It's not often that I hear 'whooping-n-hollering' coming from the sitting room; even rarer that I should hear Lady Magnon singing 'I shall survive' at the top of her voice. Somehow I knew that she had just finished successfully booking her flight (online) with piss-poor budget airline Ryanair.
Ryanair's owner, Michael O'Leary, has recently declared that his airline aims to be more user-friendly, no more herding passengers on-board with sheepdogs, etc. I wonder!
Booking her simple return flight from our local small airport to London took about two hours, leaving her exhausted, almost tearing her hair out, and demanding brandy. At every opportunity they are trying to trick you into paying for unwanted extras, it's a nerve-racking exercise, that requires both mental agility and patience.
I've advised that she has a lie-down in a darkened room until lunchtime.
Knowing that those pesky Yanks have been monitoring all my phone calls, Emails, and daily blogs, has reminded me of this (I hope) amusing little story.
My late Father-in-Law was a senior diplomat with the British Foreign Service. He started his career in Ankara, then moved to Kathmandu, and then on to Moscow (where this tale took place).
The Embassy in Moscow was riddled with 'bugs', but they always kept one small room entirely 'bug free'; just for those important secret conversations. Otherwise they simply accepted the fact that every word spoken was being listened to, written down, and analysed. Most Embassy work was pretty banal anyway, so it didn't bother them.
At one Christmas party glasses were raised and a toast offered to the KGB. A matter of seconds later the phone rang, and a Russian voice said "And a happy Christmas to you too".
His next posting was to Washington DC, where, of course, no such spying activities took place (ahem).
As opposed to what people may think, ketchup is a seriously good, and not particularly unhealthy, product.
In China it was known as kê-chiap, in Malaysia as kĕchap, and in England as ketchup; but when the English exported it to the US they decided to call it catsup (goodness knows why).
Ketchup is made from 3 basic ingredients; tomatoes, vinegar, and sugar, with a few spices thrown in for good measure. So, other than the sugar, it's nowt but goodies.
Imagine your fish-finger sandwich without ketchup; no no no! Imagine your local 'greasy spoon' without that ghastly tomato shaped plastic dispenser on the table. Imagine a meal at 'McGrub-u-like' without tear-open sachets of ketchup in-amongst the mayo, salt, and pepper.
I only ever buy one brand (as I'm sure most people do); its container being of such an iconic design, that my version (above) didn't even require the brand name.
When Grayson Perry was exploring the 'parameters of Art', in his recent Reith Lecture, he touched upon the thorny subject of Photography.
Photography has always been reluctantly included in what we consider to be the 'Arts' (capital A). The image already exists, the photographer uses a machine to record it, and the final result can be reproduced as many times as one wishes. At first glance it seems impossible to include it's activity along with that of either painting or sculpture.
Yet photography occasionally climbs to great heights. One only has to mention the names Capa, Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, or Liebovitz, to know that it is a serious business.
I was amused at Grayson Perry's attempt to explain the difference between 'Art' photography, and 'non-Art' photography. He claims that you know when it's 'Art', if no-one in a picture is smiling; and you also know it's 'Art', if the photograph is very BIG.
So, take note; if you wish your snaps to be taken seriously, no smiling. And get your high street store 'Pix-u-Like' to enlarge them to at least 200 cms by 180 cms. Then, hey presto, according to Mr Perry you'll be an 'Artist', and not just a photographer like the rest of us.
There are certain delights in England that become 'taken for granted', 'overlooked', or even 'ignored'.
The humble Pork Pie, the beautiful Battenburg Cake, or (heaven forbid) the wonderful Crumpet.
I've never attempted to make Crumpets, but why should I. They come ready made at the supermarket, and would be hard to better.
Popped into the toaster (or even better, toasted by the fire), liberally coated with butter, and eaten accompanied by a cup of Lapsang, little could come close to the sensation of 'English' well-being than that offered by a simple Crumpet.
I'm back working on the barn again. For the moment I'm just doing some outdoor work; taking advantage of our beautiful warm autumn sunshine.
I've been right at the top of a very long 3 piece ladder, painting exterior wood cladding with a type of modern odourless creosote. I can't say that I have a pathological fear of heights, but nor do I enjoy them. I grit my teeth, think of what a wonderful life I've enjoyed so far, and throw caution to the winds. Luckily no mishaps so far.
The day's set task was finished by early afternoon, so I did a spot of my own painting then settled down with a glass of wine to admire the view. It's a view that never fails to intrigue me, which is probably why I so often post pictures of it. The photo was actually taken from inside our kitchen; from the table where I take breakfast.
Lady Magnon had gone on one of her regular long dog-walking afternoons with a few of her chums and their various/numerous pooches, so I was allowed to be as busy or lazy as I chose.
A fulfilling day, only disturbed by the sound of one or two crisp leaves falling from the vines.
Black coat, nice pink tongue, and two white gloves; he looks the spitting image of our Bok (albeit thinner).
In fact this is Iggy Pup, the new-boy on the block. He lives about 500 metres away, and has immediately befriended the boys.
Our house seems to have been a magnet for other people's dogs over the years; some nice, some dreadful. One, a big beast called Solo (need I say who's dog he was!!) was a vicious bastard. We'd often have to lock the children and ourselves in the house until he'd gone for fear of being savaged. He used to wear a big black muzzle, but this didn't stop his aggression. He was a nightmare!
Luckily most have been very pleasant. We never feed them, nor do we make a fuss of them; they just turn up, play a while with our two, then go.
This present visitor (in fact there are 2 other new visitors as well) is a nice dog. He plays with Monty just as Bok used to do when they were both pups themselves.
Nowadays we have to look quite closely at Bok and Iggy Pup to know which is which.
I recently blocked all Anonymous comments on my page, as well as those of some half-wit Irish pixie and an abusive low-life from 'gawd knows where'.
But now I find that those who'd previously left 'comments' under the alias of 'Mr Anonymous' have now reverted to fictitious names that bypass the ban.
The above, which I received a couple of days ago, is a good example. Obviously not from someone called Jacob Jackson, it has managed to infiltrate my cautious 'comment' screening.
However, I shall not change my 'open forum' comment box; I like the freedom it offers, and I hate those horrid word/number puzzles. At the same time, I would like to stop these idiots getting through the net.
Any advice would be warmly welcomed, as are all comments from those who regularly leave kind, unkind, or intelligent words. (I REFUSE to offer space to idiots, far-right or far-left Druidic loonies, or loan sharks)
p.s. The above comment has, of course, now been removed.
The dog pen was specifically designed to be used in good weather, when the boys would rather be left outdoors than in.
It's only really used if we both have to go out together, or if some event is taking place which involves strangers being around (in today's case, hunters and gun dogs).
They definitely like being in there; I think they see it as their own private house and garden. I only have to shout the word 'Kennel', and they rush in and make themselves comfortable.
Sometimes they settle down together in their 'Caribbean style cottage', but yesterday only Monty was in residence. Bok was flat-out on the 'lawn', recovering from a very long, hot, walk through the woods.
I know I'm repeating myself, but so do the seasons, and so do the season's harvests.
We don't eat many Chestnuts.
I half-inch a few pockets-full, which we really enjoy when they first start to fall, then the next time we eat them will be at Christmas, with the Turkey.
Today is our local Chestnut Fair. I shall take a few snaps and maybe show you, tomorrow, how obsessive we all are about these little beauties.
Apart from Chestnuts, the other thing that always amazes me, at this time of year, is the colour of the Ferns. That amazing copper/bronze colour is just staggering. Unfortunately not something that can be best shown via a €70 camera.
The Parasol mushroom is one of the very best eating mushrooms. Unfortunately many people just kick at them, and refer to them as 'toadstools'.
They are also one of the most easily recognisable varieties; they are huge. If you're a débutante amateur mycologist it's worth making a close study of them; this is certainly the baby to kick-off with.
Try to find them still not fully opened, chuck the stem, and fry gently in Olive oil and Butter (don't add garlic). Torn into bits, they make a great omelet.
Monty, as you can see above, is not in the slightest bit interested in mushrooms.
This watercolour of a Parasol is by Lady Magnon. Nice work.
This may look like any old stone sticking up from the ground, but it is in fact a boundary stone (I'd recently seen another splendid one, but can't find it again; hence this poor replacement photo).
These stones date back to 'ancient' times, and are probably (in most cases) no longer relevant.
Known here as a borne they were placed on top of the ashes of a fire within a pit; the disturbance of which would, at any later date, hopefully show if the stone had been moved. Boundary moving was a hanging offence.
The art of land-measurement has become more precise over the centuries, and is now done by clever surveyors with laser measuring devices and satellite navigation; rather than by estimation, memory, good eyesight, and crossed fingers
Some things do not improve however, and here is a modern example of a borne. A deep metal spike with a bright orange horrid plastic lollipop top as the visual marker.
I know which one I prefer, even if the earlier version was placed as the result of either mutual agreement, or a fight.
Frankly, Cantal cheese has always been a bit of a wishy-washy, rather tasteless, version of English Cheddar.
There are 3 versions of Cantal; jeune (1-2 months old), entre deux (2-6 months old), and vieux (more than 6 months old). The old is usually sold under the name of Salers (see here)
I think that someone must recently have been having a wee word in the major Cantal producers ears, because over the last couple of years the entre deux has radically improved and become a much more rounded cheese. There is often a slight blush of blue towards the exterior crust, which is usually a good sign of flavour; and the cheese texture itself has now become crumbly, whereas before it was soapy. Maybe they are now keeping it for the full 6 months, instead of flogging it off at 2.
Cantal is the standard cheese of France. It is eaten in sandwiches, thrown into omelets, and grated over anything that requires a cheesy topping. It's the standby cheese that is usually found in every French fridge.
I recommend the entre deux, but only if your local shop has run-out of good Mature Cheddar!
It's been bloody pouring here all day, and with two large dogs in the house someone just HAS to go out in it.
I quite like looking at rain, and I certainly like hearing rain, but getting wet in it has never held any appeal.
Today was the day for a tiny nearby village's annual 'Chestnut Fair', but I imagine it was a washout; WE certainly didn't go. I always feel sorry for the organisers of such events; as, after all their hard work, no-one turns up.
So, what to do on such days as these? Well I suggest that tradition has the answer. Comfy slippers, blazing fire, dogs curled up by the hearth, the sweet smell of teatime Welsh Cakes emanating from the kitchen, maybe a snooze amongst the sofa's deep down-filled cushions, that'll do for a start.
And it's no use you two whimpering like that, WE'RE NOT GOING OUT!
I first came across the combination of cavolo nero with pasta thanks to Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers of The River Café . Nowadays, this kale-type cabbage is an essential crop at Haddock's; I have about a dozen plants. The leaves, when stripped of their ribs, cook very quickly, almost like chard. They have a delicate flavour, and a silky texture.
For this simple dish (for 2) I use about 10 'shredded' cavolo nero leaves, a dollop of green pesto, a spoonful of capers, about 8 black olives, some garlic, a couple of anchovy fillets, a few chilli flakes, plenty of good olive oil, and a splash of white wine to loosen.
The whole lot is heated for about 2-3 minutes, then the cooked spaghetti thrown in and tossed. As with most pasta, it is served with parmesan or grana padano cheese.
Although I still eat them, I'm becoming less enamoured by the standard beef and tomato based pasta sauces.
This simple recipe, above, is both delicious and cheap. What could be better?
These wretched ground-hugging weeds, some of which I've found growing to a diameter of about 4 ft, have decided that the newly turned soil up at the barn is just perfect for them to establish themselves 'en masse'.
I was recently showing some of the more invasive individuals to a friend (St Theresa of the Floral Tribute), when she just happened to remark that it might be edible. Well, as you can imagine, this got me very excited.
I looked it up on Wiki, watched a short YouTube film about it, and eventually decided that 'Yes', it was definitely PURSLANE.
Greater knowledge than mine suggested that both the red stems and the small paddle-shaped leaves are edible. So I picked a plant with large leaves, and had a go.
Frankly it's DULL, uninteresting, nondescript. It has no real flavour, and to be perfectly honest I'd only eat it in a dire emergency; although I understand that it does have some favourable nutritional qualities.
It has now (disappointingly) re-joined the ranks of inedible 'weeds'. If anyone can convince me otherwise; I'm always open to being convinced!
We've done our best to hide the ghastly Orange Wall (in two years time it should be almost invisible).
We've paid (€40) to have the water meter and tap repaired (that HE smashed), but still no sign of the 'hand-on-heart-promised' replacement insulated cover (that HE also smashed).
We put up with the daily noise, the daily 'white van' invasion, and the daily sour-faced looks.
And now that winter approaches, every other day we have to put up with belching, industrial-scale, smoke filled air (above). Now, even HE seems to be concerned, as he's taken to wandering about after lighting-up, looking anxiously up at his chimney. My photo from Monday doesn't do it justice!
All that, and because I'm an 'anything for a quiet life' sort of bloke; I still say NOTHING.
Maybe one of these days I'll lose my rag and just go bleedin' bonkers; it's about time!
N.B. Monsieur Clever Cloggs has installed a HUGE ship-sized furnace in his cellar (to heat water), but connected it to the tiny flue of a bedroom fireplace in the room above. I wonder when he'll realise that the two just weren't meant for each other!
Wood smoke is Carbon Monoxide, and Carbon Monoxide is not only toxic but also highly combustive. I'm expecting explosions (there's already been ONE). CO has a Lower Explosive Limit (LEL) of 12.5%, and an Upper Explosive Limit (UEL) of 74.2%. Good Luck.
Ireland is sounding increasingly sensible. They voted last Friday NOT to abolish their upper house; The Senate.
It's true that it's always been an odd-ball political institution. It has no real powers; only to temporarily halt a Bill's progress. But, regardless of its ability to only fire blanks, its basic annual cost of €20 Million, is not a vast amount of money.
Maybe the strangest attribute of The Irish Senate is its method of electing members. Of the 60 members, you can only vote for 6 of them if you have a degree from one of two designated universities. Now, what could be more Irish than that!
Oh begorrah; Ireland just wouldn't be Ireland without those pesky Leprechauns making up some of the rules.
There is one annual event on the French calendar that really gets on my bloody nerves; it's called Toussaint, All Saints, or All Hallows, take your pick.
In a couple of weeks time, every corner of every petrol station forecourt, every entrance to your local supermarket, and every garden centre, will be awash with horrible bloody potted Chrysanthemums (see above), waiting to be carted off to the graves of departed 'loved ones', in time for the 1st of November.
It wouldn't be so bad if they chose interesting plants, but it seems to be obligatory to use these small, often brown-flowered, unpleasant smelling, things, that make me feel quite ill.
Why not Roses, or Tulips, or Bougainvillea for heaven's sake? Why not dress the graves with multi-coloured bunting, or garlands of daisies? Or why not spread the ground with confetti, jelly babies, or chocolate angels?
No, it has to be those wretched, morbid, all-identical, melancholic, broken-winded, potted, bloody nasties.
The difference between an optimist and a pessimist, is that the optimist enjoys himself whilst waiting for the inevitable! I AM that optimist!
This is a daily, optimistic, 'photos and comments' blog. I make no judgements (only occasionally), just notes. If you wish to comment in any way at all, please feel free. Everything and everyone (except the obdurate and dictatorial) is very welcome.
I was born just south of London, but for the past 46 years I've lived in S W France. I am a painter by profession, and writer by desire. Lady Magnon and I live in an ancient cottage, in a tiny village, in perfectly tranquil countryside. We have a vegetable garden called 'Haddock's' (this may crop up from time to time), plenty of fruit trees, and a view that takes the breath away. I try to treat our planet with respect, and encourage others to do likewise (without preaching).
Contentment is a glass of red, a plate of charcuterie, and a slice of good country bread. Perfect!