Thursday, 31 December 2020



I don't wish to bang my own drum, at least not too loudly; but I have just been awarded 


I would like to thank my late mother for teaching me to spell, my late father for the occasional loan of his Tailor, and to the International Laughing Horse Committee for their votes.

I would also like to thank Mr Yorkshire Pudding for his extremely kind words.


We've been vaguely planning a summer party for next year; provided that Covid-19 allows such things.

About 25 years ago, my oldest friend Michael came to stay. We are the same age, and have known each other since we in were short trousers and played with cowboy guns at Prep' school.

His visit also coincided with our mutual 50th birthdays, so we decided to hold a big-bash.

I purchased a whole Lamb, hired an expert roaster (Jean, above in background), and sent invitations to just about everyone we knew. I can't remember how many were here, but around 50 or 60-ish.

I bought a LOT of wine, lots of paté, mountains of bread, and a truck load of flageolet beans, salads, and tomatoes.

Jean and the Count Malvinski (foreground above) did a fabulous job of carving the roasted beast, and we all tucked into a Herculean banquet.

The photos are dreadful, probably on account of too much wine, but they do give some idea of the occasion. There were about twice the amount of guests as shown in the photos, most of whom were off to the right.

We were eating left-over lamb for two weeks.

We did think that we'd never do such a thing again, but if we did it would certainly be without a whole Lamb. Jean (the spit-roaster) is no longer with us, I'm not sure if the Count is either, I haven't heard from him for years. Several of the other diners, I know, are also now also in Mechoui heaven. 

I seem to remember that there were two veggies amongst us; they must really have struggled.

Now that we know we'll be returning to Blighty in late September 2021, to over-winter, we have thought of holding one final big-bash. 

We could roast a few legs of lamb, a few chickens, some guinea fowl, and half a dozen quails, and hope for the best. The barn has a beautiful new terrace, and inside is big enough to accommodate several trestle tables in case of rain. We also have plenty of friends who love to sing. 

What could be better!


Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Increasingly Dangerous Fun.

We've been having some pretty wild and windy weather lately.

En route to my shopping yesterday I came across a huge tree that had fallen half across the road. Luckily I managed to squeeze through, but it was still there when I returned an hour later. Usually such things are dealt with very quickly. I expect it had gone by lunchtime.

Later, Lady M called me to look at some damage nearer to home. 'Dangerous Fun' had totally collapsed. Over the years, the trees have grown and the structure has been pulled apart; the strong wind did the rest. It's been there since 2013, so it's served us well. It'll serve us again now as firewood, unless I can find some other use for what's left.

Such is life!

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Good while it lasted.

I must admit that I'm quite happy that all the Christmas hullabaloo is now over.

We had a wonderful few days. The food was 98% good, the children really enjoyed themselves, and everyone had far too many gifts. A classic Christmas.

I'm not fussed about staying up till midnight to welcome the New Year. If there's a good line-up on Jools Holland's Hootenanny TV programme, then I might be tempted; but otherwise, no. 

Actually, I have looked at Jools's 2020/21 guest list, and other than Ruby Turner, I'm not really fussed.

Our main concerns now turn to Brexit. I'm pleased to see that my E111 health card will still be valid; albeit in a new format, but the prospect of being unable to stay in our own home for more than 90 days is crazy. This really needs to be re-negotiated. Freedom of movement is a universal human right, and MUST be preserved; regardless of any Macron/Bernier puerile Brit-bashing. They lost the game; get over it!

Winter is now here. It has been cold (zero C), very wet, and icily windy; with a few sub-zero nights still to come for early January. There is little outside work to be done, so a spot of extra log sawing duties presents no problem.

Books will be read, afternoon snoozes will be enjoyed in front of the fire, and slow cooked casseroles will warm our bellies. Life isn't all shivering, we enjoy walks with Billy and the children, and we chat with friendly neighbours. I don't like winter; in an ideal world I would now be in Martinique, Guadeloupe, or the Réunion. But, frankly, I can't be bothered.

I'll just have to bloody put-up with it until things warm!

Monday, 28 December 2020

Morgan et al.

I wasn't expecting this book for Christmas, but I'm very pleased that it was in my stocking (thank you Lady M).

I really don't know much about Morgan. I don't watch morning TV, and have never subscribed to The Sun, The Mirror, or The News of the World newspapers. My only vague connection with him is that we were both born in God's own County of Surrey. I am slightly senior to him.

In the introduction entitled 'The World's Gone Nuts', one sees at once that his book will be an interesting read. It already had me feeling slightly worried that I was agreeing with his every observation.

His book is timely. He faces the appalling advance of 'Wokeism'; and the disgrace of genuinely liberal folk being classified 'cancelled'. His patience runs out when he hears that Canada's Trudeau outlawed the word 'Mankind' as sexist; forgetting that 'Woman' also contains the word 'man'. 

If you too despair at all the 'over-the-top' silliness of PC, then I expect you'll enjoy the read as much as I will. It certainly won't appeal to the 'snow-flaky-left', but then THEY are mostly the subject of his wrath.

If like me you mourn the demise of true 'liberalism', then this is the book for you; but be prepared to shout, scream, and tear out hair!

Sunday, 27 December 2020


During the over-filled-nose-bag season I've had to move my laptop from the dining table to a small corner of the room, where the painting (from which this detail comes) lives in front of me.

The painting is of the style of shoes that I've worn since the 60's. I have seen no reason to change my choice of style, or even of colour, for the past 60 years.

I was looking at the picture this morning, and could remember what fun I had painting the laces. 

It's often the little things that make me smile, and this morning it was those laces.

Saturday, 26 December 2020

Carols from King's, 2020

Not a year goes by without my watching 'Carols from King's' on Christmas Eve.

I didn't think this year's offering was one of the best, but it did have it's high points. The programme was a little safe, with its concentration on what one thinks of as children's door-to-door carols.

In the bleak mid-winter was beautifully sung, but the arrangement far too slow. The Sussex carol was excellent, and Still, still, still, was probably amongst the best.

I was also very pleased to see The King's Singers accompanying the college choir. They were founded by three old boys from my alma mater back in the 1960's. They all went on to King's College together; hence the name. Since those days, of course, the choir line-up has changed countless times.

Mr YouTube won't allow me to post a video from the service, but if you follow this link ......   
In dulci jubilo | Carols from King's 2020 - YouTube    you should be able to hear In dulci jubilo.

All in all, another wonderful experience. I wouldn't miss it for the world.

Friday, 25 December 2020

Happy Christmas.

Lady Magnon and I would like to wish you all a very HAPPY CHRISTMAS. xx

Thursday, 24 December 2020

Merry Christmas - Creature Comforts

These 1990-ish 'Creature Comforts' films combined actual recordings of the great British public, with the animation genius that is Nick Park. Still just as good today, as it was when first shown.

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Trelawnyd Male Voice Choir-Bring Him Home

Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg. Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil. Voices by the good people of Trelawnyd, N Wales.

To me (and possibly to John Gray), this is the most beautiful version of this song. The singers put real passion into it. I feel very emotional every time they begin to sing. 

The song seems very appropriate for Christmas this year. Christmas usually represents some of the best times of our lives, and it helps us remember those with whom we shared them. 

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

The Queen's Christmas Message (short version).

What would Christmas be without Her Majesty's annual message to her subjects. Here is a preview of this year's. Enjoy.

Monday, 21 December 2020

Things are becoming serious.

Woodman, woodman, spare that tree
touch not a single bough.
In youth it always sheltered me
and I'll protect it now.

Being that nasty woodman, I felled the tree yesterday. In fact two were felled; one for us, and another for Boo Boo & Co.

Ours were not Oaks, as in the famous song, but the tops off unruly Leylandii. No Squirrels were made homeless, no birds were forced from their nests, and no children's swings were evicted from strong supporting boughs.

The tree is now thick with baubles, garlands of tinsel, and strings of flashing silver lights.

Boo Boo and The Cherub of course helped with the décor, and, when satisfied that everything was PERFECT, went off to decorate their own tree.

The only hint of an argument came with the programming of the lights. Being able to deliver about 10 different sequences, my own choice was soon outlawed, and a far inferior flashing sequence chosen. I bit my lip and said nothing.

Now all I need is to find a good sized Turkey before the big day, and all will be fine. I shall go Turkey hunting on Wednesday.


Sunday, 20 December 2020

Afternoon Tea.

40% proof Christmas Cake. It was broached this afternoon.

Santa Letter 2020.

Dear Santa,

You've ignored my letters for the past 70 years, so I'm not going to waste this one on requests that you'll ignore yet again.

I really want nothing at all this Christmas; at my age if you haven't got it, then you don't need it.

I have all I need for a reasonably comfortable life, my minor illness is easily controllable, and COVID-19 has yet to knock at my door.

So may I occupy your time by asking on behalf of others. 

Would you see to it that 'Common sense' is equally distributed; some seem to have far too much, and others, sadly, have far too little. 

Would you also grant those who have none, a certain amount of 'pleasantness'; there are too many folk out there who seem to enjoy being unpleasant, love conflict, and who would find their lives greatly improved by your gift. 

And lastly, may I ask that you share some of your own renowned 'generosity'; both materially and in spirit. It could only help make the world a better place.

All rather tricky I'm afraid Santa, but I know you'll do your best.

On the night of the 24th, my Yule Log will be burning on the fire, a small glass of Single Malt will be warming nearby; as will your usual Mince Pie and Carrots for the Reindeer.

Your long time friend, Cro x


Saturday, 19 December 2020

Red is the Colour of my......

Why is it that the colour of biscuit packaging tends to be RED (at least they are here in France). I was in the biscuit aisle of my supermarket yesterday, and it was like a sea of RED.

Personally I don't really associate biscuits with RED, but I suppose the packaging does suit them somehow. The photo shows just a selection; we have others, all RED.


Friday, 18 December 2020

Let's scrap the EU NOW!

So, what can we do about the wretched EU?

It looks as if Italy could be the next country to quit the EU. I hear that they will wait a couple of years to see how things go for the UK, then hold a referendum; which current thinking suggests would probably end in a LEAVE vote. They have been treated too badly.

Now, France and Germany are almost exclusively paying for the likes of Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, and a few other of the 20+ remaining poorer countries. No wonder they are so annoyed that the UK quit.

What I suggest is this. France and Germany should follow the UK's example, put their childish tantrums and belligerence behind them, pre-empt any future disaster, and both quit the EU in order to form a tripartite union with 'England'. All three countries are well positioned geographically, and their economies (regardless of their love/hate relationships) are the strongest in Europe. As a threesome they would make an extremely powerful (non-political) trading union. The smaller but financially secure Holland and Belgium (as they are locked by borders) would also be included.

At their next general elections, the two countries should vote for 'leave' parties. In France for the FN, and in Germany for the AfD. Both countries could then quit the EU; with more middle-of-the-road, less focused, main-stream political parties returned to power a short time later.

This would leave just 20+ EU mostly poverty-stricken member countries, hopefully including a newly independent Scotland, to do whatever they wished. Shake their fists, make impossible demands of each other, and probably run amok; start a war even.

Wouldn't that be fun! What chances do you think there are of this happening?

Yup, that's what I thought.

Thursday, 17 December 2020

Life can be Complicated.

I am partial to fried Haggis for my breakfast.

Previously the tins were of the old fashioned sort that you opened with a tin-opener; in my case both the top and the bottom ends.

In their wisdom, Grant's have now put ring-pulls on the tops of their cans, and the bottoms are no longer openable with my simple tin-opener.

Now, you are probably wondering why this poses a problem. Well, previously I had pushed the Haggis from the bottom, and sliced however many pieces that I required as it protruded from the top. Now, without being able to push from the bottom, I have to 'dig-out' the amount I require, making rather a mess. I much preferred having neat slices to fry.

It's often the little things that annoy us the most. Change isn't always for the better; certainly not when it comes to my 'slices' of breakfast Haggis.

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

A Trump Christmas Story

I expect you've seen this, but it's one of the better Trumperies.

Tuesday, 15 December 2020


Like most people; I love Christmas.

I like the food, the conviviality, and seeing the children so excited. My only seasonal moan is that it all starts too early. I really do think we should stick to the traditional 12 days of Christmas; 12 days of festivities is enough.

Christmas, for me, wouldn't be the same without the smell of roasting Turkey, baking mince pies, and the aroma of cinnamon scented hot spiced wine (Glögg).

But mostly it's a time for remembering times past. It's when I think back to when I was small, and the effort that my mother put into making every Christmas wonderful. Mother was always a little 'over the top'; we had far too many presents, far too big a Turkey, and far too much excitement all round.

The more I age, the more I find myself becoming quite emotional about those days in the 1950's. I just wish my people were still here to enjoy the festivities, just as they always had; but with a few extra great-grandchildren around, the one's they never got to meet. I would like them to know that we continue all those family traditions from way back, and the festive table would be exactly as they remembered it. Alas this is not possible. 

So I simply think of them instead, and being quite an emotional person, I might ever shed a few private tears as well. I see no harm in this. 

I do hope your memories are as happy as mine.

Monday, 14 December 2020

A House Full of Daughters.


I've just been listening to Juliet Stevenson reading 'A House Full of Daughters' on BBC Radio 4.

The book by Juliet Nicholson is a biography of her family through the eyes of its daughters, with insights into Knole, Vita Sackville-West, and Sissinghurst.

A life of privilege, tragedy, and fame, a circle that most of us will never enter; but one that fascinates.

If such things interest you, Juliet Stevenson's reading is a delight, and the tale it reveals is fascinating.

It should be around somewhere on iPlayer or BBC Sounds.


Why did it take so long for 'The West' to discover Chickpeas?

They've been a staple diet of the Middle East and North Africa since time immemorial.

I imagine they first became popular in the UK with the arrival of Hummus; even then, I don't suppose many associated Hummus with actual Chickpeas. It was a while until tinned Chickpeas appeared on our shelves.

The more I eat them, the more I like them. Not only do I make my own Hummus (below), but otherwise they always appear in my Moroccan Tagines, and in my Chana Masala, which is one of the most common vegetarian curries in all of India; basically Chickpeas and Tomatoes with spices. 

Dried Chickpeas will last for years. When reconstituted and cooked they make a highly nourishing meal; add some unleavened bread and you have all you need.

Chickpeas will soon become an even more important ingredient in world cuisine. With 'woke-ism' and the advance of vegetarianism and veganism, I see all pulses becoming our major protein element; and Chickpeas in particular.

And this (below) is what a Chickpea plant looks like; I believe each pod contains just one Chickpea.

Farmers; gird your loins!

Sunday, 13 December 2020

Love & Marriage; a Sunday Special.

Yes, I know I've posted this before, but it really is worth another viewing. Life is nothing without a good laugh occasionally (or often even). This must be the best TV wedding ever!

Saturday, 12 December 2020

I must be losing my touch.

I've hardly found any mushrooms this Autumn; it's Lady M who's become our 'Gatherer in Chief'.

Invariably when I've been out hunting for Hedgehog Mushrooms (below), I returned empty handed. When Lady M goes out, she returns with a bag full. These, below, we had for lunch a couple of days ago.

The following day we both went together to where she said there were 'loads'. Below is what she then found; again I found nothing.

I shall have to return to 'Hunters and Gatherers College'.

Friday, 11 December 2020

Gherkins; hardly an earth-shattering subject.

Back in the early 70's when I bought our first house here in France, one of my major Summer cash-crops was Gherkins (Cornichons).

Gherkins are the small fruit of the 'Ridge Cucumber', a short plump Cucumber with a spotty surface; they were picked when about 7 cms long.

The 'Ridge Cucumber' is a highly prolific producer of fruit, and as long as one continued to pick regularly, its production would continue for quite a while. It was also a very easy plant to grow. The Gherkins didn't need to travel far; there were several processors in the immediate area.

The merchant would come to the house every other day, weigh our crop, and pay in cash. It was a very efficient way of making 'pocket money'.

Then it all ended. No doubt new regulations came from Brussels that halted the production. My photo above shows the Kühne Cornichons that I now regularly buy; they hail from Germany (well, they would wouldn't they).

In the grand scheme of things, Gherkins may be of little importance, but it's just one of many things that have disappeared from the farm gate. Farms no longer have Cows, Pigs, Ducks, Geese, Chickens, vineyards, or even any 'edible crops' (I did see some fields of Tomatoes this year). There are only two major crops regularly grown; Sunflowers for oil, and Maize. As there are very few cattle around, even haymaking has become pointless.

Fields upon fields are now left unworked. Most are mowed for the sake of tidiness, and their owners continue to receive their 'Single Farm Payment', regardless of anything being grown.

Brussels has a lot to answer for. Gherkins may not be the perfect gauge of a country's agricultural health; but they certainly represented another nail in that coffin that has become European farming. 

Thursday, 10 December 2020

The WTO.


On the map above, the green areas represent members of the WTO (The World Trade Organisation).

The much smaller blue area is the EU (The European Union).

The Yellow and red areas are either thinking of joining the WTO, or are observers. If you look very carefully at the map above, you will note that the UK is already coloured GREEN.

The WTO boasts 164 member countries, whilst the EU has just 27.

The WTO employs 650 staff, whereas the EU employs 32,000.

Strangely, the EU collectively, is one of those 164 members, as is the United Kingdom. As you might imagine, the WTO covers considerably more world trade than the EU; in fact 96.4% of ALL world trade goes through the WTO. Just look closely at that map; it gives a good idea of their scope!

So why the hell are we allowing the EU to hold the UK to ransom? Presuming that a 'No Deal' is now very likely, the UK will simply turn her head towards Luxemburg (the home of the WTO) rather than Brussels, pay her considerably reduced dues, and continue to trade with the whole world; including the EU. 

I cannot see a problem. The EU is a trading pipsqueak in comparison with the WTO, and so what if in future the Brits drive Hondas instead of VW's, drink Californian (or English) fizzy wine instead of French, and eat NZ Cheddar instead of Cantal.

Would anyone either care or notice?

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

A Thief in the Night.


We've noticed over recent weeks/months, that Billy's large sack of (very expensive) dry food has been 'interfered with'.

We keep his food in the studio. It's in a 10 kg bag, which we've occasionally found knocked over, clawed at, and generally mauled. It's been obvious that some creature has been helping itself.

This morning I found it dragged about a foot away from where I'd left it, claw marks all over it, and a good handful of 'croquettes' over the floor. I eliminated all previous possible culprits, and turned my attention to the cat flap, and one renowned local wild cat.

I've now locked the cat flap, and also secured it from both inside and outside with metal grills and a heavy flower pot. If the devil can get past all that, then good luck to him.

Monday, 7 December 2020

Pie production.

Production is now in full swing.

Yesterday afternoon Boo Boo made Mince Pies, Nutella Pies (Yuk), and Raspberry Jam Pies.

He's getting really rather adept at pie making.

Sunday, 6 December 2020

Billy; an assessment.

Billy is a fun dog, but he has his eccentricities.

I really enjoy taking him for his early morning walk each day. He so obviously enjoys himself that every day he makes me smile. He has a beautiful spring in his legs that simply oozes 'fun'. No Deer is safe from a good chasing.

However, he does occasionally show strange behaviour. Every time I attach his lead he curls into a ball as if he's about to be beaten; I have no idea why he does this. He also hates being brushed, and will often snap at us; we have to reassure him that it's all OK.

He has never been abused by us, but occasionally his behaviour suggests that he has; and that he's frightened of us. He quite often shows signs of fear. We did have a couple of neighbours who HAVE been nasty to him, throwing stones, kicking, and hitting him with a stick, etc; so maybe it has left a mark. 

Luckily the worst of these people has now moved away. It's strange that whenever we met these people's own dogs they have always come to say 'hello'. If one is kind to animals, usually they reciprocate the kindness. We've always had a lot of canine visitors; they didn't.

Generally he's a lovely dog to be with. He has boundless energy. He'll chase, and bring back, Tennis balls all day long. He's also madly in love at the moment, the object of his passion being a beautiful German Shephard called Amie.

It is claimed that a dog covers about 10 times the distance of his/her owner whilst out walking. In Billy's case I would raise that figure to 50 times!

I should add that his pink nose is now almost all filled-in with black. Another few months and he'll be the most handsome Border Collie in France (well, actually, he already is). 

Winter warmers.

The above sight will now become a regular feature of our evenings, it is mostly a statement about our current foul weather, rather than a cooking method.

We've now said goodbye to those wonderful warm and sunny late November days, and are into a period of cold, drizzle, and pale grey skies. We have already had two frosty mornings (-1C), and of course there are many more to come. I see predictions of upcoming max daily temperatures of around 6C, and I see us possibly being stuck indoors for some while.

So, slow cooked warming stews are the order of the day. On top of our wood-burner (above) is an Irish Stew, with cheap breast of lamb, spuds, carrots, a quartered onion, and some pearl barley. I later added a few simple herby dumplings. The other pan contained some plain steamed 'greens' (Cavolo Nero). If that doesn't warm us up; I don't know what would. 

Other dishes that will soon appear on the wood burner include Coq au Vin, and Boeuf Bourguignon. Amazingly, such slow-cooked dishes are far less time consuming than frying a couple of Pork chops. Everything goes in one pot, then they look after themselves until ready. Baked Potatoes will be prepared in the ash pan underneath the fire box. What could be better?

Out in the country the change of seasons is more poignant than in town, and our meals follow suite. Many town dwellers would see no difference between their July Big Mac, and a January Big Mac, but if we were to eat a Greek Salad at Christmas, or a Lancashire Hot Pot in August, it would seem very odd.

Saturday, 5 December 2020

What to do on a cold, wet, and windy, December day!

Well, the answer is obvious; make your Christmas Cake.

I tend to keep well away from the kitchen when such operations are in progress. I believe that Lady M used Mary Berry's 'Classic Rich Christmas Cake' recipe. I've just had a look at the page, and the list of ingredients is staggering. It took 4½ hrs in the oven.

Yesterday was my shopping day, and Lady M asked me to look out for cake decorations (Santa, Reindeer, Tree, Crib, Sheep, Elves, etc), but France has no tradition of either rich fruit cakes or small plastic Yuletide figures, so we'll have to search around for our old ones. Normally they sit atop a covering of Marzipan, sprinkled with Icing Sugar (snow).

Christmas cake is rather like Christmas Pudding. You really look forward to them, but when the time comes, you're usually stuffed with Turkey or Goose.

She's also started mentioning the word 'tree'. Personally I wouldn't have one in the house before about the 15th (later if possible), but her excuse is that the children will have so much fun decorating it.

I think they'd have even more fun decorating on the 15th.

The cake is now resting in a large Le Creuset pot, and having it's bottom anointed with Armagnac every few days. It should be ready for eating in a couple of weeks; unless we can't resist.  

Friday, 4 December 2020

Lichens and Fungi.

It is often claimed that the best sign of fresh clean air is that of Lichens growing on trees; the more Lichens, the purer the air quality.

Presuming that this observation is correct, I must be living in one of the best air-quality areas in the whole world. Some of our trees are so covered in Lichens, that one can no longer see any bark. The above is a branch of the Greengage tree just outside our front door.

It is also claimed that the first 'plants' to suffer as a result of polluted air are mushrooms; and in particular Girolles and the jet black Trompette de la Mort; both of which are particularly at risk.

2020 has been a bad year here for mushrooms. In spring we had just one meagre picking of Girolles, we had no Cèpes to speak of. Now in November we are finding very few Hedgehog Mushrooms, and not a single Trompette.

Of course, mushroom growth is dependent on the right amount of rainfall and warmth at the right time, and this is more likely the cause of their rarity this year rather than pollution. Rainfall is certainly a problem, with lakes and rivers being much lower than a decade or so ago. 

When we first moved to the village, at this season I would go out looking for Hedgehog Mushrooms with a huge basket. It was always quickly filled, and I would go out again as soon as I'd unloaded them. The merchant came to the house every other day, and he never left without several kilos. I have just returned from the woods with nothing.

Thursday, 3 December 2020

Pubs, wet-pubs, gastro-pubs, and dining-pubs.

The last time I was a regular at any UK pub was whilst I was briefly staying with my people in Shropshire. It was a very stressful time, and a pint in the evening was my only way of relaxing. I can remember the day when Bitter became 50p a Pint. 'The Sun' didn't sell food.

I last ate in a UK pub about 50 years ago. It was in a wonderful old pub called 'The Shepherd and Dog' nestled in The Downs at Fulking, Sussex. In those days pubs serving lunches often had a charming sign outside which said quite bluntly 'PUB GRUB'.

Invariably in those distant days the menus were limited to sausage-n-mash, or ploughman's, or cottage pie. Not food that could ever have been classified as 'gastro', but pleasantly comforting in its way.

These days you are as likely to find a French bistro menu, as a Thai menu. The choice of ethnicity in today's pubs is endless.

The one thing you're probably least likely to find is an old fashioned pub where people gather around the bar with a pint and bag of scratchings. Pubs are now more likely to be restaurants than boozers.

For me, 'a pub' should be synonymous with 'a local', where you go in the evening for a pint, a chat, and conviviality. I don't want my local to become simply a convenient restaurant for passing motorists.

Sadly the old fashioned local pub is fast disappearing, as landlords desperately need the sale of food to survive. Sell food or fold. Things change, and I suppose we have to accept it.

In a post-Covid world, where 10,000 pubs are predicted never to re-open, the traditional non-food-serving pubs (now known as 'wet pubs') will probably be the first to go.

What a shame.

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Brit' Cheese and the origin of Fizz.

The French are very proud of the fact that they have a cheese for every day of the year (and they go on and on about it).

What they don't know is that the UK produces over 600 types of cheese, but best not mention it!

Up until recently the only UK cheese available in my supermarket was the quite acceptable  'Seriously extra mature Cheddar', which hails from Scotland.

Last week, however, I noticed some packs simply marked 'Cheddar' in the pre-packed cheese section, so I had to buy some.

I was amazed. This was better that most Cheddar that's sold as 'mature' or 'tasty' back in the UK. It really was delicious.

Maybe with Brexit on the way, they're suddenly realising what they might be missing! Someone might even let them know that the UK has over 600 varieties of cheese (most of which are actually edible). 

But it's still probably best not to mention that the method of making Champagne started in England. Dom Perignon claimed to have invented Champagne in 1697, but Christopher Merrett of Winchcombe in Gloucestershire actually wrote of his method for making sparkling wine, 30 years earlier in 1662. No doubt Perignon had a copy of Merrett's thesis, but forgot to mention where he'd got the idea from.

 However, to mention this might cause another 100 years war.

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Another box ticked.

The terrace up at the barn is finished. The flagstones now cover the steps, as well as the large flat 4 by 6 meter area below. It makes a very pleasant area for outdoor living.

Next job is the second, larger, bathroom. The present one (downstairs) is quite small, but very pleasant. It contains just a wet-room type shower, bog and basin; all rather basic, but well done. The new one will be more 'luxurious' and complete.

Then he needs three doors to be made for upstairs, and the exterior cladding re-done. 

 Softly, softly, catchee monkey.

Monday, 30 November 2020

Lady M's Mincemeat recipe.


Aaaah...Mince Pies.

Lady Magnon has been making her mincemeat; always a good sign.

Goodness knows what goes into it. Vast amounts of different types of dried fruits, chopped prunes, preserved peel, spices, brandy, and Atora Suet. The Suet I had wisely bought online as it isn't available here, other than in butchery form.

To me, Christmas ain't Christmas without a plentiful supply of Lady M's Mince Pies. Above are several kilos of her mixture, and there will be several more kilos before the big day. She is a slave to her mixing bowl at this time of year, and she hasn't even mentioned the cake yet.

Her kitchen assistant (Boo Boo) can't wait to bake and sample the first lot; and of course to have a wish! (Actually, me too!)

Sunday, 29 November 2020


We in the 'civilised world' take water for granted. We turn-on the tap, and out comes clean drinkable water in as much quantity as we require. We water our gardens, fill our pools, and have labour-saving machines that uses the stuff as if there's no tomorrow. 

This was all fine when there were just four of us in our tiny hamlet; now there are many many more, and in summer anywhere up to about 50... all of whom use copious amounts of water.

Our water supply comes from a natural spring about 5 kms away. It is purified, pumped-up into a nearby water tower, then pressure fed to the houses. 

We've been advised that the spring where the water originates is far less generous than in previous times, and with all the excessive use it doesn't seem too far-fetched to imagine our supply slowly coming to an end. It does look as though at some time in the future, houses will need to make their own provision in order to guarantee a supply.

Digging a well is not difficult; one digs down whilst lining the sides with either bricks or giant concrete tubes. One goes as far as when one hits water.

My first farmhouse here had it's own citerne as did most other houses. It was a huge concrete lined hole, about 10 feet in diameter, and 30 feet deep, that was filled with water from the roof. There was a lovely old pump at one end of the terrace which brought the water up to just outside the kitchen door. A bucket did the rest. The citerne was always full.

I can see the day when such citernes will again be essential. With large fibreglass containers now easily available, installing such underground tanks would not be complicated. Having them filled with rainfall is another question. Global warming won't help.

Maybe in the future we'll all have to learn to be frugal with our water again, and treat it as a valuable commodity.  

I do hope I'm wrong.

Saturday, 28 November 2020

Lucius Aurunculeius Cotta.


Fellow students of Latin, may remember having to translate the exploits of Cotta.

Personally I never thought to enquire about who this Cotta actually was; all I knew was that he marched around, on Caesar's behest, with several cohorts; out to conquer parts of Gaul.

Yesterday I decided to find-out more. Unfortunately not much is written about him other than in the famous De Bello Gallico where some details are given of his being wounded, losing battles, and eventually his death.

He was obviously a much admired soldier, and Caesar promoted him as joint Senior Officer in his Gallic Army along side his fellow officer Sabinus.

Caesar sent him to 'Gaul' to conquer the area around the German/Belgian borders. He came across fierce fighting, and eventually was defeated inside his own compound (above).

I'm really no better informed about dear Cotta, but at least some of my past 60 years of ignorance has been laid to rest. 

The strange thing about learning Latin is that one ends-up being able to say that Cotta is advancing to the north with two cohorts, but one never learns how to ask for a pound of Apples, or even ask the way to the Coliseum.

Friday, 27 November 2020

Less than a month until Christmas.


Possibly the most asked question of the moment is 'What do you want for Christmas?'.

And possibly the most usual reply is 'Nothing'.

Amongst the presents I gave last year were an Apple tree, a large bag of bird seed, a mushrooming penknife, and some things specifically asked-for that have never been used. With the two boys joining us again this year, no doubt our focus will be on them.

I have already decided on my gift for Lady Magnon, it is simply a matter of buying and bringing home.

For the others I really am at a loss.

This year, especially, excessive spending seems almost immoral. Maybe rather than giving lots of expensive and unwanted gifts, we should simply be grateful for our good health. The world's problems are far from over, so maybe the best gift might be something specific to the pandemic.

For years I gave people 'scratch cards' in with their Christmas or Birthday cards. The idea that someone could win a Million quid always appealed to me (one person did win €100); this year it might be more relevant to give a voucher for a Covid-19 vaccine jab.

Anyway, the important thing is to have a good Christmas. A pleasant lunch, one or two welcome gifts, and no hangover. As usual, I'm really looking forward to it.

N.B. Yesterday I was pruning the Wisteria on our 'tower'. I had leaned a ladder against the wall which the boys soon discovered to be the 'toy of the century'. Up and down they went (whilst being surveyed) and had a wonderful time. 

Why buy a £200 X Box (I have no idea how much these things actually cost) when you can go up and down a ladder for nothing!

Thursday, 26 November 2020

Swiss News

Switzerland is an interesting country. More correctly known as The Swiss Confederation, she lies land-locked amongst other larger European countries. She is not a member of the EU, but still benefits from most trade agreements.

Switzerland is also a wealthy country. She has the highest nominal wealth per adult in the world, and comes eighth highest in world 'per capita' GDP.

In a country known for neutrality and the brokering of peace deals, she still has military national service for men over 18. They serve about 21 weeks, and about 30% of the population legally hold firearms.

When we think of Switzerland, we think watches, cheese with holes, alpine horns, penknives, chocolate, skiing, fondue, bicycle regiments, and snow tipped mountains. 

I have never been there, and have no real desire to go. However my father and my 'Uncle John' did once go there mountain climbing together. They were half way climbing up some glacier when they stopped for lunch. My Uncle John pulled out an apple from his rucksack, bit into it, and broke his dentures. The apple was frozen solid. He spent the rest of his holiday 'speaking in tongues' and dining on liquids.

That's the extent of my knowledge of Switzerland. If you have anything exciting to add, please feel free to do so.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

What is life, without a project.

Up at the barn, there is construction afoot. The final surface is, at long last, being applied to the terrace.

50 by 50 cm flagstones are being laid, and it will make a really beautiful outdoor dining/dancing area. I'm not sure yet what they'll use for shade, but no doubt a solution will appear in time.

I always say that the most important room in the house here is the auvent, an outdoor room where one lives from Spring to Autumn. It really should have a roof for when it rains, but I expect they'll soon realise that.

When the barn's exterior wooden cladding is renewed (possibly this winter), a couple of doors made for upstairs (gawd knows when), and the second bathroom completed; all will be finished. It's already a lovely spacious home.

We might even invite Wills's older brother, Kimbo, to come over and cut a ribbon. He's used to such things, and probably by now even has his own scissors.

Things advance, little by little.

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

What a shambles.

The barn behind ours is currently being turned into another home. The new owner has been working on it for about a year.

During all that time he's had no water or electricity. The water people came about two weeks ago, and the necessary pipes do now reach to the edge of his land. All it needs is for his plumber to connect the pipes..... The electricity connection has proved more complex.

The nearest point to connect to is behind our house (above), and the EDF have now been to connect a temporary supply. But rather than connect it to our barn's supply (below left), to which the new owner had already fed his cables (the red tube), they have connected to our supply on the other side of the track (below right); meaning that those cables on the bank will now have to be dug-up, re-positioned, and buried underground in the track.

As I said, this is a temporary connection to a building site. For the actual connection they will have to wait another SIX MONTHS.

Now, I may be a bit dim, but what the hell is the difference between a temporary connection with its own meter etc, and a pukka connection in the same spot, with its own meter etc. All the wires and cables are there, but rules are rules, and when they say six months; that's what they mean!

I don't wish to be rude about the EDF (we've never had any complaints, other than power cuts), but it does seem as if they are very fixed in their ways.

When the men were here yesterday, I asked if they were sure I wasn't going to be paying for the other person's electricity; they assured me that I wouldn't be. When I then asked them if they could fix it so that he would pay for mine; they unfortunately said 'no'.

It now looks as if we'll have that horrible temporary box hanging on a nail from the back of our house until May 2021.

I apologise if the above all sounds rather confusing. It's difficult finding the right words to describe what's going on here. Believe me; the world (and the EDF) works in mysterious ways.

Monday, 23 November 2020

Blondes have more fun.

The boys change by the day.

Boo Boo is learning fast. He can tell you how many 20 Centimes are in One Euro, what is the speed of sound, and how he likes his pasta.

Mischa (the Cherub) is only just constructing logical sentences, so it'll be a while before he starts quoting The Iliad. He can build monsters with Lego, use the pedals on his big brother's Go Kart, and knows what flavours of Ice Cream he prefers.

It's wonderful having them here. Lady M is constantly elbow-deep in cake mix, or preparing 'cheesy-pasta', or putting plasters on knees.

The children always come first. 'Cheesy pasta' for the boys has priority over a cup of coffee for Grumpy. But that's the way it should be.

Lockdown means that Boo Boo isn't going to school at the moment, but I honestly think he's learning more at home than he would if he was in kindergarten. He has the advantage of two ex-teachers, various degrees, and plenty of different languages. How many kindergartens can match that!

Sunday, 22 November 2020

Cosy Nook.

For any recent visitors to this page;....this (below) is where I live.

The fireplace is always the focal point of every home, so I'm showing you ours. It'll give you an idea of what a 300 year old French peasant cottage looks like.

The fireplace was, of course, originally the cooking section of the kitchen; the washing section was performed in the stone sink which you might just see centre-left.  

At first we had an open fire with metre long lengths of Oak burning on ancient fire dogs, which I loved. These days we have installed a wood burner which means we can close up and go away without any risk of the carpet catching fire. The wood burner also doubles as baked potato cooker, and simmerer of stews casseroles etc on the top; whilst belting out heat. 

Generally we only light the stove in the evening; we're hardy folk. Only if we're forced to be indoors during the daytime (snow, rain, locusts, etc) do we light-up earlier; otherwise it's reasonably economical.

I know what you're thinking; it looks old, dusty, cobwebby, spider-ridden, full of mice, draughty, cold, etc, etc. Well you'd be right on most counts, but that's what bucolic life is all about; not forgetting dog hair all over the place. The only things guaranteed to be sparkly clean in this house are things to do with food or it's preparation; on that there is no compromise. 

I'm not keen on modern homes. I find them characterless, and unwelcoming. I want my home to have history as well as future, but mostly I want it to feel 'cosy'; which our does.

Saturday, 21 November 2020

Palombière pour bons vivants - Gueuleton

Here are Vincent and Arthur hunting, and eating, and drinking again. We're well into the season when huge flights of Wood Pigeons pass overhead on their way South. The aim of these hunters is to get them to settle on the trees above their Palombière.

I've never seen a Palombière as well kitted out as this one; they seem to lack nothing. These guys are serious hunters, and gourmets, and obviously live very well. It's good to see such traditions being upheld; especially in these strange times.

Friday, 20 November 2020

Memories of better times.

Please play the music, then read-on. If it doesn't work, try this.

It's high Summer, and a nearby village is holding it's annual Méchoui and dance. The small public 'square' between the medieval church and the ugly 1950's Mayor's chamber is divided in two; an area given to several long alfresco dining tables, and a space given to dancing.

Bunting and fairy lights are strung between the ancient pollarded Lime trees. Aperitifs are served, then the youth of the village bring round huge platters of spit-roasted Lamb, big bowls of Flageolet Beans, and Salads. Wine is replenished as soon as bottles are emptied. The youth of the village have been well trained, and obviously enjoy their work; nothing is too much for them.

The food continues to arrive. Cheese is accompanied by offers of Eau de vie; which we decline.

It's about 11.30 pm, and the accordionist and his band take their positions on the mobile podium, and he kicks-off with his favourite number Reine de Musette (which should now be playing).

I ask Lady Magnon if she fancies a twirl. We dance for about an hour, then the band plays a Bourrée which we can't dance to, so we stand with all the others in a circle and watch the elders of the village spin around; men dancing with men and women dancing with women. The audience applaud as the ancient dance is demonstrated to all present. A few children join in the fun, trying to imitate their elders.

After the Bourrée we return to the 'dance floor' and show the locals how amateur dancing really should be done. We have no shame about our lack of skill; we simply enjoy ourselves, as does everyone.

At about 1 am, we are tired, and decide to head for home. We spend another hour or so saying goodbye to everyone, before taking to the road.

This used to be an annual event.... I wonder when it'll happen again; if ever?

Thursday, 19 November 2020

No, it's not a Pizza.

It's not really Pizza season, but this isn't a Pizza anyway.

I was leafing through Rick Stein's book 'Secret France', when I came across his recipe for Tarte Flambée, and it really appealed.

In Alsace, where this tart comes from, it's known as Flammekueche (pronounce that as you will), and I suppose it is a pizza look-alike.

This (above) is the one I made last night. The main difference is that there is no tomato and no mozzarella on the French version. The base of the Tarte Flambée is firstly spread with thick cream, then thinly sliced onion, then grated Emmental, and topped with tiny cubes of fried smoked bacon. About 20 mins in the oven, et voila! Nothing could be more simple.

Lady M complained that there was no accompanying salad, and I agreed with her; it needed something crisp and refreshing alongside. Otherwise it was very good; a bit rich maybe, but pleasant for a change. Below is Stein's superior version which prompted my desire. It's worth a go... you may like it.

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

A question of fish.

English fishing ports such as Fleetwood, Hull, and Grimsby, used to be wealthy towns that supported not only the fishermen themselves, but countless others who catered to the town's fish-based wealth; jewellers, hotels, builders, wine merchants, etc. These days they are almost ghost towns.

English cooler waters supply 90% of the EU's fish, but England itself was restricted to fishing just 14% of that supply. Brussels still considered this too much, so back in Brussels they came up with a cunning plan. 

To stop the English from fishing their own fish, they decided to pay UK boat owners to destroy their boats (such as the one above); they had to be totally destroyed so as never to sail again. Either burned or cut-up for scrap, leaving the waters dangerously open to EU boats.

Now, of course, as she is no longer a member of the EU, the UK wishes to fish her own waters again, and sell the catch to the EU as 'English Fish'.

M Barnier isn't pleased. He thinks that even though the UK is no longer under the thumb of Brussels, he still wants Europe's trawlers to take whatever they wish from UK waters. He has even offered 15% of the value of fish caught by EU trawlers in compensation, amounting to around £90 Million per annum.

No doubt some deal will eventually be struck, and then overlooked. There's no question that both French and Spanish trawlers will continue to take as much fish from UK waters as they wish. They will do as they've always done; make the laws, then openly flout them.

What a very different organisation it's become. The UK joined a 'Common Market' on Jan 1st 1973, and left the 'United States of Europe' on Jan 1st 2020. 

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