Saturday 31 January 2015

A meeting of the Greats (and one steals the limelight).

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the funeral of Winston Churchill.

In memory of the great man, I am posting this 1954-ish picture from the British Embassy in Washington DC, where my late father-in-law was posted at the time.

In the bottom left hand corner of the photo is the future Lady Magnon, sitting on the base of a column; bored out of her mind. The world's photographers had a field-day.

Churchill later asked her if she'd enjoyed his speech. History records that she replied 'Yes'. The little minx lied; Churchill's thoughts on the matter are not known.

Friday 30 January 2015

Mulling over Molehills.

Living in an area that was once occupied by the Romans (French villages with the suffix 'ac' were Roman settlements), I am sure that there are plenty of as yet undiscovered archaeological finds to be made.

The idea of 'finding' things totally fascinates me, whether it be by beach-combing, digging in the garden, or simply discovering something of interest shoved into a hedge.

I always find myself drawn to newly made Molehills; as I pass by, I throw a glance at the freshly churned-up soil hoping that I might discover gold coins, pre-historic flint tools, or maybe even some broken piece of ancient jewellery.

As yet the local Mole population have failed to provide me with anything, but I live in hope.

Thursday 29 January 2015


I don't like the cold; especially the nasty freezing drizzle we've been experiencing lately. In fact I'd be perfectly happy to spend the whole Winter indoors.

So, what do we do to make it bearable? Well, we do consume rather a lot of hearty soups, casseroles, and roasts. Otherwise we wrap up warmly, take the dogs for long walks, and put a few extra potatoes to bake in George (our wood fired cooker).

Mostly, however, we lounge around the sitting room fire, leafing through old donated newspapers, filling in crossword puzzles, or reading books.

Other than sawing and splitting logs, there's really not much else to do.

You may have noted from the above pix that we have very little appetite for domestic duties.... that'll have to wait until Spring.

Wednesday 28 January 2015


I recently visited a nearby Bio Store to buy the above pink lentils. There was a self-service counter, and I filled my paper bag with about 1.3 kilos (all that you can see above).

The charming lady who runs the shop is very chatty, and over recent times we've got to know each other quite well.

When she weighed my bag, she asked me for €3.20. I was about to hand over the money when I thought it didn't seem quite right; I had not long ago bought a similar sized bag of lentils in a Villeneuve sur Lot superstore, and it had cost over €10.

"Are you sure that's right?" I asked her. She looked at me oddly and asked if I thought it too much.

"No" I replied "Too little".

She weighed my bag a second time, and confirmed that the price was right. We then had a long conversation about how people view the value of the Euro and the Franc so very differently. I capitulated, paid my €3.20, and left feeling content. I should add that she has a strange accounting system which involves a weighing machine and a small calculator.

Once back in the Compact Royce, I recounted the tale to Lady Magnon who seemed as confused as myself. It still didn't seem right.

At home I weighed my bag and confirmed that it was indeed 1.3 kilos. I think the nice lady charged me for .3 kilos, and ignored the other 1 kilo. The filled bag should probably have cost me about €12.

So, do I go back again and set things right, or do I sit back, knowing that I tried to correct her, and count myself lucky? I have never been untruthful about such things, and therefore have a natural instinct to do the former. I'm uncertain.

Tuesday 27 January 2015

The Open Road.

Look what I discovered yesterday, just a few hundred metres from our house!

I can't tell you how I felt when I spotted it. My dream was being acted-out by some lucky devil who had taken matters into his own hands, and just got on with it.

A wagon like this has everything one needs. A bed, a table, and a small stove. And just like with my friends who came to stay all those years ago, this wagon had two hens, a dog, and an old nag.

Keeping things to 'essentials' only, is essential in a Gypsy Caravan. A saw, a washing line, a bottle opener, and a good supply of buckets is important, but other than that; not much else.

I've mentioned previously my thoughts on seeing a wisp of blue smoke coming from a tiny cottage chimney, you can just imagine my thoughts on seeing this. 


Monday 26 January 2015

Home Cured Bacon (Pancetta).

Making our own bacon is child's play; anyone can do it, anywhere. This simple process ensures that no nasty chemicals make their way into our daily rashers; nor that any water has been introduced to bump-up the weight.

The above piece of Belly Pork is from the thin end; the end without the bones. It probably weighs about 3 kilos; I'm not sure exactly because I bought a whole 7+ kilo Pork Belly, the rest of which is in the freezer. After processing it will probably end-up weighing less than 2.5 Kilos.

How?.... In a bowl mix 2 parts coarse sea salt to one part brown sugar, maybe with some crushed pepper and a pinch of dried herbs. Place a 1cm sprinkling on the bottom of a plastic container, place the Belly on top, then rub on another layer all over. A kilo of the mix should be more than enough.

Leave overnight, then pour off any liquid that has seeped-out from the meat. Rub on any remaining cure mix, then repeat once more over the following 4 or 5 days. After the 5th day, wash off the salt and dry thoroughly with kitchen paper. When perfectly dry I usually cover the whole thing with crushed peppercorns.

Now pierce a corner of the Belly's skin, thread with string, and hang in a cool airy place; leave suspended for a minimum of 2 weeks, after which you could COLD smoke for 24 hours (unfortunately I don't have a cold smoker).

It's probably best to wrap the meat in loose fitting muslin in case of flies. When checking your bacon, you will also notice that it slowly becomes considerably firmer.

That's all there is to it. Slice thinly, and you have your very own streaky bacon/pancetta for breakfast.

N.B. Here in France fresh Belly Pork costs about €2.50 a kilo; cured Bacon costs about €10. 

It should be noted that this dry cure method can produce a particularly hard rind, which is probably best either cut away from the bacon before slicing, or totally removed in one piece; not easy, but worthwhile.

Getting the 'saltiness' correct is a matter of practice.

Sunday 25 January 2015

Familiar faces. A Sunday Special.

Many (most) actors/actresses have very familiar 'faces', but other than that we often know very little about them.

Esma (often wrongly called Esme) Cannon is a good example.


Originally from Australia, Ms Cannon is mostly known for her comedic acting; especially in the 'Carry on' films, where she usually played the part of a confused diminutive spinster.

She was what one might call a jobbing actress; not at all a 'lovie'. In fact, it was her dislike of the limelight that prevented news of her death (back in 1972) being widespread, even those who had been closest to her weren't informed.

Not much is known of Esma, so I'm really posting this short piece for her name and face to be seen once again.

She was one of those little treasures of English cinema. Did you know her name?

Saturday 24 January 2015

Of things to come.


I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but, when my time comes, I shan't be sad to leave this crazy world behind.

What an awful bloody mess our so-called 'leaders' have created; not only those in The West, but more so in The Middle East, where young men are executed for keeping pigeons, homosexuals thrown from rooftops, and women beheaded in the streets.

I suppose the worst case scenario, and probably the most likely, is another World (Holy) War, with eager combatants already liberally spread worldwide, waiting for the flag to drop. For someone who is an eternal optimist, I find it very disturbing that I should be witnessing this sad state of affairs, about which we can do absolutely nothing.

Make no mistake; what is happening worldwide will soon affect ALL of us, whilst those who triggered the crisis sit back in bullet-proof luxury (yes, them).

Sorry to be such a pessimist, but someone has to tell it like it is!

I shall now find a nice quiet darkened room, and SCREAM until I cry.

Friday 23 January 2015

The Elitism of Mr Bryant?


Ignorant Labour MP Chris Bryant has recently been denouncing 'The Arts' as being elitist. He seems to think that you can only advance in either Theatre, Music, or Painting, if you have been to Eton and Oxford. What bloody TOSH.

Frankly I couldn't give a f*ck what school or university an actor or painter attended, even if I do prefer them to be able to speak clearly, and possess a reasonable standard of education. Personally, I would never watch EastEnders or Coronation Street simply because the extreme dumbing down makes me feel ill; apart from which the quality of both the storylines, and the acting, is atrocious.

I quite expect that David Hockney and Damien Hurst are amongst Britain's wealthiest artists. I may be wrong, but I don't think either of them are Old Etonians, nor have they ever set foot inside an Oxford college (other than to give lectures maybe).

What I think Bryant should be looking at is the very obvious, and disgraceful, class barrier in the UK's HIGHEST PAID PROFESSION; FOOTBALL.

Professional Footballers are paid ridiculous amounts of money (far more than those bankers who Bryant loves to hate), but I have yet to find an Old Etonian or Oxford graduate amongst them.

Are the privately educated excluded from Soccer? Is there an unwritten rule than no Football club should ever employ anyone with an Oxford degree? Is being able to conjugate Lūdere correctly, a No-No in 'the beautiful game'?

I think we should be told (maybe by Mr Bryant).

N.B. Before Rachel takes me to task; I am perfectly aware that the Wanderers (Forest Football Club, above) won the FA cup in 1871 and 72, the Old Etonians won in 1878 and 81, and the Old Carthusians won in 1880. But all that was about 140 years ago when Football was still 'a gentleman's game played by gentlemen'. Nowadays it seems as if 'gentlemen' are routinely banned. Maybe that's why they've all migrated towards 'The Arts' instead.

Thursday 22 January 2015

Not a-bloody-gain.

I'm thinking of having a tattoo. It'll be in big letters on my forehead, and it'll say 'DON'T SELL THIS MAN ANYTHING THAT NEEDS TO BE HOME-ASSEMBLED'.

Lady Magnon has this crazy idea that she can beat me at Ping Pong (table tennis), so to prove the point she's bought a new table and is taunting me with puerile jests.

Her first ploy, however, was to make me angry, and what better way than by buying a bloody table that comes in bloody BITS. She knows what affect this has on my otherwise placid nature, and sees this as part of her pre-victory plans.

Much sweat has been shed, expletives have been bandied, and bits put-on upside down. What should have taken ten minutes has taken a whole bloody day (when doesn't it?), and I'm in a pretty foul mood.

I shall now wait until I'm feeling a bit more relaxed before giving her a damn good bloody Ping Pong thrashing.

N.B. And don't even ask about the delivery of the wretched 100 kg (yes, 100 kg)  'package'. That's another whole bloody story which raised my blood pressure beyond previously known heights. .

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Look who came for breakfast.

Lady Magnon: Cro, come quick.

Cro: What is it, I'm busy.

Lady M: It's Jesus.

Cro: Wot?

Lady M: Jesus.... come and look.

Cro: Blimey!

Lady M: It's just like when people cut into tomatoes and find the face of Jesus inside.

Cro: Can we sell it?

Lady M: Oh no you don't; that's my breakfast!

Tuesday 20 January 2015


It's a constant battle, in Winter, trying to keep warm. I seem to saw and split several cubic metres of wood each day; of course in reality it's only a barrow load, but it seems like a lot more.

Gilbert (above), our Godin sitting room stove, requires large amounts of wood if any real heat is to be generated. He needs to be stacked high with good dry Oak before he becomes effective.

George (above), on the other hand, is much more efficient. Our DeVille kitchen wood-fired cooker takes far less wood, and produces far more heat from much cheaper Chestnut. 

This Winter we lit our first fire mid-December, and we shall probably still be lighting them until March. That's a lot of wood and a lot of chain-sawing.

I should add that Gilbert-n-George are our only forms of proper heating, other than one or two oil filled radiators, that we hardly ever use. 

As all owners of similar wood-fired Cookers will know, they produce the very best stews, roasts, and baking. The aroma of a slow cooking stew from a wood oven is totally different to that from gas or electricity. I needn't tell you which I prefer, even if it is all bloody hard work.

Monday 19 January 2015

Just another Manic Monday.

I think we've all noticed how certain days of the year have now been given their very own silly names; mostly to do with shopping. Fridge-filling Friday, Take-away Tuesday, Hangover Hogmanay, etc. I now see the week thus....

Mental Monday; When folk go back to work and desperately want to kill their bosses.

Tragic Tuesday; When those same folk put away the Machete, and resign themselves to a whole week of drudgery.

Wilful Wednesday; Possibly the best revenge day for raiding the office supplies cupboard.

Thirsty Thursday; Hit the pub' running as soon as the evening whistle blows.

Festive Friday; Get really, really, drunk after the evening whistle blows.

Sober Saturday; Decide never to drink anything ever again.

Sorrowful Sunday; Spend the whole day back in the pub' morosely perusing The Sunday Times (or The Sunday Sport); and plotting your action for Mental Bloody Monday.

Does that sound anything like your week?

Sunday 18 January 2015

Oh so helpful! A Sunday Special.

Lady Magnon is a very conscientious road user; so much so that she has recently taken her 'Advanced Back Seat Drivers Certificate' (which she passed with flying colours).

She's always been very helpful whilst I'm behind the wheel, but she has recently taken 'helpful driving advice' to new heights.

Lady Magnon: Green, green, they've turned green. You can go now. Watch what you're doing!

Cro: Thank you dear, were it not for you, I really wouldn't have noticed.... Give me strength.

Lady M; Slow down, mind that car, you're in a 50 limit zone, you're going too fast, LOOK OUT!

Cro: Shut up.

Lady M: Turn left here... no, right... no, LEEEEEFT!

Cro: Make your bloody mind up.

Lady M: I meant right, you clot.... turn right HERE.

Cro: Left it is then.

Lady M: Now park over there; quick, look there's a free space..... QUICK..... Oh you're always so bloody slow.

Cro: Will you ever shut up?

Lady M: Don't interrupt me when I'm helping!

Cro: Sometimes I wonder how on earth I managed without you!

N.B. I apologise for the spelling of 'License' above; not guilty!

Saturday 17 January 2015

Nails et al.

These are just a few of the wonderful old hand-forged nails that I've dug up or found over the years. The middle one is almost 9 ins long. The top one I dug up yesterday.

It wasn't so long ago that all nails were hand made in small village smithy's. A helluva task if one was building a house, or barn, etc. 

One easily forgets what 'craftsmanship' really means. When I look around me at what people built with just the raw materials around them (stone and wood), I am amazed by not only their skills, but also their exquisite sense of design. That same village blacksmith who made the nails was probably also responsible for the mason's, and carpenter's, tools as well.

Each individual wall stone had to be 'finished' with a reasonably flat surface, and the corner stones, or window/door opening stones, quarried and shaped by hand; as an ex-stone cutter myself I know what this involves. Each piece of wood for either the beams, doors, or flooring started as a felled tree, and had to be sawn and 'adzed' into shape. The work involved was huge; there was no handy DIY store.

I always look at early vernacular architecture with some awe; you can imagine what I think when faced with the magnificence of medieval cathedrals.

Friday 16 January 2015

Murray McNeel Caird Urquhart.

Not only do I produce pictures; I also collect those by others.

This particular one, in its 'country house condition' frame, is by Scottish artist Murray Urquhart. I bought it back in the late 60's from a grotty Worthing junk shop. I exchanged £4 for it.

Urquhart was a quality painter (you can read more about him here, as told by his son), and his paintings now sell for reasonable money; the above being worth round about 100 times what I paid for it (still not a huge amount).

Whilst recently looking for info' about Urquhart, I noticed that he lived from 1880 to 1972, meaning that he was still alive when I bought my landscape. I wish I'd known that at the time.

His son, Sir Brian Urquhart, later became Under-Secretary General to the United Nations.

Thursday 15 January 2015

Drawing v Painting.

Without question my most enjoyable times at Art College were spent in the 'life room', often working on quick 10 minute poses where one had to work extremely fast. It involved noting the essential, then finding the quickest route to bung it down on paper (not always successfully).

I've always preferred drawing to painting, and the majority of my work is more 'drawing with paint', than actual painting.

Also, most of my favourite bits of work have been little throw-away scraps, of no consequence to anyone but myself; this tiny self-portrait being a good example. I suppose it's the spontaneity and freedom that appeals; no pressure.

I've been sorting through stuff. Chuckin' out.

Wednesday 14 January 2015

Have horse, will travel.


Above is Cro with two of the Magnon-ettes; Kimbo and Tenpin, back in about 1976 (?).

I sometimes wonder if I haven't some Gypsy blood in me. The above was a friend's wagon, but I remember very much wishing it was mine.

The idea of just going where the horse takes you is very appealing. Stopping on quiet back roads, having no deadlines, and being totally independent of officialdom is a dream that many would aspire to, given the opportunity.

Our friend had travelled from London down through France, and above is the wagon (an Irish 'open lot') parked behind our barn. He encountered no animosity whatsoever en route. Had he been a 'white van traveller' he probably would have been 'moved on' several times. It's the romance of a horse drawn wagon that makes people friendly.

His horse, Joe, was an ex London rag-n-bone man's nag. A Welsh Cob that responded perfectly to word of mouth. Whilst with us I hitched him up to our old pony trap, and he performed as if he was born to it.

Sadly I shall never take to the road with crystal ball and pack of Tarot cards, but the idea is still very appealing. I look at the above photo with a certain nostalgia and longing.

Tuesday 13 January 2015

The New Axe.

Just before Christmas, in preparation for a hard winter, I bought myself a new axe; my old one was on its last legs.

About two days ago the bloody thing broke (above), so you can imagine my pleasure when I noticed a sticker on the handle which said that it was guaranteed for FIVE YEARS. Very reassuring.

However; one should never be fooled by 'guarantees'. Looking at the small print, I noticed that there were provisos. 

Unfortunately the FIVE YEAR GUARANTEE states 'usure et manche exclus'.

For those who may not speak French, this means that any wear to either the blade or the handle are excluded. 

Meaning, one presumes, that if the axe remains totally unused for FIVE YEARS, it will remain FULLY GUARANTEED.

Well, I suppose that is some comfort.

Life eh?

Monday 12 January 2015

France 11. 01. 2015.

The world shows solidarity against terrorism. 

We are ALL Charlie, and we are ALL united.

Sunday 11 January 2015

French Restaurants.

French cuisine has always had a fine reputation, but sit back on your laurels for a while, and that reputation can soon disappear.

When we first came to live in France in 1972 we were simply amazed by both the high standard and low cost of eating out. We used to leave restaurants wondering how on earth they could supply food and wine of such quality for so little money.

All this has changed and finding a half decent restaurant nowadays has become almost impossible.

I've shown the above photo previously (Lady Magnon, Kimbo, et moi). It was taken just after a sensational meal at one of this area's greatest hostelries. Unfortunately it no longer exists, but Chez PoPaul at Beaumont de Périgord was one of those places that 'foodies' dream of. It had such a reputation that people would fly into the local airport, from all quarters of Europe, just for the pleasure of eating there.

Oh that such a place still existed. It's not rocket science; all one needs is plenty of good well-cooked and well-presented food, attentive staff who know what they're doing and talking about, a pleasant environment, and a bill that doesn't require an excessive mortgage. Is that so bloody difficult?

Nothing at PoPaul was beyond the scope of an experienced home-cook with the wherewithal to purchase quality ingredients; it wasn't at all a pretentious cheffy place. It was the combination of dishes (I think there were 6 or 7 courses), the variety on offer, and the ambiance, that made eating there a truly memorable experience. Their self-service charcuterie/shellfish table was unbelievable.

Nowadays everything seems to be designed for 'labour saving'. Almost entire meals come in vacuum packed plastic bags, and are simply re-heated in hot-water-baths or microwaves. The addition of a sliced tomato and a few leaves of salad is as much as the 'chef' needs to contribute.

So who is to blame? Well firstly it's the fault of the French government. Those clever people at Santé et Sécurité (elf-n-safety) banned restaurateurs from growing their own vegs, preserving their own charcuterie, or even keeping their own livestock, so, obviously, the quality was going to decline. Secondly I blame the so-called French chefs; they're basically lazy. If there's a corner to be cut, they will find it and cut it.

Regardless of all this, the French continue to tell you that their national cuisine is the best in the world; the only difference from 40 years ago is that it now comes complete with blinkers.

My reluctant advice: If you wish to eat well in a French restaurant, find one outside of France.

N.B. Having said all that, there is one restaurant nearby that we visit regularly. It serves good food with free wine, the whole place is run by women, and I'm on bisou terms with the owner. I just wish there were more like it.

Saturday 10 January 2015


Cats are notorious for showing very little allegiance to their owners/feeders. We often wonder where our Freddie spends his days.

When we lived in Brighton we had a visiting cat that we named Thomas. He would enter via the cat flap (we didn't have our own cat at the time), and he would spend his days with us. We neither fed nor encouraged him.

In those days we used to drive down to France a lot; our house here was always beckoning. Our only problem was Thomas who came to rely on us more and more. We didn't want him to just wander around the house for the several weeks whilst we were away, nor did we really want to lock the cat flap to keep him out.

We began to suspect that he had previously belonged to people who had moved away, and that he had become an abandoned multi-ownership cat; one of whom was us. Eventually we began to feed him as he always seemed hungry.

Eventually Lady M (Mumsy above) even considered bringing him over to France, but we had no idea who his other carers were; they might have been children, so the idea was instantly shelved.  

Above was how I imagined her passing through the customs. It was just an idea!

Friday 9 January 2015

Hare today, gone tomorrow.

A post-Christmas present from Monty.

It's impossible to scold a dog when it catches an animal; hunting is simply part of their nature, and they see any catch as a gift to the family.

A neighbour's dog used to join me on my morning walks, many years ago, and he too caught me a Hare. In fact this is the third I've had thanks to dogs.

The one above is now skinned, emptied, and cut up into convenient size pieces, and is awaiting being made into a wonderful Civet de Lièvre. It would be a sin to waste it. Wouldn't it?

Thank you Monty; you naughty boy!

Thursday 8 January 2015

A and E.


Let's get one thing straight; hospital A & E departments are specifically for ACCIDENTS and EMERGENCIES.

They are not dormitories for drunks, or for space cadets seeing pink monkeys, or even for hard pressed nurses to patch-up amateur alcoholic pugilists.

There is a real crisis in our A and E departments, but those who require an aspirin for a headache, or a bandage for a scuffed knee, should be re-directed to the nearest pharmacy or local doctor's surgery; NOT admitted to a hospital department that is specifically designed to cope with serious emergencies.

Only when the time wasters are sorted out will our A and E departments be able to practice the role for which they were intended.

May I suggest a simple triage area at the front door (a couple of hefty bouncers). Admit those who are really in need, and tell all the others to bogger off!

Wednesday 7 January 2015

Homemade Hummus

For everyone who enjoys making their own Hummus, this particular method was featured on Rick Stein's Mediterranean Escapes. It's a little bit more involved than the way most of us usually do it, but worth every bit of effort I'm sure.

Doesn't that look delicious. As Mr Stein says; Hummus Royaaaale.

Tuesday 6 January 2015


Did you ever have a Fax machine?

Yesterday I was sorting through mountains of very old Fax letters that I'd sent to various people (why I kept them I have no idea), and I came across a few that I thought I'd keep; the above is a good example. Most of the others involve strange drawings.

I quite liked Faxing, at the time it seemed very 'sophisticated'. It made a recognisable noise as it came through, delivered a hard copy, and usually prompted an immediate response.

My last Fax machine got blown-up in a storm. I was expecting some rather 'smart' dinner guests when a bloody great bolt of lightning hit the house. There was a huge BANG with lots of sparks, all the lights went out, and with my friends arriving any minute I was left with no power and a smoking Fax machine. At the same time I lost all my spot bulbs, plus an old fashioned but working 'music centre'. I suppose it could have been worse. 

The Fax is a thing of the past nowadays, I don't miss it; frankly Email is so much better.

p.s. I can't even remember what the disaster was!

Monday 5 January 2015



I was recently being conscientious and saving the nation's water supply (having an outdoor pee), when this tiny bird settled on a branch just a foot away from my nose.

I'd never seen anything like it before, and immediately consulted my bird book.

It's a Firecrest. The bright orange crest on its head raises up when singing or searching for a mate.

I'd not even heard the name Firecrest before, let alone seen one. When I consulted Wiki I found that it's also knows as the COMMON Firecrest, and is widespread throughout Europe. Well, you could have fooled me!

You learn something every day. Nice isn't it!

Sunday 4 January 2015

Scotland; post referendum thoughts.


Following his defeat in last year's Scottish referendum, Alex Salmond resigned his position as First Minister. He has been replaced by Nicola Sturgeon (above).

The poor woman must be giving daily (if not hourly) thanks to the god of 'No' for having kept Scotland within the union; even though she herself was/is a 'Yes' voter.

With the price of oil dropping by the day, Scotland's economy would have been in the gutter before the Hogmanay bells had finished tolling, had they abandoned England's generous cash flow.

She might have dreamed of a 'Yes' vote then; but she'll be giving thanks for the 'No' vote for the foreseeable future.

And there was I, so looking forward to watching all the chaos.

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