Thursday 31 March 2016

Grumpy old sod.

I only saw this photo for the first time yesterday.

From Left to Right; Cro, JB, Kimbo, Tenpin, and Lady Magnon.

The picture must have been taken in the mid 70's at JB's house. I had just built the small wall, on which we are all sitting.

Whilst actually building the wall, JB had offered me some Carrot Cake, which I must say was AWFUL. In fact it was so awful, that I built it into the front of the wall. I presume it is still there to this day.

I have no idea why I look so bloody miserable; I must have been under the influence of Lytton Strachey.

Early morning Spring walk.

Our little house in the distance.

Some wild flowers en route, then home to Plum blossom.

And after all that we had a beautiful and uber-productive day. Wonderful.

Wednesday 30 March 2016

Bilko Logic.

                              Résultat de recherche d'images pour "bilko"

I have a logical mind. I think in terms of logic; rarely of emotion.

Frankly I blame this on watching too much Bilko.

Tuesday 29 March 2016

So, what are you angry about today, Cro?

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Paris, Brussels, and now Lahore, one can but wonder what goes on in certain people's minds.

No problem has ever been solved by skirting around the truth. No problem has ever been solved by ignoring facts. And no problem has ever been solved by just hoping it'll go away. There is no question that the world, and Europe in particular, is facing a humanitarian crisis of gargantuan proportions, and all they do (apart from Putin) is talk about it, throw tax-payers money at it, and wring hands. Anyone who offers difficult solutions is instantly branded as racist.

We now have to accept that the Bush/Blair/Merkel disaster (for that is what it is) is NEVER going away. Europe has now changed for ever, The Middle East has changed for ever, and North Africa is in the throws of changing for ever. We are witnessing a highly successful operation to change the world's demographic, all on the backs of a few thousand primitive-thinking quasi-religious middle-eastern fanatics. It hardly seems possible; but it's true, and the western world with all its hi-tech weaponry is impotent in response.

I've just read that UK border guards are now forbidden to X Ray trucks on entering Britain; it might harm any naughty stowaways who are illegally hidden inside. Give me effing strength!

45 year old haulier Steve Hughes recently heard voices in the back of his lorry after leaving Dover docks. He returned to Dover and informed the police; he was then fined £12,000 for importing 6 illegal immigrants (£2,000 each). He now says that if it happens again he'll pull into a lay-by and just let them out. Who could blame him!

All possible assistance is being given to illegal immigrants to get to the UK, whilst funding of 'Border Control' is being cut. Innocent lorry drivers are being massively fined and forced out of business, whilst their criminal cargo is looked after and pampered. Does anyone 'in authority' realise the illogicality, and danger, in all of this?

Presumably NOT.

Monday 28 March 2016

Cro and Goliath.

I was recently asked by an old Prep' School friend, to name the people on this 1960 Rugby team photo. When I came to the boy on the right (the one on the left was me) it brought back strange memories. 

His name was/is Fennimore, and as you can probably see by the photo, he was a big lump of a person; we were both 13 at the time. He considered himself the strongest boy in the school; if not the brightest.

We were once matched against each other in a Boxing Match, and, naturally, I feared the worst. I imagined that I was going to get a real drumming, so I concocted a strategy. When the bell sounded for Round 1, I flew at him and didn't stop throwing punches until the referee stopped the fight. Poor old Fennimore; he didn't know what'd hit him (other than me). Later that evening I found him blubbing; his 'tough guy' reputation had been trashed.

It's not always the strongest who wins a fight; it can often be the one who uses a little guile. If I hadn't employed a simple strategy that day, I would probably have ended-up with a broken nose.

I wonder what became of him?

Sunday 27 March 2016

The Truth; a Sunday Special..

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Imagine for one crazy moment that all the religions of the world were forced by international law, to tell nothing but the truth, and take out all the evil from their doctrinal books.

Once we had rid the world of puerile tales of gods, devils, virgin births, 6 day creation, and imaginary post-death heavens and hells, these books would be mighty slim; the religions themselves might even have nothing more to peddle.

Take away all the lying mumbo-jumbo, who hates who, who needs to be stoned to death, and we might be left with a few basic human rules with which most of us would probably agree. Don't kill, don't steal, don't lie, etc. All the major religions might even come to an agreement about a new set of 10 'commandments'.

Would this stop one lot from killing another lot? I doubt it; but it might be worth a try.

Saturday 26 March 2016

Simnel Cake.

Mary Berry's Easter Simnel Cake.

Lady Magnon's Easter Simnel Cake.

I've never tasted a Simnel Cake, but the ingredients sound good. We haven't broached it yet; I'll let you know.

Friday 25 March 2016

A Very Happy Accident.


During the Easter holidays of 1972 (I was teaching in Sussex at the time), we drove down through France, in my beloved VW Beetle, to stay at a cottage loaned to us by one of my late father-in-law's foreign office chums. The small cottage was on the outskirts of Manaurie; the tiny Périgordian village above.

Within a short walk of our rustic lodgings was an ancient farmhouse set back from the road, outside of which was the word 'Restaurant' written on a piece of wood.

We were a little wary before our first visit, but this wasn't warranted.

It was by pure accident that we found ourselves in this renowned gastronomic region of France, and enormous luck to have our introduction to its delights at the hands of an elderly peasant woman who had no doubt learned her art at the apron strings of several previous generations. The local cuisine was unwritten; simply passed from person to person. A cuisine that had evolved from times of extreme hardship.

Elizabeth David (RIP) tells us of the Levantine cooks of Alexandria who, during the difficult times of WW2, would still produce wonderful multi-course meals with just a very few ingredients. Each course being prepared spiced and presented differently in order to disguise the fact that the ingredients were exactly the same. Their skills were similar in many ways to those of the Périgord peasant housewife.

Of the several times we dined at this eaterie (which was situated in the woman's front room), we were invariably the sole diners. I shan't describe the exact menus because I can't remember them, but what I will do is tell you that everything was totally delicious, prepared on the spot, and a new gastronomic experience at every turn. There was no choice; you ate what you were given, and we were extremely pleased to do so.

There was always a soup, a charcuterie entrée, a main course, desert, and cheese. As much wine as we wanted was included in the price, as well as a small coffee that was served with Armagnac.

I suppose the most amazing part of these meals was on receiving the bill. It usually worked out at around 9 or 10 (old) Francs per person; less than ONE POUND.

After each meal, we would walk home wondering how on earth the woman could offer such wonderful fare for the price. No doubt she had all her own hens, ducks, pigs, sheep, and cattle, and no doubt all the vegetables also came from her garden. The wine (which was not Pétrus, but highly drinkable) was no doubt also from a family vineyard.

It was probably partly due to this dining experience that after looking in an estate agent's window, in nearby Le Bugue, I ended up buying my first farmhouse about 100 kms further to the south. We celebrated the purchase with a visit to Prince Charles's favourite restaurant in Les Eyzies; the fabulous gastronomic Hotel des Glycines, situated in the shadow of the original Cro Magnon's home. A very different dining experience to that in Manaurie; and at a very different price.

I was 25, with a wife and 2 children when we moved here later that September; I remember arriving at my new home and thinking 'What the fuck have I done'.

Thursday 24 March 2016

No Fear.

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I recently posted Amy Winehouse's 'Hey little rich girl', one line of which says 'you left for London when you were nineteen'.

I did exactly the same!

For my first few months working in London I commuted from the south coast, which added about four hours to my working day. Every two weeks, when The Stock Exchange did lengthy accounting, it was even worse; I would often get home after midnight, then had to be up again early in order to be back in the office by 9 am. I knew people who'd done this for years, but it wasn't for me.

One office lunchtime I looked at a small bed-sit flat in Bayswater's Inverness Terrace, and took it.

Having been a schoolboy not long previously, it suddenly seemed perfectly normal to be earning money, renting my own pad in W2, and strutting around London in pinstripes and bowler. I had organised everything entirely alone, and took it all in my stride. OK, my older sister was working in Knightsbridge, but we hardly ever met.

Looking back on those days, nothing seemed unattainable. It seemed that anything I thought 'do-able'; was. I never thought that anything could ever go wrong; and it didn't.

I'll give an example. Later when I was antique dealing, my notorious partner Justin De Villeneuve suddenly said that we needed to go to Somerset (?), to a sale. We rushed off to Stockwell, bought a ridiculously cheap car, drove down, went to the sale, bought what we wanted, drove back, dumped the car, sold the purchased item, then divided the profits over a couple of pints. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary; it had been just another day.

Those days now seem a very long way off. No doubt age has mellowed me, both mentally and physically, and a quieter more sedate life is in order. But how wonderful things were when one simply threw caution to the winds, and did crazy things at the drop of a hat. Oh how I loved those days; but I wouldn't want them back.

Wednesday 23 March 2016

The Clettering Machine.

Much of our electrical kitchen equipment has a mind of its own, and this 'clettering machine' (washing-up machine) is no exception.

When it first arrived, Lady Magnon couldn't use it at all. She pressed the suggested buttons, and nothing happened. Its usage became something of an intelligence test, although there was nothing intelligent about its workings.

Lady M eventually developed her own system that involves several buttons, a rabbit's foot, and offerings of cake, but even this occasionally encounters resistance by Mr Smeg. I can't tell you the amount of times I've found Lady M, on her knees in front of the machine, begging it to start.

Me, I use the sink. A bowl of soapy water and a sponge, and I know where I am. Anyway, I have no idea how the machine works, and I don't want anyone to try to explain it to me either.

One of these days (if I have time) I'll also tell you about our oven; but let me give you a tempting preview.

Mr Bosch will only work when switched to 'off', then to turn it off after cooking requires a visit to the fuse box. Need I say more?

I think Mr Smeg and Mr Bosch have made some evil electrical alliance.

Tuesday 22 March 2016

Lady M's Buns.

There are only three foods that I associate with Easter; Chocolate, Lamb, and Hot X Buns.

We will certainly be roasting a Gigot for the big day, Chocolate we can take or leave, but Easter just wouldn't be Easter without Lady Magnon's Hot X Buns. 

Sliced in half, toasted, and thickly spread with good un-salted butter, they are an essential accompaniment to Easter Teas.

Yours may come from M & S or Waitrose, ours are home-made. That flavour of Cinnamon and allspice is unforgettable. I hope you enjoy yours as much as we enjoy ours.

Monday 21 March 2016

Gardener's Gold.

I just happened to mention that my garden could use some decent manuring this year, and within the hour my friend José was there with a nice load.

I am truly blessed to have such wonderful friends/neighbours. Nothing is ever too much for them, and they take everything in their stride.

Spring really has arrived. Buds are swelling, leaves are bursting, and even my brand new Apricot tree has flowers. Within a week or so I shall raise the pistol, pull the trigger, and declare the 2016 race well and truly 'under way'.

Meanwhile I have some McSpreading to do.

Sunday 20 March 2016

My Easter Bunny.


He's my No 1.

When Bunny left for Oz, he didn't smile too much, he wasn't speaking, he was a wee bit tubby, and his hair was reluctant to grow.

Now, just a few months later, he's smiling, talking, slimmer, and he has lovely blonde hair.

The Australian climate has obviously been good for him, and Surfer's Paradise is showing its influence. I do hope he doesn't get to like it too much..... I want him back in France (and his Mum).

Saturday 19 March 2016

Zen, chickens, and curry.

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I suppose our first very good friends, when we moved here, were two lovely Parisian ladies who then owned the house next door (oh how I wish they still did), Janinne and Odette.

It never crossed my mind that they were lesbians; it wouldn't have made the slightest difference anyway, other than seeing them as slightly more interesting.

They were people of taste and culture. They were Zen Buddhists, and worked on translating ancient texts into both French and English. Their house was impeccable, and the garden perfectly coiffed. There was never anything out of order; they were a very organised couple, and a pleasure to have as neighbours.

One day their dog got amongst our hens and killed one. Odette promised, in her very authoritative manner, to replace it; and we thought no more.

Several months later we were invited to dinner, and were informed that we would be eating the replacement chicken (frankly I'd been expecting a live one to join the flock). Janinne had made a chicken curry, and they were very concerned that it would be far too hot for us English whimps.

As it happened, we would hardly have known that it was a curry at all, there was no curry flavour, and absolutely no heat. I remember saying to Lady Magnon that we should invite them over for a pukka vindaloo one day, but she thought they might explode.

I think our so-called 'replacement chicken' was wasted.

Friday 18 March 2016

Year-round 'seasonal' growing.


The above is in Spain; in St Augustin, near Almeria to be precise.

They are greenhouses covering an area estimated to be about 40,000 hectares; the biggest area of such 'agriculture' in the world.

The plants grow in an artificial substrate of sand covered in black plastic, and the water supply comes from wherever it can be found; often by drilling deep underground. Many of the workers are illegal immigrants, and the huge resulting crops are exported throughout Europe, and beyond.

A few years back I made the silly mistake of buying an out-of-season bunch of green Asparagus grown in this area, and it was totally tasteless. Shops and markets are full of produce grown under these artificial conditions, and they should be avoided.

I am well aware that Spain relies heavily on the export of fruit and vegs, but I must say that I look very carefully at the origin of any such things that I might buy, and if it says 'Almeria' on the box, I leave well alone.

Buying 'seasonal' may not be easy, but it's worth making as much effort as is practical. Strawberries from Almeria for Christmas may sound like a pleasant idea, but you'd be sorely disappointed.

Thursday 17 March 2016

Amy Winehouse - Hey Little Rich Girl.

My favourite Amy song.

I bought you a fur coat when you were fifteen
You wore it to the disco, but everyone was in jeans
But you were a rich girl, and only having fun
Your low cut dresses, brought stares from everyone
Hey, little rich girl where did you go wrong?
You left for London, when you were nineteen
Had to pawn all your nice clothes, just living on dreams
A man in the bright lights took all that you own
Now he's taken your freedom for a fate unknown
But you were a rich girl, only having fun
Your low cut dresses, brought stares from everyone
Hey, little rich girl where did you go wrong?
Hey, little rich girl you've been away for so long
And now little rich girl, my words are in this song
Hey, little rich girl my love for you is gone
And now little rich girl, I know where you went wrong
At your dad's office party all the movies were blue
Caused him so much heart ache, because the screen star was you
You left for London, when you were nineteen
Had to pawn all your nice clothes, but you were living on dreams
You were a rich girl, and only having fun
But your low cut dresses, brought stares from everyone
Hey, little rich girl where did you go wrong?
Hey, little rich girl where did you go wrong?

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Two Tate Favourites; MF and SS.


When I first saw this painting, I was quite simply 'stunned'.

It certainly wasn't the beauty of the woman, nor was it the rather simplistic composition; it was the mastery over materials that made me gasp.

'Portrait of a Young Woman' was painted by Meredith Frampton in 1935; it measures roughly 50 by 100 cms. Everything is painted with perfect precision, yet there is a softness that belies the crispness of execution.

I saw the painting in The Tate, where I presume it still hangs. It was tucked away in a room with several nondescript portraits, and it attracted my attention at once.

It's painted with a mastery of which most artists can but dream. Look closely at the edges between the dress and the background, or the table pedestal and floor, and you'll be amazed by the fusion between the colours. It is impossible to see where one ends and the other starts. It's worth taking a really good magnifying glass with you to get the full effect. I could work for days trying to achieve that, and I still wouldn't manage it. I'd loved to have watched him at work.

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Whilst in The Tate, I ALWAYS make a pilgrimage to Stanley Spencer's 1914 self portrait. It used to sit half way up a back stairs in a decidedly 'secondary' position. It should be out there amongst the very best.  Another stunning painting.

Tuesday 15 March 2016

A Sorry State.

I've hardly dared visit Haddock's over the last couple of months, the sight of it has been just too depressing.

Of course I have to descend daily to feed and water my two useless Black Maran hens, but I always cast my eyes away from the veg' plot. 

There are a few remaining Kale plants, and a huge quantity of Parsley, but that's about it. The Rhubarb is just showing beneath its forcing pot, and all my 'scrumped' soft fruit cuttings are looking good. I also recently rescued a small piece of Artichoke plant, which has taken well.

So, you can imagine how pleased I was, after a few days of reasonable sunshine, to be able to get onto the soil with my rotovator. It only took the top weeds off but will probably help with my no digging policy; maybe I'll even be able to get my red Onions in soon. I'll go over it again after some rain.

The Rotovator misbehaved very badly after it's winter sojourn; I'm surprised it even went at all. WD40 saved the day.

Doesn't really look that much different, does it.

Cro Magnon is unwell.

Monday 14 March 2016

Fit for Presidency?

                                    President Rutherford Hayes 1870 - 1880 Restored.jpg

It may be of interest to some, to note this 'interesting' fact concerning the hirsuteness of US Presidents.

From George Washington to James Buchanan they were all clean shaven.

From Abe Lincoln to William Taft they were as nature intended.

Then from Woodrow Wilson to O'Barmy they are all clean shaven again.

As neither La Clintone nor Le Chump are bearded, I can make no predictions about the upcoming Presidential race from studying their facial hair.

Above is Rutherford Hayes (Pres' 1877-1881 ) who was certainly not ashamed to demonstrate his masculinity.

Sunday 13 March 2016


My first encounter with 'wealth' as a political policy was under the Prime Ministership of Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980's. Wealth became an option which many grasped with enthusiasm, whilst others remained on their proverbial couches and moaned about nasty capitalism; they still do.

                            Résultat de recherche d'images pour "loadsamoney"

Harry Enfield's TV character 'Loads-a-Money' (above) epitomised the era's barrow-boy attitude to the ease of making money. Of course most of today's so-called 'wealth' is down to the crazy rise in property prices, but unless such properties are sold, any such money is purely 'theoretical'.

I'm sure we all know people who are reasonably (or even very) rich on paper, but haven't much either in the bank or back pocket; that's how life has become in Britain's 21st Century.

It's a sad state of affairs that many young professionals find themselves with huge university debts, and can never envisage owning a home of their own. The OAP's have become today's rich, and behind them is an anxious queue of younger relatives desperately waiting for their demise.

There is no question that Margaret Thatcher was the saviour of the UK's economy, but she manifestly failed to put some limit on the constant rise of phone-number salaries and house prices, and it has now spiralled completely out of control.

The UK led the field in ridiculous annual increases in the property market, and Brits have come to see property owning, restoration, and trading, as the easiest way to make 'Loads-a-Money'. Sadly most of the world has now followed suite, and I fear that some serious reappraisal is on the way.

Things go up, but they can very easily go down. Hold your hats, and be prepared to buy gold.

Saturday 12 March 2016

Hard Graft.

For several years now, I've decided that we need at least one pukka Chestnut tree of our own. With so many productive trees around us, and with us eating so few Chestnuts annually, this would seem totally unnecessary to most people, as in fact it does to me. But I still think we should have one.

My neighbour José who is a real connoisseur when it comes to all things Chestnut, suggested that I pull a wild sucker from the woods, plant it somewhere in the open, then graft it with a productive variety. Frankly I'd rather just go and buy a tree; I have no confidence in my grafting abilities.

On my walks I often come across trees that have recently been grafted, and most of them have failed. In the picture above, if you look very carefully at the stumps you will see that each had been grafted with three 'scions', and that in both cases only one has taken.

If the pro's can't get it right, then I don't think I stand much of a chance.

However, last year I acquired a few 'Marsol' nuts; this is a variety that doesn't need grafting, and will grow into productive trees simply by sowing the nuts. It's a big early variety, and falls out of it's husk well (very important). I sowed them in pots, and am now waiting to see if they pop-up; otherwise it'll be off to the nursery for a pukka grafted job.

I'd like to try grafting, but I think I'll leave it to others. 

Friday 11 March 2016

I hate strong wind.

About three weeks ago, at 4.00 am in the morning, a terrific wind suddenly caused quite a lot of damage. It lasted for about 5 minutes, and was accompanied by the sound of thumps and crashes. There was little I could do at that time of day, so I did my best to ignore it.

When light the following morning, I went out to find broken tiles all over the place, and the 'tower' roof in a rather strange state of disrepair. The tiles had fallen all around The Compact Royce, but not on it. There were also quite a few tiles off our covered terrace roof, but none off the house itself.

On the front of the small building, the two lots of ridge tiles which go up to the pinnacle were completely missing; from bottom to top. They had all been ripped off with force.

When I originally roofed it, I made sure that there was a totally waterproof membrane covering the timbers, so I knew that there was no risk of rain getting in, and there was no immediate rush to repair it.

My roofer has now been, and all is back to normal. He said that as I'd done that particular part of my roofing on a very hot day, the heat had killed the mortar, and it had become no more than lumps of dust; a disaster waiting to happen. 

Luckily our wonderful village roofer, Olivier, saved the day, and my roof is once again back to normal. You might have to enlarge the picture to see what I'm talking about.

Thursday 10 March 2016

What a mug!

Lady Magnon has been away in Blighty recently, and as all good wives do, she brought back goodies.

Plenty of dried herbs and spices, pork pies, a few jars of Brinjal Pickle, hot cross buns, some books, Pork scratchings from a friend, and a few other bits and pieces.

Amongst the latter was a new mug. And who else to adorn it, but a grumpy looking Captain Haddock himself.

Thank you m'dear.

Wednesday 9 March 2016

Village Life; and then there was none.

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My native Surrey village of Lingfield was a small and close-knit community back in the 1950's. I didn't know all of the residents, but they all knew me, and always greeted me by name.

During the school holidays I would occasionally go to watch either the village Football or Cricket teams playing. The village Football pitch was quite near to our home, but the Cricket pitch was a reasonable cycle ride away on the village outskirts.

On several occasions (mid-game) the village fire siren would sound in the distance, and ALL the members of the Lingfield team would run to their bikes or cars, and disappear. It just happened that all our (volunteer) Firemen played either Football or Cricket for the village teams. The visiting teams would then be left alone on the pitch, wondering where the hell everyone had gone.

We children would take to our bikes and try to follow the clanging fire engine to watch them extinguish the fire. It was all great fun; except (of course) for the poor person who's house or barn was burning down, and presumably for those visiting teams who'd had their game cut short.

Tuesday 8 March 2016

Trouble at mill.

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I'm not sure if this story is true, but it purports to be.

Previous to the 100 years war (1337-1453), Bastide towns had been built across S W France; usually around 1270-ish. Some were English built; others French. As you can imagine there was much rivalry between them.

At some time, the young men of Villefranche-du-Périgord (my nearest small town, above) decided to go raping, killing, and pillaging, in the rival town of Monpazier (about 30 kms away, below).

                              Résultat de recherche d'images pour "monpazier"

Unbeknownst to the men of Villefranche, the men of Monpazier had decided to do exactly the same thing on exactly the same day. They took different routes, and their paths didn't meet.

On arrival at their destinations they found the two towns empty, other than a few women and children. They stole a few things, probably scrawled a few rude words on the walls, and had their evil ways with the women. This done, they probably had a few drinks, then both gangs headed for home.

History tells us that each 'army' took the shortest route back to their respective towns, and fate dictated that they met half way.

By this time they were in no further mood for a fight, so they probably had a picnic together, and agreed to do their fighting another day.

As I said above, I don't know if this story is true, but I certainly hope it is.

N.B. Villefranche was a French Bastide, and Monpazier English. These days Villefranche is a rather lacklustre town, whereas Monpazier is very tourist orientated and buzzing with activity. Both are worth a visit.

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