Saturday, 31 July 2010

Webley

I'd almost forgotten about this small air pistol of mine; it's been languishing at the back of a drawer for yonks.

I bought this Webley Premier .22 at an isolated garage in mid-Wales back in the early 1980's. I'd just filled up with petrol and was paying the man, when I spotted three identical pistols inside a glass cabinet, each had a large brown price tag attached. A friend of mine had owned one when we were boys, and I'd always coveted it.

The one above was in slightly better condition than the other two, and slightly more expensive. Anyway, on a whim, I bought it.

It's basically a very solid and heavy air pistol. Great fun to use, and very accurate. It was probably made in the late 50's or early 60's, and is still going strong... Tin cans beware! Posted by Picasa

Friday, 30 July 2010

Smokin'.

I was just looking at a photo that I posted on 26. 7. 10. and noticed that an Australian guy at the end of our table was smoking. Amongst the aprox' 300 diners, I noticed only two who smoked.

I have nothing against those who wish to smoke (I myself devoted many years to the practice), but here in La France Profonde it has all but died out, and now, when one sees someone smoking, it's almost like looking into the past.

Both Lady Magnon and I used to smoke, and in the late 90's we both decided to quit. Lady M used 'The Crochet Method'; every time she felt the urge she'd crochet a skull-cap instead. She now has a box-full in assorted colours. Personally I went for the slightly easier 'Scottish Method'; I simply didn't buy any cigarettes.... No fags, no smoking.

A simple calculation tells me that since quitting; between us, we've saved well over £20,000.

So, if you're a smoker, enjoy your smoking (like Barry), and if you're trying to quit, then try my method.

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Thursday, 29 July 2010

Greengage Summer.

My picture probably doesn't tell the entire story, but the Greengage tree in front of the cottage is audibly groaning with fruit. The branches, which normally point skywards, are now nearly touching the ground; some have already broken off.

The Greengage is a curious fruit; when fully ripe it is far too sweet for even foolhardy cherubim to consume, but catch it just right (semi-ripe) and it's delicious.

The problem is, what do we do with all these plums. We've been thinking of taking them to a secret location to make Eau de Vie, but here there are problems. Firstly I don't drink spirits, and secondly the secret location is so secret that.....


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Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Auvent.

Which is the most important room in your house or apartment?

Here there is no need to contemplate, it's the 'auvent'. A covered terrace that keeps out both the worst of the mid-day sun, and the occasional evening storm. Ours is fine against the sun, but still needs a little work to cope with serious deluge.

For several months each year, we eat outside. At lunchtime if it's not too hot we tend to eat on an open terrace beneath a large parasol, but when it's over 25 C we are always to be found inside our leafy 'auvent'.

p.s. The two small palm tree candlesticks on the table come from Marrakech. Morocco is a cautious country; you can't buy their currency beyond their borders, and you're not allowed to take any away with you when you leave. Usually I simply hand out what's left to worthy looking beggars before taking a taxi to the airport, but on my last visit I saw these in a small shop and emptied my pockets in exchange. I think I gave the man more than he was asking (a first?). I rather like them.

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Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Evacuation?

If you haven't seen the fim version of 'Goodnight Mr Tom', starring John Thaw as Tom and Nick Robinson as the boy William, then you should do so at once.

The film tells the tale of an evacuee during the second world war. I shall say no more; other than you will need a box of tissues. I get quite upset even looking at the picture above!

My parents took in an evacuee. He was with them in their small Surrey village (Lingfield) for most of the war. One day he returned to his parents, and was never heard from again; my mother was, quite understandably, very upset; the boy had become one of the family.

After my father died I sent quite a few old 'local history' photos back to Lingfield's archivist; a Mrs Margaret Whiting. She wrote back to thank me, and mentioned, in passing, that she too had been evacuated to my parents, until her own parents had quit London and decided to settle in Lingfield themselves. I'd had no idea.

I asked Mrs Whiting if she remembered the boy who had been with my parents, but it seems he had gone by the time she'd arrived. I also (rather cheekily) asked her if she'd been well looked after; she was able to confirm that she had.

N.B. Just in case anyone out there does not know about 'Evacuees', they were children sent out from London to avoid the bombing raids during the last war. Some were mistreated, some were used as unpaid labourers, but mostly they were well looked after by decent families (such as my own).

Monday, 26 July 2010

And It Continues....

This particular fete was at a village (Pomarede) which is about 10 miles from us; we've been going for the past 37 years, as we have several friends there.

It was a beautifully warm evening, and we dined on grilled lamb to the sound of accordion music (as one would). All the children danced whilst we ate, and the festivities went on late into the night.

One of the real pleasures of this fete is that we are served at table by volunteers from the village, and it would be difficult to find a more pleasant and attentive group of 'waiters'. The wine flowed, the lamb was perfectly cooked, and everything was plentiful.

I would like to thank our friends who hosted a pre-dinner drinks and nibbles get-together, as well as everyone involved in the evening's organisation. It was simply fabulous.

The two blonde heads at the bottom of the photo are junior dancing Magnons.


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Sunday, 25 July 2010

Some Sunday Souvenirs.

Being in the business, I've always encouraged my children to draw, paint, and sculpt, and I've kept just about everything they ever produced. Some of their efforts, however, are my real favourites, and I've chosen one piece by each of them to be permanently at my side.

The cricketer, above, was made from papier maché by my youngest son Wills. He entitled it 'My Brother' (his brother was a seriously good cricketer). I think I made the bat and stumps, but otherwise it was all his own work. I love it.

This Brighton beach pebble was painted by my daughter, Tenpin. The picture comes from a dust-cover book illustration, but I can't remember from which book. She's always, quite rightly, known as 'Miss Prim', and is my studio paper-weight.

My oldest son, Kimbo, drew this little portrait of his younger brother, Wills, and it looks just like him. Even his hair was exactly like that at the time. Kimbo always had a natural talent for drawing, and never minded leaving 'construction' lines; a sophisticated touch. He often surprised me with his work. One series of drawings of a neighbour's Alsatian dog were quite remarkable; I still marvel at them today. I think the above has a slightly Kitaj/Hockney look about it. It measures about 2 by 3 inches.

All three works were produced when their creators were about 8 or 9.

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Saturday, 24 July 2010

Better Than Chess.

Last night, after a glass or two of Old Peculiar, my son instigated a game of 'Guess What's in my Pocket' (3 items).

Cro was first to guess, and suggested a concise map of Asia, a short piece of string, and a marble. Lady M came up with a dead grasshopper, a 20 centime coin, and fluff.

Actually we were both wrong. It contained a spent match, a pistachio nut, and an unknown object possibly made of paper (see above).

It's a good game; try it!

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Friday, 23 July 2010

Patience is a virtue.

Arms crossed, waiting patiently, Oscar sits by the kitchen door.

We've just returned from a short walk, but he wants me to take him somewhere where he can really stretch his stubby little legs. Possibly chase a deer even.

Oscar is the nicest dog I've encountered since my own dog, Hamlet, died over 30 years ago. If I believed in reincarnation I would swear it was he, come back to console.

Sadly he has now returned to his owner, Terry, but as she lives just a few hundred metres away, we'll keep in touch.

The saddest will be Harvey J and Ollie, my grandsons, who've overcome any fear they might have had of dogs, and have both, quite understably, fallen in love.
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Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Fuss-Pot.

This beautiful cow is a Montbeliard; a race that is slowly replacing the bog-standard, ugly, black and white, Holstein. However, my farming neighbour, Laurence, tells me that they have ONE major fault. When having their ear tags (or 'boucle d'oreilles', as she put it) installed, they make the most terrible fuss. They jump in the air, bellow like elephants, and make life extremely difficult for whoever is doing the job. Extra difficult for Laurence, as she is somewhat 'petite'.

No doubt in time, some clever effing boffin in a well hidden GM lab' will manage to eliminate this troublesome genetic fault, and she will become the perfectly placid cow.

I do wish they wouldn't cut their horns off; unless, of course, it's essential.

p.s. The farm in the background (damn that washing) was our FIRST house out here, which I bought in 1972 and sold in 1980. I really miss that barn, it was huge and cathedral-like! The photo above was taken just outside our present house.

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Tuesday, 20 July 2010

No title.

My skill as a watercolourist is sorely lacking. However, here is a little sketch of our village church door.

Very typical of a small French medieval country church doorway, the stonework is embellished with a heart, two 'pinacles', and a carved ball. These elements are usually the sculptor's trade marks, and on the facade of old barns one finds similar carvings on the key-stone above the main arched doorways.

Our church is a fine simple building which is naturally the focal point of the village. Everything happens either in it, beside it, or opposite it. I have even exhibited in it. Its original purpose is probably the only thing that is now mostly ignored. Ah, how times change.


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Monday, 19 July 2010

Back to mundanity: Plum Sauce.

These small red-fleshed plums grow in profusion on a couple of trees that I grew from pips, and I always make them into 'plum sauce'. My Aussie 'TV Star' gardening friend (Mary Moody) once called them Bird Plums, but other than that......


I wash them and pick out leaves, stems, earwigs, etc. Then stew them in just whatever water still clings; plus some sugar. They melt down in a matter of minutes ,and the resulting mush is passed through a seive with the aid of the back of a soup ladle.




The resulting sauce gets ladled into small plastic cups, covered with cling-film, and, when cool enough, popped into the freezer until required. I use the sauce for making BBQ sauce, Chinese style Sweet and Sour sauces, and simply to drizzle over fromage frais etc. Hey Presto; a year's supply in a matter of minutes (I only use a spoonful at a time).


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Sunday, 18 July 2010

The (very short) Sunday Story: Spooky, or what!

About a week ago, as I was driving home, I stopped to have a chat with a farmer friend. Then, as I walked back to the compact Royce, I suddenly recalled the name of a variety of dwarf haricot bean that I want to try in 2011. As I sat back in the driver's seat, and attached my belt, I asked Lady Magnon if she would remember the name 'TALISMAN' for me (I have a hopeless memory for such things). Instantly she turned a small pad towards me, on which she had already just written the word TALISMAN.

To say that I was shocked would be a serious understatement, especially as I don't really believe in such things as ESP. Lady Magnon, however, DOES.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

I, stranger?

Most people continue to live in the country in which they were born; I chose not to.

The word for 'foreigner' in French is 'étranger'; literally 'stranger'. But, having lived here for well over half my life (nearly 38 years), I'm certainly no stranger; even if I AM a foreigner.

When I first arrived I was desperate to fit-in. The last thing I wanted was to be seen as some peculiar foreigner who'd come to buy up the village. I even went as far as driving a blue 2CV (just like the one above) so that I wouldn't attract attention. When we arrived here we were the only English family around, and as such, something of a novelty.

Unfortunately fitting-in is also a state of mind, and my brain continues to tell me that I'm a foreigner. I am constantly aware that I'm in a foreign country; even when I take the dog for a walk (which is when I thought of writing this). It is extraordinary how imprinted 'foreign-ness' can be. But maybe that's just my inner-self reminding me of where I SOULD be.

I've written before about returning to my native Surrey village of Lingfield. Even though we left there when I was just 14, it still feels like 'home'. And I find it difficult to understand quite why.

Still, I'm very happy that I made my move. France is a wonderful country, full of all those life-style goodies that trendy Notting Hill-billies strive for. We live extremely well, and when the sun shines, life is pretty well perfect. But, of course, I'm still a bloody 'étranger', and always will be. Maybe I shouldn't worry about it.

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Friday, 16 July 2010

Now, this is serious!

Every Thursday evening in our village, we hold a 'Marché de Producteurs'; let's call it a mass picnic. What happens is this; local producers bring their wares to a field by the church, we buy whatever takes our fancy, and we all sit down to eat. Simple.

Last night we started with snails (delicious), then we ate freshly grilled duck breasts (wonderful), pork chops (very good), and salad. I seem to remember other delights being passed around, but they were mostly for the children. I'm not too good at estimating numbers, but last night we were probably around 250/300. The sun shone, we sat in the shade, and everyone had a great time.

Whoever came up with this idea deserves a medal. These 'mass picnics' are now a big part of many local village summers.
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Thursday, 15 July 2010

Carrots.

First you dig them up in Grumpy's garden (Haddock's).

Then you get Grumsy to wash them.

And now you sit down with your best friend and eat them.

PERFECT!


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Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Chemin party

We live in what's called a 'lieu dit'; literally a 'place called'. The best translation would be 'settlement'. It's just a group of houses out in the countryside, that somehow join with others to become a village. How the postman finds us all, I'll never know.

Anyway, last night we held our annual 'lieu dit' party. There were about 30 of us, plus dogs, plus children. My oldest son, Kimbo, had just flown over from Edinburgh with his wife (elbow bottom right) and his two lovely boys (Ollie right, between elbow and Kimbo), and didn't even have time to empty the hire car before being dragged off to eat.

This year we welcomed several new-comers. Two houses have recently been sold and this was our first opportunity to meet them all.

It was a perfect summer evening. Good food (we each brought our own), good wine, and good company. Even Lady Magnon (back to camera) behaved herself..... I, of course, didn't.

To all Froggies, and would-be Froggies, out there, I wish you a happy Quatorze Juillet.

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Tuesday, 13 July 2010

If I Didn't Care - The Ink Spots

It's hot and sultry here, so what about a little close-harmony magic to help while away the afternoon.



Monday, 12 July 2010

Mid-July at Haddock's.

Vegetable gardening is all about 'expectation'. It's setting the seeds, planting out the seedlings, and waiting impatiently for the results. Along the way there are frustrations, battles with errant wildlife, and occasional disappoinments. But generally, if we do our work correctly, we are rewarded.

I love to see the baby peppers and aubergines emerge from their flowers, and the red cabbages begin to form heads. But one still needs to be vigilant, an infestation can be just around the corner, or weeds can be ignored in favour of the harvest.

Already, everything we eat comes fresh from Haddock's, and there's now no reason to buy any fruit or veg' until spring 2011; unless I have a sudden craving for bananas or pineapples.

I've lived like this for most of my life. My parents were wise enough to always have good fruit and veg' gardens, with chickens, bantams, and ducks thrown in for good measure. I thank them for having given me the desire to do likewise!
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Sunday, 11 July 2010

Warning.

If, like me, you made Elderflower Champagne this year, be warned; we're getting into danger territory. With all the recent hot weather the fermentation has speeded up, and we had our first explosion today. Get your bottles into a safe zone asap. Or better still, drink it asap.

The Sunday Story: The Embarrassed Headmaster.

You'll be pleased to hear that this is the LAST of my school-day memoirs.

Above is an arial photo of my old prep' school (6 to 14). The school is now closed, but in it's hey-day was a pretty classic school of its type. Set amongst the beautiful Sussex weald, it even boasted a magnificent cricket pitch, that had been specially laid down for the visiting South African test teams.

These schools were found all over southern England and elsewhere, but especially in Surrey, Sussex, and Hampshire. The word 'Preparitory' meaning that pupils were 'prepared' for both the rigours of the dreaded 'Common Entrance' exam, that hopefully gave access to one's upper school, and also to the extremely tough life ahead, under the liberal use of canes by sadistic Flashman-style 'prefects'.

I was beaten rather a lot at The Abbey. School rules, as silly as they may seem to outsiders, were to be broken at peril, and beating was the normal punishment for even the slightest infringement. Whacker-in-chief was a Mr FRITH; joint owner of the school. He was also my classics teacher, and, I must say, a very good one.

At the age of about 24 I met up again with my old tormentor, by chance, whilst I was temporarily teaching at a Sussex Preparitory School (just before my leaving for France). The Abbey, by this time, had closed down, and FRITH had returned to being just an ordinary teacher (no different to me) at another prep' school. He had accompanied his school Cricket team to play against the one where I was teaching.

I spoke to him all too briefly, and couldn't help noticing that he was extremely uncomfortable in my presence. He looked as if he was expecting me to punch him on the nose at any moment, and he scampered away looking very sheepish. I suppose the moral to this tale is that one should never do things that one would be ashamed of in later life. Strangely, I felt rather sorry for poor old FRITH; his world had fallen apart, and the likes of me had finally become his equal. No wonder he scuttled off so quickly with his tail between his legs.
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Saturday, 10 July 2010

Lascaux fiasco?





The magnificent caves at Lascaux (just to the north of where I live) were discovered in September 1940 by four teenage boys, Marcel Ravidat, Jaques Marsal, Georges Agnel, and Simon Coencas; as well as Marcel's dog 'Robot'.
Now; imagine that you'd been around 17,000 years ago, and you'd been invited to a shin-dig at the Lascaux 'artists colony'. I reckon you'd have been impressed enough with the décor to try to reproduce something of its glory in your own cave; n'est pas? I certainly would have!
And, of course, that WAS the case. Smaller, less flamboyant, painted caves are still being discovered to this day. Recently, in a village not five miles from our house, yet another was discovered and on account of the problems encountered at Lascaux, was immediately closed up again under a shroud of secrecy.
Who knows how many others are still to be found. How many more 'Robots' will force themselves through tiny openings to discover 'wonderous things'. How many are already known of, but their wary owners keep quiet.
Stories abound in southern England of farm labourers ploughing up pieces of Roman mosiac, only to be told by the boss to 'keep ploughing, and keep your mouth SHUT'. It's OK for some government dep't to commandeer a few acres of someone-else's land, but if it's YOURS; the idea may not be quite so appealing!
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Friday, 9 July 2010

Pomegranates.


There are two basic types of pomegranate trees; one that just flowers, and the other that makes fruit. They both look pretty much the same, and actually have the same flowers. So why just have the flowering type?

I had a friend nearby who had a well established tree by his pool that was always covered with fruits; and I WANTED ONE TOO.

A visit to my local Garden Centre proved instantly successful, and I was promised that the one I had chosen was, without question, of the 'fruiting' variety.

IT WASN'T.

On hearing my story about three years later, my friend with the established tree simply pulled off a couple of small branches, and instructed me to just 'stick them in the ground'.

They are all in flower at the moment (not my favourite colour, but....), and I've never seen them quite so covered.

Sadly, the fruits are not edible. The word 'sour', doesn't even come close! I just like the idea of having pomegranates growing in the garden.

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