Thursday 31 August 2023

N C Wyeth.

Newell Convers Wyeth was more known as a book illustrator than as a painter. His son Andrew Wyeth is known to most of us, but the father less so.

This painting called 'Nightfall', is possibly one of N C W's best. For me it represents everything that is desirable, and possibly difficult, about country life.

I would love to own it, and have it on my wall.

The farm, I imagine, is Wyeth's own but to my eyes looks very English, other than the brown-coloured Silo. The folds in the landscape could be those of The Cotswolds, as is the colour of the stone from which the buildings are made. It is not at all the view of his son Andrew's barren plains and crumbling wooden homes that he so often painted. 

The painting represents pride, patience, and maybe some concern. I imagine that most farmers would recognise something of their own plight in the picture. One can only wonder what is going on in the mind of the little red-haired child. I suspect she is seeing her whole life ahead of her.

What a beautiful painting.


Wednesday 30 August 2023

More Peaches.

Boo Boo's Peach tree harvest is long over. It produced a very large crop of delicious fruit this year, but sadly we were unable to eat them all. We put quite a lot in the freezer, but now we have two more trees that are over-producing.

These are what's known here as Peches de Vigne, the trees are quite commonly found at the end of vineyard rows; possibly planted to feed the hungry grape pickers. They are a more rustic variety than Boo Boo's, and are reproduced simply by the planting of a Peach stone.

As you can see, they are smaller than the more cultivated Peaches, but they don't lack in flavour, or juiciness. 

Both our trees are loaded. I always advise everyone here to carry a small pocket knife with them and eat a few every time they pass by, they really are delicious; and plentiful.

Our Figs are now also now ripening, and trying to keep-up with everything is impossible. If we were to be here through Winter I would bottle the Figs as I have always done in the past. But I'm not taking preserves back to the UK. There are peaches grapes figs and apples everywhere. The Hornets are already feasting on them instead of us!

The Reine de Renette apples (below) have done really well this year; last year there were none. They are the French equivalent of the English Cox; but nowhere near as good.

Tuesday 29 August 2023

Rover SD1

This must have been the most dangerously fast car I've ever owned.

The 3.5 litre Rover SDI was a viciously fast sports car in saloon car clothing. You only realised how 'low-slung' they were when they were parked amongst other cars. They were fast, good-looking, and (for me) luxurious.

This is not my actual car, but it was silver and looked much the same.

To my eternal shame I remember one incident that I regret to this day. I was driving alone through France, heading North, on the motorway when I encountered two more SDI's. These were rare cars in France, and to suddenly find yourself in a row of three was very strange. The lead car suddenly started to speed-up, and we two behind followed suite. The speed soon became excessive but we continued; probably to the amazement of the other few road users who witnessed us flying by. I soon realised that it had become extremely dangerous and I backed off. The speeds we were doing were not only way beyond the legal limit, but were such that even the slightest 'blip' and we would probably have crashed and killed ourselves. It was that stupid.

Why I got involved in such a 'race' I don't know. It must have been part bravado, and part bravado! Knowing that you have a car that would do in excess of 130 mph needed testing; and that's what we did.

I'm pleased to say that that short (maybe 10 minute) incident changed my driving attitude for ever. I immediately realised how stupid I'd been, and ever since I've driven at my own choice of speed, and am no longer ever in a hurry.

When I look back to that day, I still feel that I'm lucky to be alive. It could all have ended so badly.

Since then, fast cars no longer interest me. In fact I soon swapped that Rover for a Renault 4, and have continued with a series of average speed utility cars ever since.

I just happened to see the above photo recently, and it brought back the horror of the occasion as if it were yesterday.

p.s. Back in about 1965 I was taken for a ride in a TVR Grantura Griffith 200. My friend who owned the car managed to reach about 150 mph along the Talgarth Road in London, on the way out to the airport. I don't think I've ever been as frightened in my whole life.

Monday 28 August 2023

Such Massive Talent.

My daughter's Father-in-Law was/is a goldsmith/jeweller. He made exotic, and extremely expensive, items for the rich, royal, and famous. He was also the Vice Chairman of the Institute of Professional Goldsmiths Forum.

Below is one small example of his work. Buckets-full of 18 carat gold, a huge 500 carat carved Indian Emerald, Emerald and Diamond stem, and a pair of Peacocks dining on a plate of Diamonds. The whole is just 23 cms tall. His client owned the huge Emerald, and commissioned something to be built around it; as one would!!!

The standard of his work is second to none, and, as you can imagine, he was always in demand to make the most exotic creations.

Such things are not to my personal taste, but the craftsmanship is exemplary. I cannot imagine the process, or the time involved, of making such an object. I would love to show you more of his amazing creations, but without his permission; I'd better not. 

Anyway, well done 'Father Ted'.

Saturday 26 August 2023

Sussex Cottage

Our 'library' here is quite extensive, it contains a good selection of classic novels, poetry, and children's books. It also contains most of our collection of art and reference books.

I have just forced myself to finish reading a very poor novel by Nick Hornby, and desperately needed something to restore my faith in 'literature'. 

I last read Esther Meynell's 'Sussex Cottage' back in the 70's. I have been friends with some of the current Meynell family since my London days, and her book appeals on many levels. I once wrote about the family's stunning old farmhouse home near Amberley which I consider to be one of the most beautiful, and desirable, homes in Sussex. But this book is about an altogether different house.

Being a Surrey/Sussex lad myself, I am fascinated by all the traditions of my county, especially its early domestic architecture. 

This book describes the building of a traditional village home by itemising all the materials, construction methods, the crafts, the craftsmen, the characters, traditions, and the very landscape itself. The cottage is in Ditchling, just outside Brighton.

It isn't a book that would appeal to everyone, but those interested in Sussex life, and it's vernacular architecture, would find it fascinating. Back in the early 50's my father built a lovely house which followed in the tradition of local architecture, with the upper story hung with hand-made tiles, etc. Reading E M's book, I note that her attention to detail seemed very similar.

The book also contains a small chapter dedicated to our old village of West Chiltington.

Friday 25 August 2023

Not long now!

We now have just over a week left of our stay in France, and we have so much to do. With daytime temperatures of 40 C, working outdoors after about 9 am, and before 8 pm, is almost impossible.

Our guests leave at the weekend, and we've been obliged to shorten our own stay by one day due to our hotel being fully booked for the day on which we wished to travel. This has also meant that we've had to change our channel crossing time. Things are ganging-up on us.

Preparing the house for over-wintering is always stressful. As we shall be away for the next 9 months, nothing must be overlooked. The pool must be closed down correctly, all the excess garden growth cut back, and all the grass cut. Indoors everything needs to be dust-covered, services closed-off, and everything secured. The whole house will also need to be cleaned. The house is never in a better state than on the day we leave! It doesn't sound like much, but it all takes time.

One of my major tasks is to remove a very old, and extensive Vine. Its fruit hangs down in front of our covered terrace, and at this time of year attracts Hornets. Sadly, as beautiful and big as it is, it has to go. It will be replaced by a Wisteria which is already in waiting.

The fridges and freezer need to be emptied and cleaned, and all contents either eaten or disposed of. Nothing must remain that will 'go off' during our absence. All rubbish (and there's plenty of it) must be taken to the bins, and all the recycling taken to special receptacles.

And most importantly, Billy must have his pre-travel pill, and have it confirmed in his passport.

I really hate leaving here. It feels like having a part of me torn off without anaesthetic. It's the home I love the most, and after 50 years of residence in our village (and about 40 in this house) I'm being turfed out because silly people voted to leave the EU (although a part of me doesn't blame them).

What I must do now is make a list of tasks. Nothing must be omitted. Keys will have to be left in a secure spot, windows firmly closed, and outdoor water taps, etc, covered against frost. Everything must be LOCKED.

It's a really horrible feeling, and in many ways I can hardly wait until we hit the road for Blighty. Have it all done and over with!

I shall be very sorry to leave our peaceful little home, but equally excited to return to Busy-Brighton. The contrast is always intoxicating.

Thursday 24 August 2023

Help required.

I have shown these bowls before, back in 2011. However, I'm still looking for an answer, so I'm asking for your help yet again.

I would love to know what these bowls were made for. I'm sure they had a specific purpose; but what, I have no idea. Maybe you do?

They are quite small (just 17 cms in diameter), very solidly built, with a brown glaze inside, and an embossed yellow star peeping-up from the bottom. On the underneath is the number 163A, plus another small mark that could be a 'u' or an 'n'. They look to me as if they were designed to go into an oven, 

I bought them many years ago at a Boot Sale in the UK, but the seller had no idea what they were.

So, if anyone out there knows what they are, or can make an educated guess, I would love to hear from you.

I'm sure they have an interesting history.


Wednesday 23 August 2023

Oh, how I hate having photos taken.

Most of us hate being photographed; and I am no exception. We want photos that flatter, and that rarely happens.

So, who is this old codger? Some man pontificating! It caught me at a particular nanosecond that shows something about me that I suppose is reasonably typical.

If I analyse the photo, I seem half Greek philosopher, and half Victorian Tramp, with a glass of bubbly in hand. Typical of the 21st C bon viveur and wastrel that I am.

Of course, really I'm none of those things. I'm a very simple, fun-loving, gourmet, who lives on a tight budget, and makes the most of what little life offers.

However, I quite like this picture simply because I'm not squinting, I seem reasonably animated, and I'm probably 'holding forth' on some anti-woke subject after a couple of bottles of Canard Duchenne. It caught me off-hand, but in a way that I don't particularly mind. It looks opinionated, pedagogical, and authoritative. I also quite like the accidental composition; none of which can rightly be attributed to me. The only thing I do recognise is my age. The person in the photo certainly looks 77; if not a lot older.

And here (above) is Great Grandfather Magnon, looking not dis-similar to moi. Our genetic link can clearly be seen. I wonder what he thought of his portrait (which he posed for), and I wonder what he would have thought of mine (which wasn't posed for)? I also wonder how old he was when it was taken; my age maybe? He does rather look like a grim bible-thumping 'minister'.

Rarely do we like photos of ourselves, but I'll let this one stay. What I really don't like are posed pictures where the sitter is half-smiling towards the camera, with a silly awkward look on his/her face. 'Photographers' who say "Look at me" have got it wrong; action shots are always best.

Nice Photo of Me © Kimbo Magnon. 


Tuesday 22 August 2023


Some might wonder why I've had to erect a new home for Rory, well here is the answer.

It started off as an old disused Tobacco drying barn, then more recently was used for rearing Geese; up to around the year 2000. It really didn't have a lot going for it. Everything had to be replaced from roof to floor, from the exterior boarding to the interior walls. There was no water or electricity; we had to start from scratch. Only the skeleton was retained.

My planning application went through quite easily, and my design was accepted without any annoying recommendations. It was just a matter of getting down to work. This was back in 2010.

Once the whole roof had been replaced, and a concrete screed laid on the ground floor, I built, plastered, and insulated all the interior walls. I took my time and did what I think was a pretty good job. The usable space was huge and everything came together beautifully.

The lower cross beams were all replaced with good strong timbers, and the upstairs floor laid. A chippy was brought-in to build the staircase, and it soon began to look like a real home.

The kitchen was fitted and a very comprehensive 'eco' heating system installed. Solar panels were fitted to the roof and a wood-fired cooker complimented the system for Winter. With the 'rather excessive' insulation I'd installed behind all the interior walls, the house wasn't difficult to keep warm. The radiators were hardly ever used. Floor tiles were laid downstairs, and eventually all the exterior cladding was removed and replaced, and it looked fabulous.

Once furnished and decorated the house really was lovely. I would happily have lived there myself. There was plenty of land, an orchard, room for a veg' patch, and there was even a Chicken coop. In fact I would say that the house provided just about everything that one could ever have needed (other than a pool), and all in perfectly tranquil countryside. There was even a large area of 'barn' for storage.

So, it's rather sad to see it go, but it has now been sold. Our youngest (to whom we had given the original old Sechoir) has decided that it's not for him. He has just built a fabulous Villa on an island off Thailand, and I can see the appeal over rural France; even though he was born here.

We were going to give him our cottage as well, so that he could have had a holiday rental income for life, but that would now be pointless so we'll probably sell this too in a few years time. We're getting old, and someone else can enjoy it. We'll spend the money on ourselves instead.

One never knows what's around the corner, and one must expect any eventualities. I shall have a lot less mowing and gardening to do in future, but I shall miss knowing that the barn is 'ours'. All that work I did will now belong to someone else, and all I can hope is that the new owner enjoys it as much as we did. I hope he's an experienced gardener too!

I often wonder if I was to start the project again from scratch, would I do anything differently. I don't think I would; I wanted to add a long open 3 section barn/auvent/garage coming at right-angles from the far left hand side, but we never got around to it.

Mostly I'm sorry that Boo Boo and The Cherub will never stay there again. It was so nice having them come down every morning to see 'Grumsy'. She cooked for them, baked with them, and played endless games with them! Ah well.....

Monday 21 August 2023

Rory's new home.

I have taken advantage of the presence of Kimbo and his boys to erect this poly-tunnel.

It will house 'Rory' my mower, for the gardener to use during our absence.

We didn't make any glaring mistakes during its construction (regardless of the Chinese instructions) and the whole thing was built within about an hour or so. It seems quite solid, and is much bigger than I'd imagined; 4.50 by 2 Metres.

I've added a black plastic floor, so the whole thing should be perfectly water-tight. I've also put a few very heavy blocks on the 'flaps' that surround the base, and am keeping my fingers crossed that it doesn't blow away.

Cost?.... A remarkably low €107.... 

I left the orange petrol can in there for a while, and with the crazy heat we're having at the moment it almost exploded. When I released the cap it deflated with a huge sigh of relief. I won't do that again!


Sunday 20 August 2023

A Sunday Special: How are things in England Cro?

Well, I hear that it's not really going too well at the moment. It's the 'Silly Season' and folk are hot under the collar and discontented.

We are constantly hearing that many children are not bothering to go to school any more. Since the Covid lockdown hanging around at home, or on the streets, is preferable to actually learning anything, or looking to any future careers. Many of them even make good money by selling things (ahem!!!) As long as you have a Smart Phone, you can get by quite well. No-one harasses you; not even the police.

Of course many of these absconding, or even expelled, children spend much of their time looking at such online sites as TikTok, where incitement to mass disobedience is common. A recent call to go shoplifting en masse in Oxford Street is a good example (below). Only 9 people were arrested, but the police say they are 'looking for more'; oh yeah! All much more fun, and profitable than going to school; unless you're unfortunate enough to be amongst the arrestees; like the young lad below (wasn't me gov; honest!). I now hear that Oxford Street, which used to be the jewel in the crown of London shopping, has almost become a crime, and rough sleeping no-go area.

And another thing, do make sure you don't get ill in the UK at the moment. You never know if there'll be any working doctors around. They're on strike again adding to the massive build-up of patients waiting for treatment and/or operations; the very thing they're complaining about. The little darlings say their £140,000 pa salary simply isn't enough and they want a further £35,000. Even the student doctors want more than their current pay of £33.000. I'm not sure who else is on strike at the moment, but state school teachers (only in term-time, of course), train drivers, and others are all jumping on the political bandwagon.

PM Rishi Sunak keeps going on about how desperately he wants to stop the boats bringing illegal immigrants from France over to England, but without too much success. The UK has already given France over £200 Million to help stop the crossings, but France (of course) doesn't want them either. If the Border Control folk keep picking them up mid-channel, and bringing them over, there's not much chance of stopping them; is there Rishi!

Of course once in England they need to be housed, fed, given spending money, and offered access to doctors (if they can find any who aren't on strike), and lawyers, etc; exactly as happens in France. Some were to be housed in a huge floating hotel in Portland Dorset; the craft had been specially refurbished for the illegal immigrants (nice comfy carpets, new restaurant, doctor's surgery, citizen's advice centre, etc).

Many of the new arrivals said they really didn't want to stay there; they preferred a 5 star land based hotel. On hearing this one government minister (Lee Anderson) said 'if they don't like it they can f*ck off back to France'. The lovie supporters of the illegals didn't like this one bit; but 99.99% of the population of course agreed with him. We now hear that they've conveniently found 'Legionnaire's Disease' on board, so I imagine the whole project has been put on hold until they've poured a bottle of Dettol down the sink.

With calm Summer water in the channel we can expect many more boats arriving daily on our shores. 

Food prices are rising, rents are rising, mortgage rates are rising, blood-pressures are rising, and I quite expect the price of tattoos is also rising. Meanwhile more and more people are desperate to get to the UK, one way or another. 

It is reported that the UK has come 3rd in the 'European pothole stakes'. Only Ireland and Italy have worse roads than England. There are simply far too many people using far too many vehicles, and no-one is repairing the damage.

It all sounds a bit chaotic. However, I expect when we return we'll find everything to be 'normal'. People do love to exaggerate. But who knows; we may all soon be eating grass and nettles, and camping outside Waitrose.

Saturday 19 August 2023

The new BBQ

The old BBQ was rubbish; it just didn't seem to get hot enough.

So, we decided we needed a new one. The 'net' was consulted and several BBQ's were considered, but I really didn't want to spend lots of money on something we could easily make ourselves. 

The Fire Pit was doing nothing most of the time so it was called upon to take part.

Next we needed some metal rods to span the diameter, and some old bits from ex-ovens, old BBQ's, etc, that were hanging around. Kimbo wired it all together, and Voila!

It must be noted that when Kimbo is with us, he does like to eat MEAT. Big steaks, enough to feed an army, are thrown onto the fire, and consumed with huge passion.

We really needed a BBQ that would get very hot, and cook plenty of steak (or magrets) in about 4 mins. This fills the brief. And no, he didn't burn the magrets.

The other advantage with our new construction is that after cooking, the grill can be taken off and a few big logs put on for a pleasing fire (as if we need one in this heat).


Friday 18 August 2023


So, here is the new French 'obligatory' anti-pollution sticker gizmo in situ. It arrived with yesterday's post.

It is bigger than I'd imagined, and has to be situated on the lower right hand side of your windscreen.

It looks rather like the old UK Tax Discs we all had in our cars.

I also now have one of those super gizmos fixed to the middle top of the windscreen, behind the dots by the rear-view-mirror. It allows me to go through the motorway Péage gates without having to stop to force money into a machine (and usually all over the ground) every time I leave a new section of pay-up-or-be-shot road.

You simply go through any gate that has a big T above it, the gizmo sends a signal, and the barrier automatically lifts to allow you through. What a wonderful thing; it will reduce my blood pressure no end. Merci Kimbo; yet again a hero.

I'm beginning to feel very moderne. Of course neither of these gizmos will be of any use back in Blighty.

Thursday 17 August 2023

A bit of nostalgia.

We don't often get to use these large serving dishes; they are reserved for when we are 6 or more around the table. 

Many years ago I used to buy these very simple, tin glazed, peasant-ware dishes, as often as I could. I somehow knew they would disappear as being 'unfashionable', so I bought lots. These days they are a rarity at antique or boot sales, and demand good prices.

We used the two above last night; one to hold a large pile of roasted Chicken, the other to contain roasted potatoes and green beans. They have an almost medieval simplicity about them; especially when piled high with good food.

They always remind me of my lovely neighbour Madame D (now sadly departed), who would load a table with lots of them, all groaning with beautifully prepared dishes. Madame D was a classic Perigordian peasant cook. Nothing gave her more pleasure than seeing people enjoy what she had lovingly prepared. She would serve plates of Confit, Sausages, two different styles of Chicken, and green Beans, along with salads tomatoes and whatever was fresh in the garden. She taught me so much about traditional local cuisine, preserving, and so much more. I still occasionally think how I would love to ask her advice about something or other.

Those days have now gone; along with Madame D. So much has changed since she was my next door neighbour. Kitchen technology has certainly advanced, the fruit and vegs in the shops are now far more exotic, and 'convenience' now dominates all aspects of cooking. The standard of French home cooking (and restaurant cooking) has certainly decreased, whereas I think in the UK it has advanced considerably.

I myself no longer make my own paté, I no longer salt my own hams or bacon, and our fruit/jam production is very limited. I was extremely happy to use the above dishes again, they remind me of better times, of wonderful occasions, and of many lovely people.


Wednesday 16 August 2023

What is Summer without Melons!

The markets are full of Melons at the moment. I'm not talking Water Melons, but the more commonly grown Cantaloupe Melon; beloved of all Frenchmen/women.

Choosing the perfect Melon is not unlike choosing the perfect Avocado; you place yourself in the uncertain lap of the gods. So here is a guide that looks as simple to follow as any I've yet seen.

The little stem (if there is one) should be dried and browning, go for a fruit with an orangey mark up by the stem, female Melons can be sweeter than the males and are usually rounder, and lastly it's back to that orangey mark again which should indicate sweetness.

I don't eat too many Cantaloupes, I find their flavour a tad overpowering. Personally I prefer a seedless Water Melon which should be simply cool and refreshing. And much easier to assess ripeness.

I have also heard that slices of Water Melons can be FRIED, making an almost Steak-like dish; or Tuna-like dish. I really must try that.


Tuesday 15 August 2023

All Guests are Welcome, but some are more Welcome than others!


I should have known that Kimbo would bring me something special from Blighty; and he did.

I'm a simple lad, with simple tastes. A bag of Maynards Wine Gums, a pot of Colmans Mustard Powder, or a pukka Melton Mowbray Pork Pie (especially a large one), has my eternal gratitude. It's all well and good knowing that Pork Pies will soon be within easy shopping range, but after nearly three months away from England, one's yearnings become almost overpowering.

I think I may have mentioned previously, but a good Pork Pie is one of the better gastronomic delights of England. A simple hot water crust pastry, with a lightly seasoned Pork filling, and some jelly, and you have a totally delightful treat for a picnic at Henley, a garden party at Buck House, or even a simple lunch down on the farm.

It is a treat without class; as welcome in a hamper in the Royce, as on a hay filled trailer behind a coughing Summer farm tractor. Pork Pie is a social leveller, and a treat for both Prince and Pauper. And it can be washed-down with just about anything, Champagne or cider; nothing is beyond its capabilities.

I think I can guarantee that when her late Majesty The Queen invited her family for an al fresco repast at Balmoral, it would have included a good Pork Pie, just as a wandering homeless vagabond would make one his special treat, once he had put together enough sixpences to afford a good meal.

Thank you darling. I shall buy you a pint at The Caxton when I return! 

Monday 14 August 2023

10cc - I'm Not In Love

This Manchester (Stockport) based band were a highly-talented group of musicians from the 1970's.

I must admit that I really don't know a huge amount about them, but this particular song is probably their best. A beautifully crafted song (but with an unnecessarily slow instrumental break in the middle) it has a timeless quality, and an eerie beauty. 

Eric Stewart (the singer) wrote the song after his wife complained that he didn't tell her that he loved her any more.

Sunday 13 August 2023

Early morning duties.

I remember when I was about 14 (1960-ish), we went on holiday to the then exotic island of Majorca. We stayed in a village resort on the North West coast called Port de Soller.

I've always been an early riser, and I used to meet-up with the hotel's handy man on most mornings; I think his name was Emanuel. He was a man of 'small stature' (dwarf), and would always be either sweeping around the pool, or cleaning the pool itself. Like me he would wear just a pair of shorts, and I remember clearly thinking that he had the very best job in the world.

I now do much the same as Emanuel every couple of days. After having done all my early morning computery stuff, I go to the pool to sweep and 'Hoover'. That long pole sticking out of the water on the right is the pool's vacuum cleaner, for cleaning the bottom.

At about 7-ish, it is still acceptably cool outside (17 C today), and wearing just my shorts I spend about 30 mins cleaning. The sun is just rising, and there are still a few clouds in the sky, it is totally silent, and my only companions are a handful of Starlings stretching their wings.

I like to think that Emanuel felt exactly the same as I do today. Performing an essential job, in peace and quiet, and left to his own thoughts.

Now that all is done, and I've written this, I shall go to prepare a Chicken Tagine for tonight's Couscous supper.

Life is OK.


Saturday 12 August 2023

Apples anyone?

Our very big Bramley Apple Tree has yet again produced a huge crop of fruit, much of which is already on the ground. This village needs someone with a big apple press, where we could all take our crops for juice.

The tree grows just behind the pool's Pump House, and had become a tad unruly over the past few years. In fact it had begun to grow back over the roof again, and even out towards the pool itself. It had to be seriously pruned. 

The last thing I want is for hundreds of apples and leaves to fall onto the pool's winter cover, so some quite hefty branches needed to come down. I used my son's electric chainsaw for the job as it was more practical, and it did the job very well. It's the first time I'd used an electric.

I still have quite a bit of aesthetic tidying-up to do, but the main work is done; it took me two days.

Bramleys are the world's best cooking apple. They have a flavour like no other. Unfortunately they are also huge croppers, and the waste is terrible. There is nothing to compare with a blackberry-n-apple crumble made with Bramleys. 

They would also make a wonderful dry cider.

Friday 11 August 2023

ULEZ with Frog's Legs. Be Warned!

Just a couple of days ago I heard that a French equivalent of ULEZ exists (ZFE-m), and that we are all (including all foreign cars) now required to show a small certificate in the car front window saying how much pollution we are causing (if any). Failure to show such a certificate (in certain towns/cities) will result in a hefty fine of £154. Rouen is one such town, through which we always travel, so best be prepared. The system will soon be France-wide, so no escaping it in the near future.

The little purple sticker (see below) will be read by machines (AI ?) and will show no mercy.

Filling-in the online application form was no big deal, and a paltry sum of €3.72 (about £3.50) was demanded.

I already knew that Debi (The Compact Royce Mk 2) was non-polluting, as I'd checked back in the UK for ULEZ, and as a result I shall be able to drive anywhere in France without being 'fined' a bloody fortune. 

So, if you're thinking of driving down to The Med', be prepared. Ignorance is no excuse; even if we like to think it is. I haven't yet received my actual sticker, but they did send me the above by Email which I can print-off, and which will be accepted in case of need.

Thursday 10 August 2023


Dried Figs and Prunes have a pretty bad press. They are associated with constipation and nasty school 'puds'.

However, I am a real fan of both. Not the nasty dried-up, chewy, tasteless, wrinkly, lumps that we knew as children, but the soft and delicious fruits that are produced by farms, and specialist companies, hereabouts. The 'stoned' Prunes simply melt in your mouth, and the Figs have the most wonderful flavour.  

The town of Agen is well known for its Prunes, and if you should see them on sale, go for the mi-cuit (half cooked) variety with the stones removed. They are simply wonderful. As for the Figs, just go for any that say they are soft, and not dried-up like bullets.

I always have packs in the fridge, and eat them as an alternative to sweets. No sugar, no chemicals, and they're probably good for you too.


Wednesday 9 August 2023

Window cleaning

When you don't live in a house for a while, things eventually need serious cleaning. Luckily we have large 'eazy-kleen'  plate-glass windows on the front of the house, but there are still a few of the old-fashioned small-pane windows around that need old-fashioned cleaning treatment.

It's easier just to take them off their hinges, and wash them outdoors with hot soapy water, and a sponge. They dried very quickly in the sun, and the whole operation took me no more than 15 mins.

Now that they're back in place I might even give them a light coat of Linseed oil. They'll look like new again.

We have guests arriving next week, so a certain amount of deep-cleaning is required. 

These windows came from the bathroom.


Tuesday 8 August 2023

What's in your car?


I'm not obsessed with cars, I just happen to have posted a few car-related topics recently. When I recently mentioned my 'car knife', it made me wonder what else is in there. I went to look.

I knew about most things, but was surprised by others. These are just from my door compartment; I didn't look in the actual 'glove box' itself, although I do know there's a bog-roll in there, a tiny Teddy Bear, a pack of 'wet-wipes', and a first-aid kit.

There is, of course, the inevitable road map, complete with my own hand written directions, two packs of Polo mints (one sugar free), a pack of Tic Tac mints, hand sanitiser, a horrible pink comb, a pack of dog food in case of finding strays, a cheap imitation Swiss army knife, deodorant, and a handy note pad but no pen (this will be rectified).

I've owned this car (Debi) for less than a year, so she hasn't yet had time to build-up that collection of totally unnecessary junk that all cars amass in time; small coins, half-eaten sandwiches, petrol receipts, etc. 

In the back, there are a few basic tools, string, umbrella, dog water bowl, 2 large plastic boxes for shopping, and a cool box. 

A car should be a home away from home. One needs to be ready for all occasions, and all needs. Imagine finding some young animal tangled in string, and you didn't have a car-knife with you; you'd kick yourself.

I think one of those single-use foil BBQ's would also be useful, but I think Lady M might have something to say about that! Oh, and another thing, a LIGHTER...... and a TORCH.

Monday 7 August 2023

Lady M's Magnificent Parmesan Biscuits.

She hasn't made any of these for a while, so I'm hoping that posting this photo will encourage Lady Magnon to make some more. They are too delicious not to spoil oneself.

The recipe originally came from our good friend Julie, wife of artist Simon Fletcher, so really they should be called 'Julie's Biscuits'. They contain very few ingredients, and are very simple to make. Once a first lot have been made and consumed, the spices can be altered to taste.

Take 100 gms each of Butter, Flour, and grated Parmesan cheese (not ready grated, this must be the real thing),  ¼ tsp Chilli powder, and 1 tsp of Cumin seeds (do not add salt). Whizz briefly in machine to form a ball then refrigerate for a couple of hours. Roll out, and cut into small biscuit shapes. Bake for about 10 mins, watching carefully that they don't burn. (I hope this is correct)

I suggest making lots, because they go VERY quickly. These are SERIOULY delicious. Even writing about them has made me hungry.


Sunday 6 August 2023

Pukka Tomatoes.

I don't want my Tomatoes to be perfect, all one colour and attached to one single stem, plucked from a 20 acre glasshouse, and unblemished. I want them to show signs of sunburn, of wind and rain, and of having led a rugged outdoor life. I want them to have battled the elements, and developed flavours that their indoor cousins could never imagine.

Preferably I want them to come from my own garden, but I'm extremely happy, and grateful, to pick them elsewhere. I would also like them to be of different varieties, and 'free'; but who wouldn't.

But mostly I want them to taste of Summer. I want them to play a major part in my Summer diet. I want to see a bowl-full on my kitchen table for as long as the plants continue to fruit. I want to eat them every day, and say 'Mmmmmm' at every mouthful.

When the Tomato was first introduced into Europe in around 1550, the Italians wisely named them Pomodoro. They knew what they were talking about! 


Saturday 5 August 2023

Happy Birthday Father.


Other than Christmas day, and my own birthday, the day I never forget is that of my father's birthday; August 5th.

I think quite often of my late father. He was a very generous man. Anyone who had shown him any type of special service during the year would always receive a bottle of good Whisky or a case of some nice red wine at Christmas, and his staff would always be given a generous envelope bonus along with their wages. 

I don't know a great deal about his own family life. I don't think he liked his mother too much (I'm sure I remember him calling her a 'hateful woman'), and his older brother became something of a playboy. But he didn't let anything of this affect his life. He and his brother were both privately educated, neither went on to university but father did study accountancy to a certain level before going to work in the accounts dep't of a Textiles Co (Morley's) in the city of London. They manufactured everything from woollen blankets to gloves and vests. At that time the name Morley's was synonymous with the highest quality products. He later went his own way in various businesses.

Father was born in 1905. His great loves were long walks with his best friend and 'best man' my Uncle John, hill climbing, and the Stock Exchange. He didn't like sandy beaches, and was far happier up a freezing cold glacier in Austria or Switzerland than he ever would have been in a beach bar in Ibiza.

He offered me a very good life. We never lacked anything as children, but I don't think we asked for too much either. I like to think I've followed his example of being kind and generous, but I know that I could never match his example.

He also had a social conscience. He was a parish and county councillor, and was head hunted by Geoffrey Johnson-Smith to become a Conservative MP; which he declined causing a huge row. I remember hearing a lot of shouting from the upstairs landing! I seem to remember that he would only stand as an 'Independent Conservative', as he didn't agree with all Tory policies. Either Ted Heath or Sir Alec Douglas-Home was PM at the time, and Johnson-Smith was the MP for nearby East Grinstead.

Father was diabetic, and he probably enjoyed his Whisky rather too much. The poor chap ended up as a double amputee. He never complained.

He would have been 118 years old. RIP. 

Friday 4 August 2023


It's BBQ and Pizza season. Of the two I much prefer to throw a few steaks, chops, or sausages, on the BBQ, but I'm not averse to making pizzas on occasions.

Pizzas always look much nicer than they really are. More often than not I find them uninteresting. This is one that I made yesterday, and was a case in point. It looked absolutely delicious, but fell slightly short; a tad too much Tomato.

I think too much fuss is made of pizzas. Personally I would rather eat a Pork chop than a Pizza, but at this time of year Pizzas are almost obligatory.

I never make my own bases; life's too short. Usually I firstly spread green Pesto on the shop-bought base before building-up with the Tomatoes, Mozzarella, Anchovies, Olives, etc. But for the one here I used a Tomato Passata base and it became all too Tomatoey (the salad was home-grown).

I am often amazed by young women in supermarkets who buy piles of ready-made, cheap-looking, boxed Pizzas; presumably to feed their children. No doubt this is done as a labour-saving exercise. In fact there is nothing more simple than making your own (as long as you buy ready made Pizza dough bases). About 5 mins preparation, and 20 mins in the oven, and Bob e 'tuo zio.

Everyone has a favourite Pizza topping, and mine starts with green Pesto. If you've never tried it; do so. It gives the finished product an altogether different balance. A thin layer of Pesto, sliced Tomatoes, Mozzarella, Anchovies, and a few black Olives. That's it. No toppings of Pineapple chunks or Mars bar slices for me.

I do like Pizzas (especially my own), however, I'd still prefer a juicy steak or Pork chop. 


Thursday 3 August 2023

Does your car have a name?

My last car to have a name was an Orange Renault 4 called Gina. She was named after the French fizzy Orange pulp drink called Orangina. I have always liked Orangina; in the bad old days, after a few too many sherbets it was the best hangover cure imaginable. A litre of very cold Orangina and one was back to fighting fit almost instantly. I soon had Gina re-sprayed beige, but the name remained.

With the current Compact Royce Mark 2, I hadn't considered giving her a name, but recently I saw that she was telling me in no uncertain terms that she did indeed already have a name; and that she was called Debi.

I think her name suits her. She/He's certainly not a Jim or a Fauntleroy, nor is she/he a Camilla Veronica or Barbie. Debi sounds reliable, compact, economical, and comforting. She is not to be messed with either; her exterior dark mean looks hide a soft and relaxed interior.

Yes, Debi it is.  

Wednesday 2 August 2023

Some things that I really enjoy.

I was on my way home from the supermarket the other morning, and thought to myself that driving slowly through the peaceful French countryside, windows down, sunlight breaking through the trees, and with the temperature just beginning to rise above 20 C, was just about the most luxurious thing I could imagine doing. The car was filled with delicious things I'd just bought, the distinctive aroma of the French countryside was wafting through the car, and everything seemed perfect.

Previously at the store, in the queue for the check-out, I'd had a conversation with a woman about pool chemicals, and thought to myself how satisfying it is to be able to speak two very different languages fluently. 

Like most men in Summer, I love to cook on the BBQ. I suppose it makes us feel like a cave-man back from the hunt; slapping lumps of Mammoth meat on an open fire, which I did last night (it was actually Lamb). Very satisfying.

Another thing that I find hugely enjoyable out here in France is mushroom hunting. Heading off to the woods early in the morning, with the anticipation of a good haul, is such a pleasure. Finding that haul is even more so. It's one of the things I really look forward to when we return to our little home. It was pouring yesterday morning (below), so another crop of Girolles is almost assured; maybe even a few Cèpes in 10 days time.

But amongst all pleasures there are often disappointments. Eating out in France used to be wonderful. Almost every restaurant one visited was excellent; they dared not offer poor quality cooking; they wouldn't have lasted a week. These days things are very different, and finding a really good traditional restaurant isn't easy. However, we do still have one nearby and we frequent it as often as possible. We went for my recent birthday.

I'm not one for smothering myself in oils and lying in the sun. I prefer to be busy, or swimming, or taking Billy for a walk. Billy is another thing to add to my list of pleasures. I've loved all my dogs, and they've all had very different characters. Billy is slightly aloof, very independent, and not really very interested in food. I've been trying to train him to come to me when I call him, but without any interest in 'treats', it's not working too well. At the moment when we call him he runs in the opposite direction. I suppose I'll just have to accept him as he is. He's a lovely boy, regardless.

I really enjoy shopping in France. I go twice a week; more for the pleasure than necessity; but I like to buy 'fresh'. The deli counter in my big nearby Leclerc is superb, the fish counter is wonderful, and the fruit and veg' section has absolutely everything I could possibly want. The foreign food shelves are perhaps a little lacking, but in the UK we're so spoilt for choice that it makes the Leclerc lacklustre offerings seem quite grim; however, they do sell Patak's Mango chutney. Good quality wine is just under €10 for 5 litres. You can imagine why I enjoy it so much.

But most of all what I enjoy is the silence of our ancient, 300 year old, home. Being by ourselves in the cottage, out for a walk, or even pottering about in the garden is what we enjoy the most. This is not to say that we don't enjoy the company of others, we do; but I suppose we simply love peace and quiet.

Tuesday 1 August 2023

Thirty-nine dogs jump into a pool

If you run a day-care centre for Labradors (and some others), and you have a pool for their use, this is what happens.

With our own Lab' Monty (see sidebar), if we took him to a lake or river, he would desperately try to claw his way out of the car to get into the water. Then getting him out again and back into the car could take hours.

I can't remember but Monty must have been banned from around our pool, otherwise it would have been instantly shredded had he found a way in. He lived for just two things; eating and swimming. A bit like me!

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