Sunday 31 August 2014

For Tom.

It would ruin Tom's year if I didn't moan about my overwhelming Quince crop. So if anyone would like some Quinces, please send a stamped addressed truck to me, here and I will send you a tonne or two by return. 

As usual the tree is groaning with fruit. I will make an effort to eat one or two this year, but I shall still end up putting most of them on the compost (to join all our grapes).

My preferred way of eating Quince is to peel (difficult), quarter (very difficult), and core (even more difficult), then roast the prepared quarters with either a chicken or a joint of pork. Try it; delicious.

I used to make classic Quince jelly, or occasionally Membrillo, but no-one eats it.

Shame isn't it. Why can't my other fruit trees be so consistently generous. Sod's Law, I suppose. 

On my way to the airport yesterday I saw a dozen or more trees that were similarly overwhelmed; everyone seems to have the same problem.

Saturday 30 August 2014

How to make walnut oil

Walnuts will start dropping quite soon, so I thought you might enjoy this; a little peek into life down here in S W France. You never know what's in a Frenchman's garden shed.

Then I drink two teaspoons of it every day with my breakfast.

Friday 29 August 2014

National Boris.


Some people are so notorious that they are simply known by their given name; above is one such.

I do like dear old Boris, and bizarrely he is equally liked by both sides of the political spectrum.  He's a breath of fresh eccentric air in the otherwise dull and corrupt world of politics. He tells the truth (mostly), and does what he says. Some might also say he's slightly 'Churchillian'. Even though he swings to the right of the political roundabout, he could almost be from any leaning.

He had a pretty classic upbringing for a politician. Ashdown House, Eton, Balliol, President of the Oxford Union, as well as being a naughty Bullingdon* member. Somehow he also managed to leave Oxford with a 2:1 degree in Classics. Educationally, it doesn't get much better.

When we think of Boris, we think of London bicycles, blond unruly hair, occasional womaniser, and highly intelligent buffoon. He is the current Mayor of London.

Boris could well be a future UK Prime Minister, or at least a minister, so look out world, you ain't seen nuffin yet. When (or if) this man starts walking the international political catwalk, he'll be a serious power to reckon with.

*The Bullingdon Club is an exclusive drinking club for extremely wealthy, and well connected, Oxford undergraduates. They dress extravagantly, eat and drink copiously, then create mayhem (leaving daddy's lawyers to cough-up for the damage). It's a fine British institution, and the perfect training ground for UK Prime Ministers (our present PM, Dave, was also a member).

p.s. With both Boris and Nigel (Farage) amongst a new wave of hopeful MP's; politics is suddenly looking more interesting (if not more appealing).

Thursday 28 August 2014

The barn; a progress report.

I receive thousands of Emails each day asking how the work at the barn is progressing (like hell I do).

Well, work has started again and we are busy putting up the new beams and joists for the ceiling/upstairs floor.

As wood and aluminium are to be very much a part of the whole final design, I have decided to use these industrial type fixings which will be left showing. The downstairs will be very hi-tech, and the upstairs more rustic and 'cosy'. 

As with all amateur builders/architects, I am problem-solving as I go along. Problems are plentiful; solutions less so. But we'll get there! 

Tuesday 26 August 2014

Black for Danger?

I am growing two varieties of chili this year. One is a 5 inch long, medium hot, carrot-shape-ish, chili which I am already using (very nice). The other is the above; a small, black, dangerous-looking, evil baby.

I don't remember actually buying this variety, in fact I'm sure it was supposed to have been a small, roundish, hot, RED chili.

The soil is very dry here, and these black chilies are now drooping. A week or so ago they were all pointing skywards.

Does anyone grow these? Are they as dangerous as they appear? Do they stay black? I haven't dared use one yet, I suppose I could try the 'taste test'.

All answers greatly appreciated.

Monday 25 August 2014

Early One (Sunday) Morning.

It's 7.20am (6.20am UK time) and it's cool. I'm still wearing shorts and T shirt, but almost wish I wasn't.

The Hazel nuts are looking good. Some have already started dropping; they're plump, sweet, and milky.

The Chestnuts are swelling. It's probably time to get mowing beneath the trees.

And this year's Sloes are the size of small Plums.

The boys are happy whatever the weather, and whatever time of day. I always give Monty a few Blackberries at this spot; that's what he's waiting for.

No need to buy or grow Mint here; it's everywhere. Actually I do grow some, but a different variety.

And finally, I pass this wild grapevine every morning, and I can hardly wait to see what becomes of it when ripe. Red, white, sweet, or sour? I just hope the deer don't get to them before I do. If they're any good I'll take some cuttings.

Sunday 24 August 2014

Fashion Victims.


I presume that all girls attending UK music festivals, in recent times, have been given a list of clothes to wear; either by their peers or by the festival organisers.

The essentials are Hunter gumboots, very short shorts, long strapped handbag, rucksack filled with more short shorts, and a silly hat.

English summer music festivals are not known for dry sunny weather, in fact they are mostly known for mud, mud, and more mud. But still they wear the festival-goers uniform.

As a 'style' I rather like it.

Saturday 23 August 2014

Tommy Rot.

There was I, proudly telling my friend José that I never put chemicals on my Tomatoes, as he was explaining that loads of people (including himself) had lost their entire crop to disease this year; I can tell you, I was feeling rather smug. 

Then, almost overnight, the above happened. Something virulent killed off the plants in a flash, and the fruits themselves developed nasty yellow 'sores'.

Luckily I had just finished preparing all my conserves. I have over 25 litres of tomato, and tomato mix, sauces in storage. Everything from plain Passata, to courgettes in Tomato, and Ratatouille. 

So, my annual problem of knowing what to do with the excess glut has been decided for me by Mother Nature. I shall now grub-up all the plants, and take them to some distant corner of the estate (where hopefully the disease will do no future harm). 

My friend José has just been by; and was laughing his head off. C'est la bloody vie!

Friday 22 August 2014

Suicide. One man's Experience.

With the tragic news of Robin Williams' demise still fresh in our minds, and much talked of in the press, the subject of suicide is again being widely discussed.

I think there has only been one case in my family; at least to my knowledge.

My uncle and aunt were 'eccentric', to say the least. They lived about 200 yards down the road from us in my native Surrey village, in a house that was OVERFLOWING with furniture. Sofas were stacked in rows in the sitting room, and the small dining room (well it seemed small) contained at least two huge roll-top desks as well as goodness knows what else. There was a permanent feeling of 'chaos' in the house.

Eventually my uncle went mad, and was taken away (around 1960?). The last thing I remember him saying to me was how upset he'd been to see children running away from him in fear.

My aunt visited him regularly, and on one occasion was seen by a senior psychiatrist who tried to give her comfort by saying that 'he would soon be home'.

This preyed on my aunt's mind so much that she eventually decided that she'd had enough. There had in fact been no hope whatsoever of his ever returning home, and the psychiatrist's 'kindly' assurance had been the final straw.

Before taking her own life she had become totally irrational. Amongst other things, she posted envelopes filled with cash to all her siblings, and bought several enormous joints of beef that just hung, uncooked, in her pantry; I still have no idea why.

One day a neighbour phoned to say that he'd noticed several bottles of milk on her doorstep, and she hadn't been seen for a while. We were then living on the south coast, and immediately drove up to Lingfield to see what was going on.

As the smallest it was my duty to enter the house via an open window, and I found her slumped in an armchair with her mouth covered in white powder from all the pills she'd swallowed. I was probably about 13 or 14.

Her action was all her own doing, but for years I blamed the psychiatrist. I do also think that the milkman should have averted someone (albeit too late to do any good); and what her butcher thought she was up to, I really cannot imagine.

With my aunt no longer around, my uncle's London-based (long lost) sister suddenly appeared on the scene and bled him dry of money. She also emptied the Surrey house of anything of value, before eventually inheriting it, and selling-up. In a previous will my uncle had apparently left me £1,000 (a lot of money in those days), but by the time his sister had finished with him all that had been changed. Hey ho; what you've never had, you never miss.

As children, my sister and I spent quite a lot of time at my aunt and uncle's house, but I think even then we knew that they were a bit strange. Maybe this is why I wasn't really surprised about their ends.

I'm now wondering if I should have written about all this.

Thursday 21 August 2014

Goodbye Boys! A Bientôt.

My lovely boys are now back in London. Lady Magnon has accompanied them on their flight, and will stay for a while to do some 'shopping'.

They've been with us for most of the summer, with just a short week's break on the Med' with their parents

I must say, they've been 'model children'. No tantrums, no misbehaviour, no arguments. They've even amazed me by eating their 'greens', and trying almost everything on offer.

Possibly even more than us, the dogs will miss them terribly. We have been totally ignored since they've been with us; Monty and Bok only had eyes for them.... Inseparable.

The bikes, go-karts, and butterfly nets, have all been put away; oh my god it's going to be so quiet. I'm already looking forward to seeing them again as soon as possible. 

Have you considered a pre-Christmas visit, boys?

Wednesday 20 August 2014



I've suffered all my life from shyness. In fact I would say, almost to the level of 'debilitating'.

Even now I'm not good in social crowds; much preferring small intimate groups.

I have learned over the years how to pretend to be almost extrovert, but I don't find it easy.

I suppose the most crippling effect of my shyness was when I was in my late teens/early twenties when I made such a pig's breakfast over meeting the opposite sex; I was forced to torture myself just to start simple conversations. Luckily I never allowed this to rule my life, and I managed to have a few stunningly beautiful girlfriends. Lady Magnon even said that she found my shyness quite appealing; goodness knows why.

I'm still very shy; no doubt I always will be. I try not to let people see that side of me, but pretending to be gregarious continues to be extremely hard work.

Now you know why I'm a part time hermit; and probably also why I write a daily blog.

Tuesday 19 August 2014

Knowing One's Onions, Part 2.

Yesterday I pulled my Onion crop; and I'm pleased to say that they look pretty good. I hadn't really paid them much attention since they were planted as 'sets', and they were now completely covered by weeds.

I shall leave them in the sun to dry-out for a few days, then trim them up a bit and store them in a corner of the studio (if I can find a free corner).

Again I grew my old faithful variety of Red Baron. They never fail me, and the flavour is excellent; perfect for Pissaladière.

The medicinal properties of Onions are well known; we should all eat a lot more.

I haven't weighed my crop, but I imagine I have between 25 and 30 kilos. They should see me through the winter.

Monday 18 August 2014

More Boot Sale Fun.

Yesterday saw our biggest annual 'brocante' (boot sale), at the nearby town of Cazals. We are always on the look-out for nice things for the barn, and these doors looked just the job. When given a waxing they'll be beautiful.

They are solid walnut, probably late 19th C, bucolic Louis XV style, and in pretty good nick.

I'll get our chippie to use them for something.

Nice, eh?

Sunday 17 August 2014

La Vendange.

Harvey J was in charge of picking the grapes,

whilst little brother Ollie, squeezed the juice out of them.

OK, the resulting Chateau Grumpy wine was only a few minutes old, but it was very good.

Saturday 16 August 2014

Running, Jumping, Throwing.


My grandsons have been watching bits of the present European Athletic Championships from Zurich, and I've noticed that all athletes have one thing linguistically in common.

Interviewer: Blah blah blah?

Athlete: Yeah; I mean.......

Why, I wonder, do they all feel it necessary to say 'I mean'?.... I mean, couldn't they say 'Yeah, like....'

The picture above is of Goldie Sayers (fellow OE). She came 6th in the girlies Javelin.

Friday 15 August 2014

Where's The Arm In That.

Strange the things one finds in the garden; this 1 inch plastic arm being a good example.

Here's waving at you, kid!

Thursday 14 August 2014

Here we go again....

The delivery driver couldn't get the wood directly into the barn, but he did leave it quite conveniently just beyond the big glass doors. We had been offered help to shift it, but it didn't arrive... hmmm.

A nasty storm was on the books, so Lady Magnon and I set to and managed to carry the whole lot indoors within an hour or so, by ourselves.

It may not look terribly heavy, but believe me; it was. Those long bits are 7 metres long, and 7 by 17 cms in section. The big pile in the background, was simply a very big pile. It was also a very hot and sticky afternoon.

Not long after everything had been safely stored inside we managed a quick swim before the storm arrived, and the heavens opened.

Now all we have to do it put it all together to make the structure for the new 1st floor.

My back is aching already.

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Ship ahoy!

Give a boy a boat, some water, and a vivid imagination, and he'll play for hours.


Here was Ollie fighting off pirates, wrestling with man-eating sharks, and transporting his cargo of gold coins to some Treasure Island.

Even Monty joined in the adventure.

Tuesday 12 August 2014

Harvey's Haul.

On April 25th 2006, I planted the above Plum tree; it was to commemorate the birth of my first grandson Harvey J.

Since then it had only borne a few fruits, most of which were bug-ridden. However, this year for the first time it has excelled, and is laden with magnificent bug-less healthy fruits.

As Harvey J is with us at the moment we just had to celebrate his crop from his own tree, and everyone was in agreement about how; one of Grumsy's (Lady Magnon) fabulous Plum Tarte Tatins.

And here's the boy himself with his very own Plum Tarte Tatin. 

I detect a hint of pride..... quite right too!

Monday 11 August 2014

Glut time.

All gardeners are the same. One minute we're complaining that everything is very late, the next we have a glut.

My Tomato glut has just arrived, so having already done a good stock of Tomato based conserves, now is the time for just plain Tomato sauce (Passata).

I always use litre bottles for this purpose, as the end product is invariably used for soup (and I need at least a litre).

The chopped Tomatoes are cooked with salt, pepper, garlic, dried herbs, and olive oil, packed into these tall jars, then sterilised for one hour. When later used for soup it is passed through a colander, to remove the skins, then mixed with a spoonful of cream, salt, and a little sugar.  

If you like Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup, you'd love this. If you don't like Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup, you'd love this even more.

I'll do another batch today.

Sunday 10 August 2014

Summer evenings.

There really is nothing nicer in the world than eating outdoors with family, then talking into the late hours accompanied by a few glasses of rouge.

Unfortunately my son and daughter in law have now returned to London, and I'm already missing those evenings of irreverent banter and world-righting.

Suddenly it's already begun to feel autumnal, and any temperatures above 30 C will now be rare. Even eating outdoors will probably soon become the exception.

Kimbo (above) has promised to return before winter, so the solutions to any remaining international dilemmas will just have to wait.

Saturday 9 August 2014

Vegetarian grub.

I quite expect that most of us have toyed with vegetarianism at some time in our lives. I certainly have.

My problem (and what a problem) is that I really like eating meat. In fact finding a dish where one genuinely doesn't miss the meat, for me, is rare.

One exception to this rule is with Indian veggie cuisine. The haunting spicy flavours of so much Indian cookery seems to take over, and the meatless-ness becomes either forgotten or seems unimportant.


BBC TV has recently been re-running Rick Stein's sumptuous Indian Odyssey food series (I also have the book), and although many of the dishes featured are with meat, he stresses that India is the world's biggest veggie country, so he features plenty of meatless recipes as well.

I should attend a course on simple Indian veggie cuisine, I think I could become a convert. I have the raw ingredients in abundance; so why not?


Already my regular repertoire contains a few classic Indian veggie dishes, but I'd like a lot more. I need to experiment, be more adventurous, and to equip myself with more essential ingredients.

Goodness gracious me; I can almost hear myself speaking with an Indian accent.

Friday 8 August 2014

Pressing News.

My son Kimbo found this lovely little cast iron press at a Cahors boot sale yesterday.

It's a cheese press; which I have every intention of using. It's just a matter of finding some good quality full cream milk, and I'll be in business.

My mother often made 'cream cheese', by leaving naturally curdled milk to drain through muslin; flavourings were added later. I shall probably be using either lemon juice or vinegar (not rennet) to separate the curds and whey, then press to make a semi-hard cheese. Any practical advice would be very welcomed.

We tried it out pressing some grapes; it worked perfectly. Keep watching this space for a future home-made-cheese page.

Thursday 7 August 2014

Ping Pong.

You may have deduced that I rather like my grandsons; all 5 of them. 

Do we spoil them? Yes of course we do; that's what grandparents are for.

Frankly we wouldn't deprive them of anything, and if they want a ping pong table then they shall have one.

Here they are in Béziers recently, honing their skills; we'll buy them an outdoor table as soon as possible. 

Keeps them amused for hours. Happy boys; happy Grumpy.

(No prizes in the Spot the Ball competition)

Wednesday 6 August 2014

The Long and Winding Road.

The boys are now back from Béziers. They stayed at Sérignan Plage, just outside the main town.

In fact Harvey J was so enamoured that during the return journey he decided to draw a map, so that he could always find his way back again.

As you can see it was quite a windy road; the observant viewer might also spot a church and 2 bridges that were passed en route.

I shall certainly be using this detailed route map if ever I go down to Béziers; far more interesting than Sat Nav.

Monday 4 August 2014


Bloody typical, just when I have loads of Tomatoes ripening, my Courgettes have gone on strike.

Anyway, with just a few Courgettes and loads of green Peppers I decided to start off my 2014 bottling campaign with half a dozen 500 gm jars of Tomatoes with Courgettes and Peppers (TCP).

What I really want to preserve this year is Courgettes in Tomato sauce, and just plain Tomato sauce (Passata).  I find these the most useful.

We still have just a couple of bottles from last year, but they will be finished before long. I reckon I've got my annual quantities right, even if I can't get everything to grow at the right time.

Synchronization Cro, synchronization! 

Sunday 3 August 2014

Knickerbocker Glories.

Having read a recent posting of mine concerning childhood seaside holidays, Lady Magnon decided that the boys should be introduced to the pleasures of the Knickerbocker Glory.

Her version contained various fruits, ice cream, thick cream, and plum sauce (with a biscuit stuck in the top).

We'd only just returned from a restaurant, but the boys made quick work of their Glories, regardless. 

The boys are now spending a few days by the sea in Béziers (where I'm sure there will be no Knickerbocker Glories).

Saturday 2 August 2014

Barn Window Openings.

I've been high up on ladders for the last few mornings (it's been too bloody hot in the afternoons). The window openings are now all in, and all the surrounding boards replaced and given a coat of special paint.

Monsieur G, our window man, has been to measure-up, and has given us a date for the fittings (mid-October).

I am now a bit stuck for something to do. I'm waiting for delivery of the new transverse beams, waiting for the plumber, and waiting for the electrician.

The only person who is consistently prompt is the building inspector who made a surprise visit yesterday morning. He was very happy with everything. Even the slight alterations I've made to the original planning application design, plus the new roof which I hadn't mentioned at all, were given a hearty 'thumbs up'. I gave him a new expected finish date of 2016. 

I'm pleased to add that he was very impressed by my insistence on keeping the old tobacco barn looking like an old tobacco barn, so many people would take an old barn and try to convert it into a modern bungalow. We are trying to keep the exterior looking much as it was. 

Generally, it's only the English and the Dutch who really care about preserving France's domestic architectural heritage. Some of the 'local' restoration jobs around here make me cringe.It's heartening to know that there is at least one inspector who realises the extent to which some of us will go to preserve THEIR heritage.

Friday 1 August 2014



Today is Lammas (or Loaf Mass). Traditionally it is on August 1st that the first loaves are made from the new wheat harvest, and Lammas celebrates that harvest.

Anyone lucky enough to celebrate Lammas with a loaf from M Poilane (like those above) would certainly be blessed; he makes what is probably the world's finest.

So, happy Lammas everyone, and may your bread cupboard never be empty.

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