's already the house we're in, there's the one above, and I shall definitely need one on my favourite island of Formentera, and I know the perfect spot. There are several tiny stone-built boat houses overlooking the bay at Cala Sahona; one of those would do just fine.

Otherwise I need a small cabin in Corsica's Centuri, a one-room shed in Positano Italy, and a bijou grass-roofed red-painted wooden shack on a tiny private island somewhere off the coast of Sweden. 

My selection of tiny properties would all be European. I feel at home in Europe and the early architecture is generally pleasant. Maybe one on a Greek island, next to a beach-side taverna, would be a good addition, and another overlooking The Bosphorus, but anything further East would begin to worry me.

How many's that? Only 8; I could probably manage a few more!

Saturday 18 May 2013

Punjabi Chicken with Spinach.

I wonder if, like me, you get stuck in the rut of eating much the same things on a regular weekly/monthly basis.

By chance I recently came across a BBC TV programme called 'Indian Food Made Easy', with chef Anjum Anand. She was cooking the above, and as I only turned on my TV half way through her recipe, I was obliged to consult Mr Google here for the details.

I had a go at the recipe last night (making my own slightly simpler version), and it really was as delicious as she suggested. The combination of chicken, spinach and garam masala (plus a few other ingredients) was memorable.

If you're looking to add a new curry to your menus, may I recommend that you try this one.

N.B. My own version contained Chicken pieces, small tin of chopped Spinach, heaped teaspoon garam masala, heaped teaspoon hot curry powder, roughly 2 cups of good chicken stock, cumin seeds, and crossed fingers; all served on a bed of Basmati.

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Friday 17 May 2013

Walnuts and Walnut Oil.

Regular readers of this site will be aware that I am a great advocate of walnuts and their oil.

I try to eat about 8 each day, and my morning breakfast ritual always includes a spoonful of oil.

Occasionally I do need to remind myself of why I do such things, and a quick search of the net divulged the following health benefits.

1. They reduce the risk of heart disease.
2. They reduce the risk of cancer.
3. They cut the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
4. They cut cholesterol levels.
5. They reduce the risk of breast cancer.
6. They increase sperm count/libido.
7. They are filled with antioxidants.
8. They may ward-off the onset of alzheimer's.

I have no idea if any of the above are 'guaranteed', but they sound good enough for me to continue with my daily regime.

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Thursday 16 May 2013

Walkers, Riders, and Bikers.

This Sunday (19th May 2013) is our village's annual 'Country Pursuits' day, part of which involves hoards of horse-riders, armies of walkers, and quite a few noise-loving-bloody-Quad-bloody-Bikers, all passing within a gnat's whisker our house's back wall. Other attractions include a plant swap, an exhibition of farm animals, and some bloke with a few bits of old machinery.

They've mowed the path, installed direction signs, and sent out invitation 'flyers'.

Certain residents have even put up 'helpful' sign posts (for those who would like to be doing 100 kph past our house) to SLOW DOWN a bit.

But, oh dear, I've just looked at the 12 day weather forecast, and it looks like rain for more than a week. It's POURING as I write.

I'll keep you posted about how it went, on Monday!

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Wednesday 15 May 2013

Sympathetic Renovation?

I've known this beautiful little semi derelict cottage for over 40 years, and have often thought about making an offer to the owner. But after my lengthy procrastination, someone has deservedly beaten me to it.

I'm pleased to see that it's being given a truly sympathetic total restoration job. Those dormer windows and modern industrial tiles (above) look perfect against the ancient stone walls. One can see at once that a painstaking restoration expert is at work here; someone who will accept nothing but the finest in order to return it to its former bucolic glory.

This interesting white plastic side-door, for example, could easily be an original from time gone by. It blends in so cleverly with  the surrounding block work (OK, OK, I know, my tower's built with blocks). And the bars across the window are..... well, they're bars; kinda prison bars. Nice!

And so to the pièce de résistance; 'The Front Door'. Set charmingly into the ancient stonework, this beautiful white moulded-plastic door just enhances the beauty of the old façade. Its English Georgian semi-circular half-light design is simply perfect against the rusticity of the cut stone opening. OK, it's an off-the-shelf door that doesn't quite fit, but that extra strip of 'plexi', at the side, helps fill-in so discretely.

Give that man a medal. A white plastic one with a middle finger pointing skywards!
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Tuesday 14 May 2013

I'd promised myself; "Never Again".

We've been looking around for a couple of those simple all-in-one wooden picnic tables. The one's we've seen usually cost about €100 each, so you can imagine the pleasure when my favourite Leclerc supermarket had them on offer at €59. I immediately coughed-up for two, and instructed them that I'd be back later to fetch them.

So, yesterday morning I cleared out the back of the Compact Royce, drove back to the supermarket, and loaded her up. Then came the nightmare bit; I HAD TO PUT THE BLOODY THINGS TOGETHER!!!

I struggled a bit with the first one, having to re-drill all the screw holes that their charming Lithuanian manufacturers had managed to put 'slightly' in the wrong place.

The second one went better, and with just a few slight accidents, and more drilling, I got the job done reasonably quickly.

When put end to end (up at the tree house) they will allow 10 to dine comfortably (as long as I buy a couple of extra chairs for the two ends).

This really will be THE LAST TIME I buy self-assembly furniture. NEVER AGAIN!!! (I have a feeling I've said that before).

p.s. I should add that the benches were guaranteed to withstand a weight of 220 kgs; some of my friends and family are 'big tall lads', so I've cautiously reinforced underneath each one with a hefty piece of timber (not shown).

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