Friday 28 February 2014

Toad of Cro Hall.

Every year it's the same; Mr and Mrs Toad turn up in late February, and lay strings of eggs in the water that sits on our black plastic pool cover.

Every year I remove the eggs and replace them in a nearby lake. This year I shall take them just down the road to where my neighbour, Laurence, has recently dug a big pond (that Monty now uses as his private swimming pool). I'm sure she won't mind.

I think they'll be happy there; there are already a few big hungry Carp in the pond; donated by local fishermen.

I've been hearing Toad 'croakings' for the last week or so; now I know why.

p.s. I've just been clearing leaves, etc, from the pool cover, and found these three Newts. How on earth did they get there? At first I thought they were tiny fish!

I shall take them down to Laurence's pond when I take the Toad's eggs. I think the one on the left might be a Lady Newt. The other two have hand-like back feet; they are possibly Palmate Newts.

Thursday 27 February 2014

A Quiet Night.

I'm sure Lady Magnon won't mind me saying this, but (being a part-time Hermit) I really do enjoy my occasional solitude.

The house is quiet. Monty is busy working through an 'everlasting chew', and Bok's head is resting on my lap. All is silent other than the sound of some intermittent rain.

The stove is lit, and a Chicken tagine is gently simmering on top; the warm earthy aroma of cinnamon and cumin is already testing my patience. 

I ignore the TV (what there is of it), the radio, and even my favourite music, as I sit stroking Bok's snoozing head and revel in the peacefulness. 

There is something blissfully happy about sitting in a warm ancient cottage with a couple of dogs. At peace with the world, and at peace with myself. 

A contemplative evening, and 'Blissfully happy' enough to want to write about it.

Time for my tagine!

Wednesday 26 February 2014

Forcing Rhubarb

There is no question that 'forced Rhubarb' is by far the most tender, the tastiest, and the most eagerly awaited.

As you can probably see above, I use a big old plastic tub weighted down with a stone slab as my forcer. The idea being to deprive the Rhubarb of light, making it 'force' it's way skywards. Old fashioned terracotta forcers are, of course, preferable; but they're expensive.

In about a week's time, the Rhubarb will be trying to lift the tub off the ground; that's when we'll have our first crumble of the year.

I can't wait!

Tuesday 25 February 2014



I've been without my usual dose of BBC and ITV television for a couple of weeks, but I've not been entirely deprived. For some bizarre reason I still manage to receive several obscure channels, and have therefore been offered a refreshing choice of old TV shows.

The Waltons appear quite regularly, as does The Little House on the Prairie. Judge Judy still sends me to sleep after lunch, and that wretched 'rolling' Sky News bores me to death if nothing else is getting through 'unpixilated'.

One of the old favourites that I've not seen for years is M*A*S*H. For its time, it had to be one of the best scripted, and funniest, shows around. Simply re-acquainting myself with Klinger's dresses, Hawkeye's dry wit, 'hot lips' Houlihan, and the bumbling Radar, has been an unexpected and pleasurable result of my lack of proper mainstream TV.

With such a lot of total rubbish on TV, my visits to Medical Unit 4077 out in Korea has had my sides aching. I may have missed out on The Olympics, but I think I prefer M*A*S*H anyway.

What a great show it was!.

Monday 24 February 2014

The Cranes Return.

One of the absolute delights of early spring, is seeing, and hearing, the return of the Cranes. It has to be the highlight of my ornithological year.

I took the above photo at 4.40pm on Saturday afternoon. As usual they were flying very high, so I'm quite pleased that I managed to get a picture at all. Sometimes much bigger groups go over, but this one was relatively small. There will be others.

I always find it an emotional moment; both when they depart, and when they return.

As they fly over the cottage, their high pitched calls shout out "Hi Cro, we're back", and I wave to them from maybe 200 metres below.

I never tire of witnessing this wonderful event.

Welcome home guys!

Sunday 23 February 2014

Almost my favourite activity.

With Lady Magnon away for a while 'Grandson-taming', I was obliged to offer her St Valentine's Day present by Emailed photo. It's a Peach Tree, which I've now planted up in the new orchard.

I really know nothing about Peach tree varieties, so it was simply a matter of looking at each picture on the labels, and deciding which one looked the most delicious.

The one I finally chose was called 'Robin', and is a white fleshed, self-fertile, variety. Unfortunately that is the extent of my information. Even Wiki offered no more.

Because Peaches are early flowering, they can be tricky. One needs to plant quite a few trees, and just hope that at least one or two survive any late frosts. I've just counted our trees; we have ELEVEN (even I'm amazed).

As you might have guessed; I'm very fond of Peaches!

Saturday 22 February 2014

Desert Island Books.

1. Pookie by Ivy Wallace.
2. The Four Men by Hilaire Belloc
3. Cautionary Tales also by Hilaire Belloc.
4. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.
6. Les Trois Contes by Gustave Flambert.
7. Any comprehensive Anglo/Latin/French Etymological Dictionary.
8. L'Etranger by Albert Camus.

Traditionally one can only take 8 (records) books onto one's desert island, but maybe I could smuggle just two more. I would hate to be without....

9. Mythologies by W B Yeats.
10. (and just so that solitude doesn't suck me dry of humour) Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh.

I've always hated the pompous obscure record choices of certain people on Desert Island Disc's, and have tried to be honest with my choice of books. They are not designed to impress, they are all works that mean a lot to me, from childhood to now!

Do you have a list?

NOTA BENE: For non Brits, 'Desert Island Discs' is an English Radio programme (devised by Roy Plomley) where 'celebs' choose what 8 records they would take with them, should they be banished to a desert island.

Friday 21 February 2014

What a complete and utter mess.


I live in a quiet, green, and peaceful part of the world, and I keep myself to myself. I try to be a decent citizen, yet moan when a neighbour builds an unpleasantly coloured wall. That is the extent of my woes.

But the more I see and read about the human race elsewhere, the more it disgusts me. We are a bunch of murderous, blood-thirsty, greedy, self-centred, and misguided psychopaths.

I do accept that this description of my fellow man, is exactly that; fellow MAN. But the foulness of humanity is not exclusively male; women can be just as bad, albeit usually on a much smaller scale.

When I look at Syria, North Africa, Central Africa, Egypt, Thailand, Ukraine, and countless other countries, all I see is constant blood-letting and self destruction.

I wonder if this is not Mother Nature's way of saying 'to hell with the whole bloody lot of you'?

I risk being branded an 'ageing hippy', but for goodness sake; am I just one lone voice who believes in PEACE, LOVE, and HARMONY?


Thursday 20 February 2014

Woodland Warmth.

I burn about a wheelbarrow-full of oak and chestnut every day.

Those who heat themselves, and cook, with wood will know that one gets through a helluva lot of it.

I don't have the cooker fired-up every day; I keep that for really cold weather, baking, or for when I fancy a slow-cooked stew. But our sitting room wood-burner is alight every day in winter. Sometimes all day and night, on other days (like today) just in the late afternoon/evening.

Chestnut renews itself in about 15-20 years, but fell-able oak takes maybe 40-50 years. There's no shortage of woodland in France, but even our small household gets through a fair bit.

Cutting, and bringing in, the wood takes just a few minutes each day (thanks to Husqvarna), and I enjoy the discipline of 'having' to do it. I do keep a little pile in reserve, but that's for emergencies only.

Now all I need is a splash of white spirit, a match, and we're in business!

Wednesday 19 February 2014


It is almost impossible to escape from SMUT these days; even in my own puritan kitchen.

Frankly I blame Nigella Lawson.

Please note that the above soup has NOT been consumed.

Tuesday 18 February 2014

Boys Toys.

I have two air pistols in the house. The top one above, a beautiful old Webley, is rarely used; the one below, a cheap German job, is used by my grandchildren in the summer for shooting at tin cans.

The old Webley is almost an antique. It dates from the late 50's/early 60's, and came into my possession in about 1980. I bought it at an isolated petrol station in Wales, from the owner who seemed to specialise in selling such things (other than petrol). It shoots .22 slugs, is very heavy, and extremely accurate. 

The German job is total rubbish. I bought it new in about 1990 as a diversion for our summer visitors. It fires .177 slugs which can be seen exiting the barrel before falling onto the ground a few feet off. Even if clamped to a vice its bullet will not follow the same trajectory more than once in every 100 shots. It's perfect for a bit of fun persecuting tin cans, whilst, at the same time, teaching the users the essentials of gun safety. 

Yes, they are definitely 'boys toys', and we have a lot of fun with them. Otherwise they just sit at the back of a drawer waiting for certain boys I know to come visit their Grumpy.

Monday 17 February 2014

Splish, splosh.

OK, we haven't suffered anything like the Thames valley, or the flood plains of Somerset, but we have had our fair share of rain. The above was yesterday's early morning dog walk (notice, no dogs to be seen anywhere!)

Luckily this rainy period seems to have passed, and we shall now have 'some' sunshine till the end of the month; even though the temps will not exceed 13 C.

I trust this will be reflected in the UK having better weather too. Time to dry-out.

Sunday 16 February 2014

Scottish Independence (just 7 months away).


I like Alex Salmond. He has the right ideas, but I do need to be assured on these few important post-independence points.

1. Scotland would no longer be allowed to use the Pound Sterling.
2. Scotland would have to re-apply to join the EC, and (if accepted) adopt the Euro.
3. All Scottish nationals would be obliged to surrender their old (treasured) UK passports.
4. All roads out of Scotland would be manned by burly English Customs officials.
5. All Scots would be subject to strict passport controls and body searches, and all Scots nationals MUST be in possession of a valid entry visa (£50 fee) and a new Scottish passport, before entering, or staying on, in England.
6. This No 6 might be a bit far-fetched, but I would also like an assurance that all Scottish actors, union leaders, football managers, students, and general trouble-makers, would be encouraged to return to their belovéd country.
7. Likewise, all English owned businesses would be made to return to England.
8. (And most importantly) All 59 Scottish MP's would no longer sit at Westminster.

Providing that Alex (above) can guarantee these 8 basic points; then I'm with him all the way.

Don't listen to Chancellor George Osborne, he's far too analytical and intelligent. Vote WITH Alex on Thursday 18th Sept 2014. Long live an Independent Scotland!

You know it's best (for England).

Saturday 15 February 2014

Waiting for Spring.


This year, more than any other I can remember, I feel as if I'm just hanging-around waiting for April/May to arrive so that I can continue with life's normal activities. I suspect that countless others feel the same. I suppose it all comes down to what gives us 'purpose' in life; and frankly I'm not too sure at the moment. 
I've had enough of these cold, damp, or even frosty, mornings; the photo above was taken yesterday at 8.30am. I want to put-away my thermal vest, my Barbour, and my gum boots. I'm desperate to feel NATURAL warmth on my face again. 
When Spring does arrive, and if my ever-troublesome back allows, I shall happily return to Haddock's; digging, rotovating, sowing, planting, swearing, etc. And around the house I shall begin mowing, trimming, cleaning, tidying, and, in general, making my little corner of the planet as well organised and productive as I can. Without all this to occupy my days to the fullest, I feel as if life is simply PASSING ME BY. 
At present, all I seem to do is shop, cook, eat, sleep, cut wood, and try to keep warm (interspersed with a bit of dog walking, painting, and everyday DIY stuff).

Of course, I shouldn't really be complaining; compared to parts of the UK, we're having it pretty easy. Even so, I think this bloody Winter lark should be limited to one month only. I'm thoroughly, thoroughly, fed-up with it!

Friday 14 February 2014

Cro Skips the Light Fandango (alone).

I hadn't previously realised what good musicians those Procol Harum boys were. Here they are bringing their big 1967 hit back to life. To my sensitive ears this 'live' 2006 version is even better than the original.

Lady Magnon flew off for a brief visit to London yesterday, so (on this St Valentine's Day) it'll be just me and the dogs, skipping the light fandango together.

Thursday 13 February 2014

Their Master's Voice.

What is it with Dogs!

It's nearly 9am, and we've just returned home from our first 'emptying' walk of the day. I'd been aware that I'd had a big smile on my face throughout our whole walk.

I just love to see them sniffing about, then running off together into the woods, after some imaginary prey.

Then later on, it's just perfect seeing them settled down, curled up, and sleeping by the fire; legs twitching, as they dream of the unsuccessful chase.

But most of all I love calling them to come back to me; and being TOTALLY IGNORED.

Oh yes, pink nose; I'm talking about YOU!

Wednesday 12 February 2014

Another Cautionary Tale.

Some of you might remember the dreadful tale of my friend José, who nearly severed his foot with a chainsaw. Luckily (if that's the right word) the accident happened not too far from our house and he (only just) managed to drive here before collapsing outside our kitchen door. We did the necessary, called the emergency services, and he was eventually flown by helicopter to Bordeaux where they patched him up. It took him almost a year to fully recover.

An almost identical accident happened a few days ago to the brother of a friend, but he was not so lucky.

For some strange reason (probably shock) he packed up all his belongings, then drove quite some distance to his own home; where he died at the bottom of the steps that led up to the house. We later heard that he was 'drained of blood'.

He could easily have stopped en route at any one of several houses, including one of a nurse, but preferred to try to reach his own. Instead of stopping for help, he bled to death.

Chainsaws are extremely dangerous things, and complacency can easily replace common sense. My own saw (above) is small compared to many, but the damage it can do is exactly the same.

I suppose, like all chainsaw owners, I occasionally do silly things, and I reproach myself afterwards. So let all of us, who own such things, remind ourselves daily and be aware of the dangers. Treat these vicious machines with the respect they deserve.

Our lives really are at stake. 

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Lady M's Shoes.

Lady Magnon does like to make a fashion statement, even when it's muddy and sodden outside. 

When she finds winter shoes that she really likes, she goes for it; she has another pair exactly the same in the kitchen.

Monday 10 February 2014

In the deep mid-winter.

I much prefer the bare bones of a winter landscape to that of summer.

It strips bare, and rids the subject matter of unnecessary clutter. I paint the structure rather than the clothing; the skeletal remains rather than the war-paint.

There's always some colour in winter, whether it be from reflected light or from dead or alive plant life. However, I still prefer to work mostly in black and white. 

I'm currently working on some larger paintings that, hopefully, will demonstrate a combination of both. 

Watch this space.

Sunday 9 February 2014

The Bastards.

I expect no sympathy from UK residents, but we ex-pats have now lost our BBC TV broadcasts from Sky. For the moment we still have some ITV channels, but as of the 6th Feb, we can no longer receive any BBC TV or Radio. The satellite footprint has been altered, and I have a feeling that ITV will soon be going the same way.

I can watch through my laptop (piss-poor reception), but when one is used to high quality pictures, it becomes tiresome.  

OK, I can't really complain; as ex-pats we don't pay the UK licence fee. But on the principle that English is the world's most important language (and its usage should be further encouraged) I would have thought that to broadcast 'free to air' English language TV and Radio across the world would be of paramount importance. 

Damn you BBC, I shall really miss a handful of your programmes. My weekly rendezvous with Dave at PMQ's, that amazing Sunday programme 'The Big Questions' that keeps me up-to-date with the UK's most serious nut-cases, and of course the BBC's daily News broadcasts. And on BBC Radio, the loss of the World Service and Radio 4 Extra is already having an effect.

Back to reading BOOKS methinks.

Saturday 8 February 2014

Twas thus in 2007.

This was the state of the garden in 2007 (pre 'tower' days).

Since then our Cox's Orange Pippin has died from an attack of Honey Fungus (No 11), Haddock's End is now called just plain 'Haddock's, and 'The Park' has been totally renamed 'Haddock's Paddock'.

I can see that I shall have to do a 2014 version; especially as Freddie (bottom left) no longer scares the bejeezus out of mice, and that the Seagull (top left) never really existed.

We also have a bit more land now, and an almost completed new orchard, so I might need a bigger piece of paper.

Friday 7 February 2014

Slightly different bread.

I'd run out of Bicarbonate of Soda which I normally use for my Soda Bread, so, having looked through my bread bible, I reverted to Baking Powder instead. The book told me that it was almost the same thing, and could be used 'instead of'.

The book was correct, and above is the result.

The crust was good, the inside not too 'cakey', and the flavour excellent; I'd added about a tablespoon of Olive Oil, and some dried herbs to the dough.

Bread making becomes obsessive; we amateur bakers are always looking to make that 'better loaf'. 

Soda (or Baking Powder) bread is child's play to make, and one suspects it's never to be improved upon; it is what it is! So I'm thinking of trying to master our local Sourdough bread, known here as Pain au Levain. It obviously takes much longer to prepare, but the rewards (if done correctly) should be huge.

Any tips gratefully received.

Thursday 6 February 2014

Wednesday 5 February 2014



I'm not a fan of 'Celebrity TV Reality Shows' (in fact, I can't stand them), but the Dutch show 'Splash' has taken the concept to acceptable heights (ahem).

The very thought of taking a few Celebs (however obscure), and making them throw themselves off a high-dive board, really appeals to me; even more so if they actually perform well.

I've seen bits of two episodes of the UK version of the show, and, frankly, have been amazed by the bravery and eventual skill of the Celebs involved. One particular small boy (above left with hair) couldn't see A THING without his spectacles, but performed almost like a pro'. I have no idea who he is or what he does!

If you have the time, it's worth watching; if only for 15 mins.

Tuesday 4 February 2014

This little Pig went to market...

I've just received this advertising bumf through the post. Half a Pig's head and two trotters, all for €2.20; can't be bad.

Even veggies have to accept that the sole reason why farmers keep Pigs, is so that we can all (veggies excepted) eat bacon, ham, and pork.

I've posted the above photo for two reasons. Firstly I think that people outside of France might find such adverts amusing/odd/bizarre. And secondly, Pigs heads (when prepared as above) always seem to have a smile on their faces. 

I shall not be spending my €2.20 on the above, but I shall be buying a whole belly for €2.39 a kg; which is also included in the same lot of 'special offers'. An average belly weighs about 7 kilos, so maybe 2 kilos will go for bacon, and the rest to the freezer to await long slow roasting; the gourmet's delight.

Monday 3 February 2014


Continuing my musings about all plates white and peasantish, I definitely share the French obsession with crockery made for specific purposes. We have Oyster plates, Asparagus plates, Snail plates, and, of course, Artichoke plates.

These simple white plates are made so that one knows (without the embarrassment of having to ask) exactly where to place the Artichoke, where to place the sauce, and where to dispose of the eaten leaves. It just makes life so much easier.

I have 6 matching plates; all white, all showing slight signs of age, and all made by my favourite 'peasant plate' company; Gien. 

What would a decent chap do without them!

Sunday 2 February 2014

Philosophy of the world - The Shaggs

Apparently Frank Zappa really liked this girl band; and 'Frankly', if they're good enough for Zappa, they're good enough for me!.... ENJOY.

Saturday 1 February 2014

The 'Chasse' Clubhouse.

Our local hunters certainly know how to enjoy themselves. This is their wonderful tucked-away woodland clubhouse where, on hunting days, they party at mid-day, and party at night. 

Signs ask users to leave the cabin clean, not to drink alcohol at mid-day (some hope), and to make advance bookings if inviting visitors.

They have everything there; water, electricity, tables, chairs, BBQ, and even a few outdoor benches. well as plenty of reminders of the cabin's purpose (this is a Roe Deer skull). 

Lady Magnon accompanied me when I went to take these photos. Her only remark was "what is it about men and their sheds!".

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