Wednesday 30 April 2014

Garden Myths?

I always plant French Marigolds in-between my Tomato plants; I'm assured that they attract the nasty bugs away from all my bug-sensitive plants. I have no idea if it really works, but I do it anyway.

I also used to plant Caper Spurge at Haddock's to see-off Moles and Mice. Again I have no idea if this actually worked, but I religiously followed the advice and suffered from neither.

Mint, Chives, Sage, and Basil, are also supposed to work anti-insect miracles, so maybe I'll replant some up amongst my Beans Cabbages and Carrots.

I'm sure many veg' gardeners out there will want to enlighten me about beneficial plantings. Mostly I suffer from White Fly and Aphids, so any 'tried and tested' suggestions against these pests in particular will be gratefully accepted.

At present I am using 'wildlife friendly' slug pellets (for obvious reasons), a very small amount of natural Guano fertiliser (it's very expensive), and I occasionally water my plants with a diluted savon noir (a glutinous soft soap) solution against bugs in general, which is not always successful. That's it!

p.s. The above photo was taken yesterday during a very brief period of sunshine, otherwise it's been bloody awful here.

Tuesday 29 April 2014

The Naming of 'Bunny'.

One of the fun aspects of having children (or even grandchildren), is the choosing of names; this is also fraught with danger.

Grandparents all want their way; suggesting the names of their Mother/Father, Brother/Sister, or even their own names. Aunts and Uncles also want a say, and will possibly suggest something regal-sounding as befits a future Prime Minister or Brain Surgeon; which of course they are anticipating.

In our own recent case the young Cousins also insisted on being heard, and were disappointed when neither of their recommendations 'Chump' or 'Jesus' were chosen.

But the only ones who are really important in all this are the child's parents; and they usually surprise us with their common sense.

So in the future, on his driving licence, passport, and supermarket loyalty card, it will actually say.....

Aaron James Auriel 'Magnon'.

But to the family, and to this blog, he'll ALWAYS be known as 'Bunny'.

Monday 28 April 2014

Not silver; but almost.

I'm sure most English people know about this, but for the few who may not.....

UK 'boot sales' are awash with boxes of grotty old cutlery which often contain serving spoons such as the above. These boxes are well worth the rummaging. 

These are not silver spoons, they are often made of a nickel silver alloy, but they are particularly well made and therefore there's no paper-thin plating to wear off and expose some nasty brassy/coppery coloured metal underneath. 

So how does one spot such spoons? Look out for the words Bengal Silver, or Sidney Silver, or Waratah Silver, or Nevada Silver, or Brazilian Silver. There are lots of similar names, and you'll find them on the back of the spoon in place of all those usual fake silver marks. (I tried to take a close-up pic of the names, but no luck)

I've owned the ones above for a very long time, and of course they were owned by others before me. None of them shows any sign of wear, whereas with other poorer quality spoons (which I wouldn't tolerate) the silver soon wears thin. 

Quality always shows, and, if you're lucky enough to find them, they can be bought for almost nothing.

I've yet to see a modern spoon that comes anywhere close to the beauty of these old ones. The 3 on the left, above, are a particularly favourite style, with the embossed shield between the bowl and the stem. They make life just that tiny bit more pleasant.

Sunday 27 April 2014

Barn Roof.

We're having a new tiled roof put on the barn; the old one was nasty corrugated bucolic stuff, OK for keeping the rain off tobacco or pigs, but not aesthetic for a 'home'.

Roofing is never cheap whatever country you live in, so choosing the right people for the job is of paramount importance. 'Cowboys' need not apply!

My friend 'St Theresa of the Floral Tribute' had recently used the guy we've engaged (Monsieur F), so he came well recommended.

The 3 man team have only worked for one day so far, and already they have stripped the whole south side, fixed new chevrons (the yellowy bits that go from top to bottom), and wisely covered everything with an impervious layer of reinforced-plastic before leaving for the weekend. The heavens opened 30 mins after they'd gone.

The roof will look very new when finished, but it will be good for at least the next 100 years. After much deliberation we decided to use mécanique tiles; these are interlocking clay tiles that mellow quite well, but it might take quite a while. In our area, inappropriate tiles stand out like nasal carbuncles; hopefully ours will not. 

Saturday 26 April 2014

Wood; 2016?

Call me impetuous, but I've just bought this big pile of split, metre length, Chestnut.

I don't know how much there is of it, nor do I know how much it will cost me. What I do know is that my friends José and his daughter Laurence will charge me the 'correct' price, deliver it, and stack it beautifully.

It's pretty dry already, but if I give it another two years, it'll be perfect. I have enough of both Oak and Chestnut to see me through the next two years, so this new load will simply be in reserve. God, that makes me feel good.

Oh how blessed I am with certain of my neighbours. What WOULD I do without them!

Friday 25 April 2014

And it's all FREE; well, almost.

Aren't these bloody machines bloody wonderful.

I don't use my laptop for buying stuff; I leave that to Lady Magnon. In fact everything I do use it for is completely free.

Blogging is free; amazing.

Email is free; even more amazing.

Skype is free; occasionally that's pretty amazing too.

Google is free, Spotify is free, YouTube is free, Picasa 3 is free, Facebook is free, my daily weather forecast is free, the online newspaper I read is free, Wiki is free, and goodness knows how many other things are free too.

OK, I have to pay a paltry €29 a month to receive all these freebies; but what the hell.

And amazingly most of these companies manage to make millions, if not billions.

As Frank Capra said; 'it's a wonderful life'.....It sure is!

Thursday 24 April 2014

Veggie Wednesday 8: Spicy Roast Cauliflower.

                                    Spicy Whole Roasted Cauliflower

When I first saw this recipe, I just had to make it. It satisfies my love of both Cauliflower and Curry in one easy step.

In a small bowl mix together 1 tablespoon oil, 1 small pot plain yoghurt, the fine zest and juice of a lime, 1 teaspoon of chilli powder, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1 crushed clove of garlic,1 teaspoon of curry powder, 2 teaspoons sea salt, and 1 teaspoon of black pepper.

Spread the mix liberally over the upper part of a whole, de-leafed, cauliflower, and roast in the oven for about 35 minutes.

With Lady Magnon away, I shall be eating this for the next few days; but I have no problem with that.

I must admit that the above photo is NOT of the one I made (I wouldn't have those public lavatory style tiles in my kitchen, would I). I was so enthralled by the finished product that I forgot to photograph my version, and by the time I'd remembered, it was all a bit of a mess. However, it did start off looking like the above; but maybe a bit more orange in colour.

It was eaten with a simple leaf salad, and the obligatory glass of rouge. Yum.

This is my final 'Veggie Wednesday' posting. My own Veggie Wednesday regime will continue, and I'll now return to No 1. I'll probably go through the 8 recipes in turn; although some have been prefered to others.

Wednesday 23 April 2014



I know NOTHING about football. I've never played the game, and I've only been to watch a game once.

But I couldn't help noticing today that ALL the papers are filled with tales of the gentleman above. He is called David Moyes, and he's the manager/trainer (I think) of Manchester United Football Club.

So, why's he in the news? Well it seems that his team are completely hopeless and they keep losing matches, so they're sacking him.

Personally, I would look to the team itself. Aren't they the ones who are supposed to score the bloody goals? Surely it's the 'striker' who should be sacked. Either that, or knobble the opposition's goalkeeper.

You can explain to them, till you're blue in the face, how to kick that little ball into that huge net, but if they refuse to do so, whose fault is it? The manager's?

Mr Moyes will leave with a reasonable backhander of £10 million (allegedly) for his dismal failure, and no doubt some other football club will take him on until he's sacked again. As Mr Moyes is Scottish, maybe (hopefully) he'll return north of the border, and put a jinx on one of THEIR piss-poor clubs.

Apparently the Man U share price in New York rocketed at the news of his sacking. Football; dontcha love it!

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Unknown Beastie.

I found this little guy this morning. He'd managed to get down onto the pool cover, probably for a drink, but couldn't get up again; too slippery.

I don't think I've ever seen one of these before. If I'm right, my wildlife book suggests it's a Northern Water Vole. He was quite big (at least twice the size of a house mouse) and roundish, with a short tail. I took him out with a small skimmer net, and he scuttled off between some stones.                

The swirling white stuff in the photo is Pine pollen; we're inundated with the stuff at the moment.

Monday 21 April 2014

Easter Feaster.

As it happened, I had more to celebrate than just Easter; not that I celebrate Easter. The Quails had already been planned, but not the expensive bottle of Pécharmant.

The last time I ate Quails, I had two. This time I followed Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers' (River Café) advice, and I ate three; much better. They were accompanied by plain buttered home grown Swiss Chard.

I also followed Rose-n-Ruth's culinary advice; the birds were simply roasted with lemon, sage, and sea salt. They needed no more.

Easter was good. Welcome Bunny!

Sunday 20 April 2014

It's a BOY.


It's a boy.

It's a boy.

It's a boy.

The lovely Kellogg has presented us with an Easter boy. He will forever be known as BUNNY.

Mother and baby both fine! Pictures of Bunny to follow.

p.s. And in accordance with family tradition, I have celebrated his arrival by planting him a tree. He has his own Peach tree, which will forever bear his name.

And here's the first picture. Kellogg looking as bright and beautiful as a daisy, with Bunny and midwife.

I'm one very proud grandfather.

Saturday 19 April 2014

Mouse in the (Pump) House.

I've mentioned previously about the mice effing-up the electrical gubbins in our pool's pump house. Desperate measures were required to ensure that it didn't happen again.

This handy sachet poison looked to be the perfect solution. I put down blocks daily for several weeks. Every morning the blocks were gone. I began to suspect that there must be an army of the bloody things in there.

One day I decided to use my old-faithful mouse trap with a nice piece of Cheddar. I caught a mouse AT ONCE.

The following day I re-set the trap with more tasty cheese; but since that first victim, not a thing.

I even returned to putting down the wrapped blocks of poison, but they remained untouched.

I'm now wondering if it was just that ONE SINGLE MOUSE who had been eating all the poisoned blocks, but eventually fell victim to my mouse trap. 

A lone super-mouse with a very sensitive neck, but a much less sensitive stomach!

Friday 18 April 2014

Wot, no doors?

We don't really have internal doors in this house. There's one to the bathroom (thank goodness), and another going from the house to my studio. But that's it.

This means that we have no means of stopping the dogs leaving their comfy 'rest-a-while' chew-proof black plastic beds, and settling down for the night in the sitting room; which they are perfectly welcome to do.

However, they are banned from sleeping on the sofas at night (or any time), so I always put chairs on them before I go to bed.

Bok couldn't care less. Even if he has to sleep with chair legs up his 'Whitehall farce', he will do so just to be awkward.

This is how I found him this morning; he was still half asleep. 

..... and don't you stick your tongue out at me, you Monkey!

Thursday 17 April 2014

Veggie Wednesday 7. Sparra' Grass.

It's hot, dry, and it's Asparagus season, so if one is going to eat Veggie, then why not simply eat a whole plateful of the stuff. It's quick-n-easy; if not cheap.

I must admit that there really was enough for two (500gms), but what the hell; extravagance is something I've been trying to perfect.

In fact I didn't eat all of it; I saved half to have cold for lunch tomorrow (today).

As for the inevitable results of Asparagus eating; it gives me renewed confidence in the internal workings of the human body; and in particular, my own.

I ate my Sparra' Grass with a slightly lemony Mayo. What a treat; seasonal veg' at its best.

Wednesday 16 April 2014

A Minor Quandary.

From my very first year of vegetable growing up at Haddock's, I've always sowed/planted North-South.

As I was planting my red onion sets recently, I wondered if it might not be better to try East-West for a change.

If you believe N/S to be better than E/W, or vice versa, I'd be pleased to hear from you. I'd also like to hear of any 'olde-age wisdome' on the subject, if such exists. 

Haddock's slopes gently down to the South (in the picture, the far distance is South); it's served me very well up until now, so maybe there's no point in 'mending wot ain't broke'.

So far this year I've sowed two rows of Red Baron onions, and planted out a few red cabbage, half a dozen tomato plants, a few sprouts, and some calabrese plants, everything else will have to wait a while (apart from half a row of dwarf beans, which I'm just off to sow).

Tuesday 15 April 2014

The ailing NHS.


Sometimes I really worry about the NHS (The UK's National Health Service).

Even though I don't live in England, I do like to think that all is well with the wonderful health system 'back home'.

Almost daily I hear of hospitals closing, or A & E departments closing, or the system being over-run by over-paid managers. One really does wonder what on earth's gone wrong.

Just this morning I heard an NHS radio advert (on LBC, for the 100th time) advising me to put on extra clothes when it's cold. Well, thank you NHS; I'll bear that in mind, now that Spring is here!

Give me bloody strength; no wonder they're short of cash.

Monday 14 April 2014

The Passing of Time.


Mid-build, 9 October 2010. Those roof timbers really were nailed together, after having roughed-out a few 'back of an envelope' designs.

April 2014. The 'tower' is now 3½ years old, and already it's looking reasonably mellow. Later in the year it'll look even better.

Planting has gone quite well (in my opinion). Reflecting on the actual building process itself, it now seems almost unbelievable, or even foolhardy, that two inexperienced old-fogies managed to do what we did (we thought as much at the time).


When Lady Magnon returns from her travels, we shall move in here for the summer. It really is the best bedroom you could possibly imagine. I can hardly wait.

Sunday 13 April 2014


I'd managed to break the back off one of my set of four metal garden chairs, so, not having a welding kit of my own, I've been obliged to visit the local man 'wot fixes stuff'.

His yard is a treasure chest of old machines, weird bits of rusting metal, and plain old rubbish; think Fred Dibnah's back garden!

Amongst other delights was this magnificent rusting Grandpa Potts style chaudière (furnace/boiler?).

It was standing there out in the open, looking as if it still performs some purpose, but goodness knows what! I just had to take its photo.

I tried to imagine it sand-blasted, polished, and installed up at our old tobacco drying barn. It would have made the most wonderful heating system; and would certainly have been a fantastic 'conversation piece'.

I asked him if he actually used it; unfortunately he did. Pity!

Saturday 12 April 2014

Boules player.

I posted similar pictures of my cheeky Boules player jug about 4 years ago, but I'm giving him a second outing.

I bought him about 25 years ago. He was sitting in the window of a small village tobacconist/newsagent, and I simply couldn't resist. 

He is the epitome of a southern French Boules player; pencil moustache, white cap and trousers, and garish shirt. If he could speak, he would sound exactly like Fernandel; if he was drinking, it would have to be a Pastis.

I would love to pour wine from him, but I fear that the inside might be too tricky to clean properly.

I'll just have to admire him, and accept that he's simply a 'novelty jug'.

Friday 11 April 2014

It's so damned quiet.

It's 6pm, and about 23 C.

Monty is chewing on a bone, Bok is off chasing lizards, and Cro is sitting in the shade of the Quince tree (with my shorts on) enjoying an early glass of rouge.

It's warm, and the Quince flowers are dropping like confetti; everything is very quiet.

I'll soon get used to Lady Magnon's absence, but for the moment the silence is DEAFENING.

Thursday 10 April 2014

Veggie Wednesday 6. Pissaladière.


France's border with Northern Italy means that certain national dishes resemble each other; a classic example being that of Pizza and Pissaladière.

In Italy's Liguria district, it is known as Pissaladina and includes Mozzarella cheese (rather like a Pizza), whereas here in France it contains just caramelised onions, anchovies, and black olives.

Pissaladière is a simple cheap peasant dish, best cooked in a pukka wood fired bread oven; which I don't possess. Mine (above) was cooked with the assistance of Monsieur Brandt.

Ideally I should have been sitting on the shaded terrace of a ramshackle bistro overlooking the clear waters of some secret Mediterranean calanque, sipping a glass of chilled Gewurztraminer. But, in fact, it was consumed chez moi with a splendid glass of rustic rouge..... Just as good really.

Pissaladière ingredients were: Bought pizza base, 6 medium sized onions, small tin of anchovies, and 6 'halved' black olives. Caramelising the sliced onions takes about 20 mins, but the rest is child's-play. I baked it for about 25 mins. It made enough for 2; I had half last night, and shall have the rest today.

p.s. My much admired (by me) pizza/pissaladière serving board has probably been used less than a dozen times, and last night I discovered a wretched crack running through it. Looks like I'll soon have to go through the whole lengthy process of making another one. Damn it!

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Where is Lady Magnon off to?


Today Lady Magnon goes off travelling again, leaving 'you-know-who' in charge of dog maintenance, egg collection, vegetable production, and just about everything else she could fit on her three page list of instructions.

But can you guess where she's gone? Here are some tricky clues.....

1. Its indigenous people are very fond of putting 'oo's in their place, and family, names.
2. Spelling has never been taught in this country; they even named their favourite beer 'xxxx'.
3. The country itself is only inhabited on its coastline; the huge interior is nothing but red dust and bouncy animals.

Any ideas yet?

4. There are more flies here per cubic foot, than grains of sand in the Sahara desert.
5. You dare not swim in the sea for fear of being eaten by sharks, bitten by sea snakes, or stung by jellyfish..
6. All 'given names' have been banned, other than Bruce and Sheila.

Have you got it? She's gone to Wales!

No she's hasn't. She'll be back in about 6 weeks (or so).

Tuesday 8 April 2014

Woodland Nasties.


A few leaves are now beginning to appear, and the temperature has risen to 'acceptably warm'.

Unfortunately we are also mid-season for those nasty nasty 'Processionary Caterpillars', which means avoiding woodland that is predominantly Pine.

These dangerous creatures that one sees in long lines, nose to tail, are now leaving their tree-top nests, and heading off to find underground cubby holes in which to pupate.

Monty 'licked' one when he was much younger, and as a result lost about 2 cms of his tongue. Had he swallowed it, he wouldn't be with us today.

So, for our April walks, we are sticking to non-Pine woodland for the next few weeks. I really couldn't face another disaster like the last one; and I'm sure the dogs feel likewise.

Monday 7 April 2014

Monty in the Compact Royce.

Most dogs like to stick their heads out of the car window as it's going along.

Here's Monty, airing his teeth, letting his flappy bits flap about, and getting all that fresh air rushing through his pink nostrils. He loves it.

I can remember doing the same thing when I was small.

Sunday 6 April 2014

Designer Chickens.


Asthmatic Richard has sadly died, so we are now down to just one hen; the very friendly, and regular egg-laying, Richard.

I've always wanted a small flock of black chickens; I just happen to think they look beautiful, especially with their bright red combs.

Our surviving Richard is almost past her sell-by date and probably needs to be replaced. By chance we've found a lady who can provide us with a few 'point-of-lay' hens in about 3 months time, and, heaven be praised, she even has black ones.

I've attempted to buy black hens ever since my very first foray into farmyard fowl, but somehow it never happened. This time I'm insisting that it will.

Designer hens? Yes, I suppose so. Maybe it's because I tend to wear black myself; but without the Phrygian Cap.

They should arrive around Pentecost (whatever that is!).

Saturday 5 April 2014

As If By Magic.....

Maybe in Gay Paree, matronly spinsters will occasionally be seen in the Luxembourg Gardens walking with Chi Chi, or Poochy Woochy; their miniature Poodles. But in the rest of France people hardly ever walk their dogs; I'm sure it would be seen as a sign of weakness.

There seems to be two basic types of French dog owners. Firstly, and probably the most common, are those who simply chain-up their dogs for life. And secondly there are those who open the door in the morning to let Bonzo loose, then call him back again in the evening (if they can be bothered, and/or if he's still around). 

Our local dog owners mostly fall into the second category; although, sadly, there are plenty of the first around too.

Lady Magnon's duties are to walk our two just before lunchtime, and again in the late afternoon. I do the early morning session, and if I'm still awake, I might take them again about supper time.

The above sight is not uncommon. She leaves the house with just two, and often returns with half a dozen. The others simply tag along.

Joining her above were Iggy Pup (furthest away behind Lady M), and Isis (the only local female, who is madly in love with Monty).  

Both nice dogs, and a pleasure to take along on any walk. 

I believe that some people even get paid for walking other people's dogs. Maybe.... no, maybe not!

Friday 4 April 2014

Mirror, mirror, on the wall...

I don't know if I'm right, but I suspect that French antique collectors are proudest of either their old walnut Armoires, or their large gilded Mirrors, and I tend to covet both myself.

Good quality old Armoires cost a bloody fortune, so, instead, in recent times I've had to satisfy myself with a much more affordable mirror. 

In fact I bought the above in two parts; the mirror itself, which was in a bit of a state, then the bronze gilded swag top-knot a few weeks later. With a wet day yesterday, it was time to assemble the two bits.

The mirror itself required quite a bit of work, removing unnecessary bits on each corner, very lightly re-gilding the moulding, and turning the whole thing upside down.

The swag was simply screwed into position.

The original mirror cost €20, exactly the same as the metal swag. Not a bad finished job for just €40.

Thursday 3 April 2014

Veggie Wednesday 5. Mushroom Risotto.

You may already have understood why I never became a 'food photographer'; well, here is yet another fine example. Please; no more comments about bilious dogs etc, Risottos are decidedly non-photogenic.

Risottos are the only dish I prepare that require seriously hard work. Anyone who regularly cooks risottos will know that one is obliged to stand stirring for about 30 minutes. It's unlike any other food preparation; but worth the effort.

Usually I make a chicken and mushroom risotto, but in line with my Veggie Wednesday series I decided to throw caution to the winds, and go meatless.

I started with a classic Risotto in bianco (with Noilly Prat instead of ordinary dry white wine), and for the final 5 minutes added a good hand-full of reconstituted dried cèpes, and a tiny can of button mushrooms. The cèpes (above) were gathered and sun-dried last autumn.

The finished dish was given a liberal sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

To be honest, I'm now wondering why I ever used to add the chicken.

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Tempted by Tayberries.

Parisians are a strange bunch; out here in Les Styx they are viewed as a totally separate nationality (and with good reason). Even when having relocated to the countryside, they seem to be incapable of abandoning their strict urban (Parisian) ways.


An insignificant, but classic example happened about 10 years ago when a Parisian family I know decided to play 'Let's pretend to be country folk', and planted a Tayberry bush, on the edge of their lawn within about 6 inches of their border with Haddock's. It produced wonderful fruit almost at once, but no-one thought to gather it (they may not even have considered it edible). The following year when similarly ignored, rather than see the harvest go to waste, I ate the fruit myself. Since then I have always eaten the fruit.

The plants themselves (now greatly multiplied) have sent out numerous runners 'eastwards', abandoning their own garden in favour of mine (with absolutely no assistance from me!). No plants are now left on their side of the fence (they mowed them to death), but plenty now live on mine. I have even just potted-up a dozen more suckers (below) which will join my good-sized plantation later in the year.  My plants now supply several kilos of delicious fruit annually.

What's the betting that any Tayberries these Parisians may eat in the future, would come in sterile plastic tubs, with 'guaranteed' no fear of poisoning; the only way that those darling Parisians would ever buy them. Personally I like mine fresh, sun-blessed, and free; thank you!

p.s. Just in case anyone is unfamiliar with Tayberries, they are a deliciously oversized Raspberry/Blackberry cross.

Tuesday 1 April 2014

David Hannay 1939-2014


I've just heard that my old friend David Hannay has died.

David was a pillar of the Australian film industry, and will be greatly missed.

My sincere condolences go to his wife Mary, their children, and grandchildren.

Nail-biting times...

As with most of Europe, just about all our fruit trees are now in flower, and as usual I am becoming nervous.

We still have about 6 weeks to go before the risk of frost is over. 

At present we have the anticipation of another bumper harvest, but as has been demonstrated in the past, it can all come to nothing.

Certain fruits ALWAYS come-up trumps. I don't think I've ever known a year without Figs and certain semi-wild Plums, but it's the apples that are the most important, to see us through winter.

So, we cross our fingers, bite our nails, and simply hope for the best.

I'll let you know!

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