Friday 31 August 2012


Musically, I have been a bit spoilt over this last couple of weeks.  Firstly, there was the British Flute Society (BFS) convention in Manchester over a long weekend, and then, here at Le Domaine des Hallais, Wissam Boustany has just held his flute course "In Search of Inspiration" for a week, with the extraordinary pianist Aleksander Szram.  I have heard music created by the foremost composers, and played by some of the world's best musicians.

The flute convention was at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, and it's great opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones, all in the atmosphere of flute-playing excellence.

I went a day early to the convention in order to hear Michael Cox, one of my favourite musicians, play the opening concert.  (You can't get from here to Manchester before 2.00 PM the same day)  I'm glad that I did.  He's been one of my favorites ever since, about 20 years ago, I bought at random, a CD of his 20th century flute music. (One second-hand copy still available at Amazon UK, I see, if you're interested) The first piece on the CD is the Ballet Suite by Vaughan Williams, and I was delighted that he played it as part of his program this time.

He is putting together a website to help new players understand the requirements of an orchestral post.  Here is one video where he is showing an element of interpretation of the Firebird ballet by Stravinsky

The main thing that allowed western classical music to expand and flourish, is the fact that it is written down.  This allows works of enormous complexity and length to be accurately communicated to any number of musicians anywhere in the world.  But it is a weakness too, best summarised by Stravinsky (I think) who noted that "Everything is written down, except that which is most essential".

What is written is a guide only, and although you have to play what's there, to do so is not enough.  It has to be interpreted, and this is the essence of musicianship.  In fact, it is better to get away from the written score, if you can.  As a general observation, performances increase in musicality as the musician goes from:

   1)  reading the score and playing it.
   2)  using the score as a reminder of what to play, and ultimately
   3)  playing from memory.

Which is why many professional musicians will play from memory. 

This parallels my experiences as an amateur player.  If I'm reading the music, the result is awful.  If I know the piece and am skimming the music to use it as a reminder, the result is not so bad.  Best results come when I have memorised the piece.  It's as if I have more brain power available to put into the interpretation, rather than using what's available to read the score.

(More on Wissam and Aleks later)

Wednesday 29 August 2012

The mill

There is a mill at the edge of our village, a water mill, powered by the river Erve.  It was in commercial use up until the 1960s, and on a casual basis thereafter until the 80s.  It changed hands some time later.  It has fallen into disrepair over recent years, and a bunch of local people have decided to see if it can be fixed.  The owner has been found, and his agreement obtained to clear the weeds out of the grounds, and put the mechanism back into working order.  The idea is that it will be available from time to time for people to visit, as a village amenity.   The owner himself has plans to put a small flat in one end of the building.

We went to visit it as part of the 15 August village fête; here are some pictures.

The water runs approximately N-S, more or less under the middle of the building.  This picture of a southern aspect of the building shows its disused state - not derelict, but in need of some attention.   This part is where the owner wants to build his flat, with a terrace over the watercourse. 

The water coming into the mill is controlled by a water gate, the height of which is adjusted by adding and removing planks of wood in metal guides.  The water then flows to drive the water wheel, that has its own separate, more precise control.  These vanes that you can see on the wheel are good, but the ones that have been in the water for the last few decades have rotted away.

The power is transmitted to the grindstone via this giant cog set.   The large cog is mounted onto the same tree-trunk that carries the water wheel.  It is currently disengaged from the smaller cog, and will be moved into place by hitting it with sledgehammers to slide it along until it engages, then centered and fixed using wooden wedges sledgehammered into place.  The teeth on the large cog are of wood, but the smaller cog is entirely of metal.

The power is transmitted upstairs where it turns the millstone that is still inside this case.   There is a plan to use this to grind flour for our organic baker - perhaps not on a commercial basis, but maybe for making bread for special occasions, like the 15th August fête.

Tuesday 28 August 2012


The 15th August is the date of our village fête.  The mix of things that go on varies from year to year according to who is organising it and who they are on good terms with.   This year, apart from general conflab around the village bistrot (open on high days and holidays) there was a painting competition, "painters in the streets" whereby local artists paint pictures of local sights and landmarks. The works are judged at the end of the afternoon.  The day ends with a communal dinner, and the streets are then lit with 5,000 candles, and very cute it looks too.  The late stayers can enjoy a concert in front of the church.

I go this event if I can, it's always a good excuse to maintain good neighbourly relations and to keep up with the local gossip. The dinner and candles are worth going to in and of themselves.

So I'm there with my camera, on the lookout for photo opportunities, taking happy snaps, trying to soak up the atmosphere.  Here's what I thought was going to be a super shot of a cute and chic archetypal French artiste, absorbed in her work.

Never mind, things don't always turn out as I thought they would.

Sunday 12 August 2012

Veg patch

The veg patch here is not really the centre of attention in the garden.  I have been focusing my efforts on the flower beds around the house and gîte for the benefit of the guests.  This leaves me with little time for the veggies, and they tend to get overrun with weeds as the year progresses.

This year there has been a bit more time, and so here are the results.   I dug over a new area intended for Asparagus, during last Winter.   I did all the things you are apparently supposed to do: I dug it deep, filled it with manure and added sand (a deal with a local builder) and then dug some trenches for the plants.   I planted some Asparagus seeds in the Spring. The ones I put in a seed tray did very well; those that I put straight into the ground did not.  What you see here is the current state of this year's seedlings.  I'm quite impressed, and I'm hoping that next year, perhaps a few of the sprouts will be big enough to pick, even though I know you're supposed to wait three years....

The Onion Walla Walla also seems to have done very well, making some nice big bulbs.  That's a first time for me, with onions.  I might try Shallots next year, we eat a lot of those.

I have grown Leeks successfully in the past, and they look like they're doing well here too.   They seem to be less attractive to bugs and pests than most other veg, so that's pleasing too.  

The Artichokes are another experiment.  I tried them once ages ago and they never made it through the first Winter.  I have three plants all from seed this Spring, and they look reasonably vigorous, so I am hoping they will make it.  I'll cover them with some kind of compost or something to help ward off the cold, too.  You're not supposed to let them produce in their first year, so I have been cutting off the young flowers as they form.  I'm surprised by how many there are: I must have taken off 5 or so from each plant.

The tomatoes have not been a success.  The early Summer rains have caused them to rot, although they seem to have improved with the recent hot weather.  We visited a lady who runs a local bee farm and her tomatoes were fine, she said she sprayed them with Bordeaux mixture.  I might try that if faced with a similar problem next year.

Last year I grew a number of squash plants, and we ended up with too many Winter squash, more than we could eat or give away.  So this year I tried to plant fewer, and ended up with just one plant.  Typical.  I was worried that it was producing only female flowers, but some male ones put in a tardy appearance a few days ago and I fertilised the plant.   You can see thet fruit is growing already.  I'll limit it to four fruits, so they end up a decent size.

I've got a few Brussels Sprouts plants, and some purple sprouting Broccoli.  The sprouts have been attacked by caterpillars, and I had to spray them.  The Broccoli, on the other hand is less damaged.   We shall see if either of them make a useful contribution to the diet this year.

Moving on to the soft fruit section (that does sound so posh) the Raspberries are starting to produce.  I started off with one plant last year, and it is spreading through root suckers.  I'll have to take it in hand and train it, but until then it looks like it make quite a few nice puddings.

I have six fruiting Gooseberry bushes.  I started with one, and propagated it by cuttings.  I think that the fruit is nice, but I don't know for sure since the Blackbirds got the lot.   The mistake was to buy ones that turn purple when they're ripe, a colour that Blackbirds seem to love.  Some protection required for next year I think.

I had to buy some more Welsh bunching onion seeds this year because my stock of these, carefully nurtured and propagated from a plant given by friends some 15 years ago, got clobbered by the Winter.  These ones are supposed to be especially hardy.  I'll use some as Spring onions, and keep the rest as stock for future years.

Finally, I also use the veg patch as a nursery/holding area for cuttings.  Here's some roses from cuttings, courtesy of Leo.

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Monday 6 August 2012


Some friends over for the weekend, a nice laid back time.  Visit to Ste Suzanne, a car boot, a medieval fair, some nice meals out and a good natter in.  We won't mention the Pétanque.

A pretty typical car boot stall, you could get everything from a free kitten to a non-working lawnmower.   At the medieval fair you could watch swords vs. battle-axe, and enjoy a traditional medieval pizza.

My haul from the car boot was a set of bound Asterix volumes.  I paid too much but they will allow me to sell off those individual volumes that I have, as well as saving on shelf space.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Jardin de Kerdalo

On the way back from Brittany we visited the garden at Kerdalo.   It is a botanists' garden, taking full advantage of the mild climate of the North Brittany coast, and was started by its new owners some 45 years ago.  The 25 acres of gardens are constructed along the valley of a small stream that flows into the river opposite Tréguier, and exploits the shelter, the acid soil and the water.

I found fascinating, the trompe l'oeil pathway that leads up to a little grotto, situated right at the bottom of the garden.  The stepping stones along the path in the water look like they are the same size, and the channel edges look parallel, but they are not: the path is about twice as wide at the far end than the near.

You really must visit this garden if you are in the area and like plants.  Actually it's worth quite a detour.  A French guy asked us on the way out if it was worth the entrance fee.  "Yes" I was able to reassure him, "it's in the English style".

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