An English friend of mine was telling me recently that back at his home in London he always makes his own beer, and has a brew permanently on the go. It reminded me of the following.
When I was at school, at the end of each Trinity Term (Summer), we boys would host a special meal at which we were allowed to drink beer. The 'basic menu' was approved by the kitchen staff, and it was a very jolly affair with speeches, specially invited guests, back slapping, and 'sad' goodbyes. Those who owned fancy waistcoats were encouraged to wear them.
The beer was better known as 'small beer' and was brewed by a couple of senior boys; probably those who were leaving.
The beer was tested by our Housemaster before being given its blessing. If it was over a certain percentage of alcohol, it had to be watered-down.
When my own turn came to leave school, in 1964, the beer was declared unfit for consumption, both on account of its alcohol level, and appalling bad taste. It was replaced by shop-bought cider.
Many years later I met a fellow alumnus and asked him if the tradition still existed; he hadn't a clue what I was talking about. I imagine that the new Headmaster (who'd arrived the term after my departure) had called a halt to such archaic traditions.
The drinking of beer (even 'small beer') by 14-18 year old boys, may not be sanctioned by the good matrons of the local Townswomen's Guild, but it was part of a tradition that I imagine traced back to times when it was far safer to drink beer than water. I'm not saying that I wish the tradition still continued, but I'm very sorry that it's stopped.
The more we lose such traditions, the poorer we are. Of this I am convinced!
It's not the best season at Haddock's, but it's still providing me with plenty of food; either in situ, or from last years' preserved harvests.
There's still plenty of Cavolo Nero, Perpetual Spinach, and Curly Kale, as well as some PSB in waiting. I also have a small bed filled with beautiful plump Jerusalem Fartichokes, but I'm slightly reluctant to consume too many; for obvious reasons.
There's not a lot to do at the moment. I stab at a few errant weeds when I find them; otherwise, when pottering, I visit my animal graveyard, or snip at a few brambles and nettles.
He is 24 year old Ross Greer, and is the Europe Spokesman for the Scottish Green Party. He failed to complete his degree at some little known Scottish University, and probably, having not found any mainstream party to adopt him, managed to convince the piss-poor Greens to take him on.
In a recent 'tweet', he described Sir Winston Churchill as a 'White Supremacist Mass Murderer'. Well, let me tell you Greer, that Churchill was one of the greatest British Prime Ministers of all time, and the likes of you are not fit to wipe his bottom.
If anyone should spot this person, out and about, would you please kick his backside (very hard) on my behalf. I would be most grateful.
Twenty fours years old, and the little twerp thinks he knows better than the rest of the world. I despair!
I suggest he stays north of the border, until the anger dies down.
Above is our House Bear named Monty (named well before we had our Labrador of same name).
If any children should come to stay WITHOUT their own Bear, they are offered Monty to keep them company during their stay.
As a child I didn't have a Bear; instead I had a 'soldier doll' named Alphonse. He stood nearly 2 ft tall, and was dressed in Khaki-coloured army fatigues. He was a hard 'composition' doll, so not really the type you'd take to bed with you; he was won by my mother at a Red Cross Ball in London. I still have him back in England, and other than my 'spoon and pusher' he's the one thing that's stayed with me throughout my life.
My own children naturally had their own Bears. My oldest son had Bryn, my daughter had Mrs Pins, and my youngest had Harry (you might remember Harry's Passport). The first two were named by the children; Harry came ready named.
I think all children should have a Bear. Not some silly dayglo Disney character Bear that speaks in Japanese, but a pukka Teddy Bear. They, and their owners, soon become inseparable, and as much as they like to pretend that they no longer care for their childhood Bears; let me assure you that they do!
Thinking of what to buy for a small child? Buy a classic Bear.
If you still have your childhood Bear; put up a picture on your page!
I do occasionally buy 'decorative' antiques, but mostly I like them to be useable; preferably at table.
I bought these plates (above) last year. I bought four dinner plates and four soup bowls. I really should have bought more. The seller had a big pile, and I'm wondering, when I return to the same Boot Sale this year, if the nice lady might still have a few left (if, indeed, she's there).
The problem with antique knives is that they are made of ordinary hardened steel, and they stain terribly. When you use them, you can understand why those sand-filled knife cleaners were such an essential part of old kitchens. The knives may look nice, but, frankly, they're impractical; I never use them with salads or anything that contains vinegar. However, the forks and spoons are both silver-plated.
The glasses are classic French antiques, and are a pleasure to use. The salt and pepper cellars are Victorian English.
I should mention that our rustic antique Oak table was bought in the wilds of North Wales, but came with no top. For years we used an old stripped Pine door as a temporary top, which was eventually replaced by a much more presentable version which I had made from thick Oak boards from an ancient dismantled wine making 'Cuve'.
As far as I'm concerned, antiques should be used. If they get broken, so be it; at least they die doing the job for which they were intended, and the pleasure they give is immeasurable.
The Winter months are when our local farms fatten their Ducks and Geese for Foie Gras and Confit. In times gone past the ancient covered market place would be filled with farmer's wives selling their wares; nowadays (i.e. yesterday) there was just one lady with a very small selection, and they didn't even look particularly appetising.
Just two Ducks were on offer (without their livers).
And quite a few Duck breasts (magrets). The nice lady also had a big pile of eggs, so at least I was able to buy 'something'.
I'm afraid these markets have become a mere shadow of their former selves, and, frankly, are hardly worth attending. I wouldn't have gone myself, other than my desire for some fresh bread from one of the two town bakers.
For those who were disappointed with the morning's market, there was a 9pm game of Loto to look forward to. You can see by the list of prizes where people's priorities lie!
I wouldn't have said no to 15 Kilos of Entrecotes.
I am re-posting this from December 2012. Luckily, Santander didn't manage to take over my bank, and Santander eventually set-up in the UK by themselves. They have now just announced that they will close 140 branches, with a loss of 1,270 jobs. I wonder who, in Brussels, insisted that they set-up shop in the UK? Whoever it was should be bloody shot!
The European Commission recently INSISTED that my bank, The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), sell-off part of its UK banking business, including RBS branches in England and Wales.
I was informed by mail that the sale was going through to piss-poor Spanish bank Santander; this has now fallen through.... Thank goodness!
Who are these bloody anonymous unelected over-paid European bloody bureaucrats who dare give such instructions to the UK government? And why doesn't the UK government just tell them to piss off?
I wonder how much money (MY money) has been spent on foiling this unsuccessful and unnecessary takeover?
Are either Germany or France ever told that they must sell off their major businesses or industries to other EU countries? Somehow methinks NOT.
p.s. And while I'm on the subject, be very aware that the European Commission is trying to diminish Britain's hold on European FX trading. They want to 'SHARE IT AROUND'. As The City of London contributes around 15% of all government tax revenue (a MASSIVE amount for just one square mile of the UK), one can imagine what the EC's plans would do to Britain's economy.
Having re-read this from 2012 it makes me even angrier than I was before. 1,270 job losses; and I expect there'll be more!
This makes me sick to my boots. If I was a religious man, I would be praying for the poor Amazon river.
I admit to being one of those 'do-gooders' who picks-up bits of roadside rubbish; empty fag packets, old coke cans, and other detritus thrown from passing cars. I don't always bring it home, occasionally I just bury it, so that it can't be seen.
Not only do I think it looks horrible, I also detest the attitude it represents towards our surroundings.
But, frankly, is it really worth bothering to pick-up the odd sweet wrapper when you see scenes like the below?
How the driver of this lorry can sleep at nights; I really don't know!
For 2019, I would like to see a ban on the wearing of 'hoodies' and all types of face masks, in public. Wear them at home to frighten your Granny; no problem, but not out on the street. Mrs May (or whoever) please note!
I find it extraordinary that we tolerate gangs of young men hanging around street corners wearing 'hoodies' and balaclavas.
There is only one reason for young men to hide their faces, and that's so as not to be recognised, or identified, or recorded. They will do anything in order to disguise what could possibly be used against them for later criminal identification. Personally I never hang around street corners wearing a mask, simply because I have no reason to hide my face; also, I have better things to do. One has to presume that THEY do have reasons for anonymity, and they also have nothing better to do. That's almost like admitting guilt in advance!
I have to add that I find loitering gangs of masked and hooded youths extremely intimidating; even if they're behaving themselves. They should be made to show their faces AT ALL TIMES when in public.
I know I'll receive accusations of racism, as this would obviously have to include that small group of Muslim women who like to completely hide their faces, but this would be a small price to pay. However, I imagine that a lot of those women would love the freedom of wearing more attractive clothing, or even simply a headscarf; and they could always wear their 'overalls' at home, to make their otherwise irate husbands happy.
When I was much younger, if a dodgy character was seen in a striped jumper, wearing a mask, and carrying a sack marked 'Swag' over his shoulder (the equivalent of today's masked hoodies), Plod would have grabbed him, and marched him straight off to the slammer.
I think Plod should take a leaf from the past; but first he needs the blessing of Westminster to do so. When John Major was PM, he famously (controversially) said "Society needs to 'condemn' a little more, and 'understand' a little less". I think he was right.
I'm talking garden gardening here, not vegetable gardening.
Some years back, someone we knew went around trying to convince our friends that we were 'ruining our garden' by building our small 'tower' (above). In fact, of course, it has been totally the opposite, and has been the making of it.
John Brookes, the famous garden designer, correctly claimed that it is 'background' that makes a garden.
As he illustrated, if you plant a rambling rose in the middle of a field, it will look ridiculous. If you plant that same rose around the front door of a small cottage, it will look spectacular. It is the background that gives purpose to the planting, and makes all the difference.
The great houses usually built follies, bridges, and pergolas in their extensive grounds; anything that would contrast with the natural plantings, small cottage gardens can do much the same. The one compliments the other, as do paintings on an empty wall, or books on the shelves of a library.
I am NOT a flower gardener; I know nothing of such things. But I do know about design, and have always believed in John Brookes' wise words. He was right, and our critic so obviously wrong.
I don't like winter. It's cold, it's damp, and often foggy throughout the day. Even my long daily walks have become tiresome without the company of my faithful old pal, Bok.
The Moles are reeking havoc on Haddock's Paddock (above), Haddock's itself lies uncultivated, and the few winter tasks that still await my attention remain undone. I have little enthusiasm for anything at this time of year.
My hours are spent wandering around with a pair of secateurs in my hand, occasionally painting some bleak landscape, or sawing logs for the woodburner. When outdoors I seem to be permanently in gumboots, scarf, and gloves.
Elsewhere in the big ugly world, politicians are causing my blood pressure to rise in unprecedented leaps. Even being as deep in the countryside as is possible these days, I am still bombarded with news of foul murders, dangerous nonagenarian motorists, and common Z listers' ice-skating abilities (or lack of).
I need talk of sunshine, garden parties, and girls in summer dresses. I want to throw myself into 28C pool water, cook lamb chops on the BBQ, and pick ripe tomatoes from the garden. I'm a July baby, and my blood is tinged with sunshine.
It'll be May before I start my 2019 veg' growing campaign, and June before I start swimming again. In the meantime I eat body-warming soups, scour the meteo pages for suitable washing days, and wander aimlessly deciding which tasks to avoid first.
For me there are only two important parts of the year; summer, and waiting for summer. The latter always seems to drag, whilst the former rushes by.
If, after all this Brexit nonsense, they come to send me back to England; I shall refuse to go. I'm not bloody going!
They can snap the cuffs on me, drag me to the airport, tie me to a seat, and have half a dozen Gendarmes accompany me back onto Albion's soil, but I shall kick and shout all the way there.
Then, after some hard-pressed local authority have housed me, fed me, and given me plenty of spending money (as they are bound to do), I shall buy an inflatable boat, and sail heroically back across the Channel. I want to remain living right here!
I've lived for over two thirds of my life in France, and I've been a good citizen. I've committed no crime (I'm not that type), I've never asked for any financial assistance, and all my spending money has been imported. I've saved an ancient house from falling into ruin, and I shall eventually leave behind a pleasant home in which discerning folk will live for many years to come. I also pay all my bills on time. In fact, I'm the perfect étranger.
Somehow I don't imagine they will come for me; I'm too much a part of the scene. I'm quiet, reserved, and I blend in with the landscape.
So, Macron, just forget that I'm here. I won't tell anyone, and I promise to continue to be good.
My youngest son, Wills, had a teddy bear named Harry; they were inseparable (maybe they still are). When he was very small, we travelled between England and France on a regular basis, and of course Harry was always an essential member of the party.
Quite naturally, we all had our own passports, so of course Harry needed one too. We briefly considered applying to The Passport Office, but Wills (being Wills) thought he'd just make one for Harry himself.
It's a full size faithful replica, and would probably fool most passport officers. If I lost MY passport, I would be quite upset; if I ever lost Harry's, I would be devastated!!
You can see by the state of it, that it's been very well used. It's also one of the old type passports... so much classier than the new burgundy jobs.
I often find myself thinking that price equates with quality; well it doesn't. The Black Pudding that I wrote about recently (below) was about twice the price of the one above. The one below tempts you with the word 'meat' in its name Boudin viande, whereas the one above is simply known as Boudin Landais; suggesting that it comes from, or the recipe comes from, the Landes area of coastal S W France.
I didn't wish to give-up on Black Pudding eating after my recent experience, so yesterday I returned to the Deli counter and bought the above. Let me tell you that it was exactly what I was looking for; totally delicious, with a very slight flavour of Haggis' seasoning about it.
This will now be a regular addition to my weekly shopping list. Boudin viande (below)will NOT.
Just as a matter of interest, I cut a 4 inch length in two lengthways (as shown), peeled away its natural casing, and fried it with a few slices of Apple and an egg. Bloody marvelous. The best lunch I've had in months. When Boudin is good, it's very very good indeed. I reckon even the squeamish would love this one.
Last night I was searching in my bedside table for some Lemon throat pastilles (I've got a cold), when I came across the above.
It's my late mother's 1902-dated fruit knife. How, or why, it came to be in my bedside table drawer; I have absolutely no idea.
It's very small; just 4 ins long fully opened. It has a very fancy silver blade, which looks at some time to have been used to open a can of beans, as the tip of the blade is a bit crumpled.
My late mother always said that if she wished to contact me (after her demise), she would do so in the form of a four-leaf clover. Well, I've never found that four-leaf clover, but this seemed like a sign of some sort.
I think, maybe, she'd just met-up with Bok, and wanted to let me know that he was OK.
My well loved Husqvarna chainsaw is getting old. It keeps de-tuning itself, and as I'm not good at re-tuning, my visits to my Husqvarna man have become rather frequent.
So, I've thrown caution to the winds, and have bought a new machine; two being always better than one.
It sports the name of a little known German manufacturer (Scheppach), but, as one would expect, is made in China. However, the important bit was the price; €90. The sort of money you'd find down the back of a sofa.
When at the chainsaw shop, I was told that in terms of money/quality it was probably the best model on the market. For the price of a new similar Husqvarna, I could buy three of these. It also comes with a 5 year guarantee.
Of course, as with almost everything these days, I had to assemble much of it myself. I haven't used it in anger yet, but it started just fine!
This beautiful French 'chateau' (about 70 kms E of La Rochelle) is currently on the market at just below £360,000; the price of a Bournemouth beach hut.
As with so many French homes (of all sizes and social standings) it has a very rudimentary kitchen (below).
At our own village chateau the kitchen wasn't that different. When our friend L still lived there, she would produce the most wonderful meals with extremely basic kit. It was her skill that made her cooking so memorable; not the size or cost of her kitchen.
Lady Magnon often watches a TV programme about moving out to the country, and seeing the reaction of home hunters to often huge modern kitchens is quite amazing. I even saw one recently where a very big and very expensive 'high-end' kitchen was discounted because it had cupboards rather than drawers. How that is supposed to help anyone create a decent omelet; I'm not sure.
Kitchens have become status symbols, rather than places where meals are prepared. In fact I am willing to bet good money that the more people complain about their new kitchens being too small or not having the right type of island, the less are their culinary capabilities. As long as the kitchen is huge and expensive, and contains a microwave; they're happy.
Bok seemed to have put on excessive weight over the past few months, so I'd put him on a strict diet.
However, his belly continued to swell, and he recently began to have symptoms that suggested something akin to a urinary infection. This morning (7th Jan) I found him lying in a damp bed, looking slightly sorry for himself; even so, he enjoyed his usual half-hour's early morning 'emptying' walk. He even chased a Deer for a short while.
When we got home, I took him directly to the Vet's Surgery, where a scan revealed that he had an enormous Tumour on his Spleen (above). I was totally in shock; distraught. I really wasn't expecting anything like that.
They operated in the afternoon, and sadly discovered that it had spread to most of his other vital organs. The Vet' said there was nothing to be done.
We haven't had much luck with our animals. We lost our beautiful Labrador, Monty, back in 2015 (aged 4). Then just before Christmas we lost Freddie, our Cat. Probably both poisoned. Now our lovely Bok has joined them.
I am totally distraught. I cannot believe what's happened. Bok was such a lovely boy. This has come completely out of the blue. He was loved by everyone, except one; a jealous neighbour threatened to kill him last Summer. At least she'll now no longer have to bother.
I'll bury him tomorrow afternoon alongside his two buddies, down at Haddock's.
RIP Bok; I cannot describe how much we'll miss him. The house now seems totally empty and sad. Part of the purpose for my living has been taken from me. Once we had three lovely animals to share our lives; now we have none.
I've felt heartache in the past, but this is just terrible.
As with tradition, we removed the Christmas decorations.
And we also went out Wassailing. Our chosen tree this year was little Micha's birthday Apple tree, which received a good beating with a stick, it's branches hung with toast, and its roots anointed with cider. I'm not having much luck with my photography at the moment, so here we were doing the same thing back in 2013. And here is this year's Wassail poem....
Huzza, Huzza, in our good town
The bread shall be white and the liquor be brown.
So here my old fellow I drink to thee
And the health of each other tree.
Well may ye blow, well may ye bear
Blossom and fruit both apple and pear
So that every bough and every twig
May bend with a burden both fair and big.
May ye bear us and yield us fruit such as stores
That the bags and chambers and house run o’er.
It was a cold night, and we drank hot Cider. Recipe: Cider, cloves, star anise, nutmeg, juice of a small orange, dash of ginger wine, and sugar to taste. Heat and serve.
No doubt we will now be finding the shops filled with Easter eggs.
I was recently reading the comments from an ancient blog of mine, concerning the pros and cons of Town-v-Country living.
Those who prefered Country living, vastly outweighed the Townies. As expected, most demanded easy access to shops, pubs, and cinemas, etc, but were happiest when either in their veg' garden, or in front of a blazing fire. I feel much the same.
I was raised in a small Surrey village which boasted an ancient church, quite a number of beautiful old houses, and a central village pond, with a small stone lock-up and ancient Oak tree (above).
The essence of English country life requires a Norman church, Elizabethan manor house, 17th C pub', a thriving village hall, Cricket club, and a good collection of quietly intelligent residents.
The residents would all either drive old 5 litre Bentleys, mud splattered Land Rover 'Defenders', or tractors. Straight-backed young ladies would invariably travel by horse.
The village would be situated in a gently rolling agricultural setting, inhabited by a few pleasant eccentric land owners.
On the question of family pets (very important); pairs of Black Lab's would be de rigueur.
Village shops would have to include a family butcher, a baker, a greengrocer, and a tea room. Where once stood the village post office, we would probably now find an estate agent; but nothing is ever perfect.
I was introduced to the music of Kevin Ayers by my good friend, and fellow painter, Simon Fletcher. So here's song for him that I'm sure he'll enjoy. He's not been too well recently.
In around 1969, we went to a concert in Guildford together, which was possibly part of a promotion tour for the album 'Shooting at the Moon' (below). I still have my copy.
Lol Coxhill was his Sax' player at the time, and spent the entire show fiddling with his electronics; he never did get it right. Mike Oldfield was on bass. David Bedford was on keyboards, and Mick Fincher (unknown to me) on all things percussion. A small but brilliant lineup.
Here are Ayers & Co with 'May I'; a beautiful little song from the album.
Ayers had previously been the frontman with Soft Machine, he died at his home in Southern France in 2013.
Every so often I have a real hankering for Boudin.
I always buy a version called Boudin viande, although I have yet to find much viande in it.
Black Pudding is not to everyone's taste; not even to mine. But occasionally I forget this minor point, and buy some just to remind myself of how delicious it is, only to find that I can 'take it or leave it'.
Boudin, pronounced here as boud-ang, is one of the earliest forms of charcuterie, and is reputed to be filled with essential nutrients. Very good for you.
Next time I buy some (maybe in 6 months time) I shall buy a different variety; my usual Boudin viande contains far too much gras.
I bought myself this piece as a Christmas treat, and fried just three slices of it for my breakfast; the rest went to Bok!
The Scots are very wise; they reserve January 2nd as a 'Hangover Day'. After the revelries of Hogmanay, and New Year's Day, they need another full day to recover. Nicola Sturgeon has the right idea.
I only noticed this important day whilst checking my on-line Calendar engagements. I also noticed that binge-drinking England has no such holiday; I wonder why? They probably need it more than the Scots!
The difference between an optimist and a pessimist, is that the optimist enjoys himself whilst waiting for the inevitable! I AM that optimist!
This is a daily, optimistic, 'photos and comments' blog. I make no judgements (only occasionally), just notes. If you wish to comment in any way at all, please feel free. Everything and everyone (except the obdurate and dictatorial) is very welcome.
I was born just south of London, but for the past 46 years I've lived in S W France. I am a painter by profession, and writer by desire. Lady Magnon and I live in an ancient cottage, in a tiny village, in perfectly tranquil countryside. We have a vegetable garden called 'Haddock's' (this may crop up from time to time), plenty of fruit trees, and a view that takes the breath away; we also have a Border Collie called Billy. I try to treat our planet with respect, and encourage others to do likewise (without preaching).
Contentment is a glass of red, a plate of charcuterie, and a slice of good country bread. Perfect!