Wednesday 30 December 2015

Tuesday 29 December 2015

Good book

I am suspicious of literature prizes; I often find the books disappointing.   Not this one.  Read it, it's good.

Thursday 24 December 2015

Wednesday 23 December 2015

Surnames first

The French tend to write surnames first, especially in offical documents.  They tend also to be capitalised, so I'm often referred to as MILLS, Mark.  Nothing wrong with that as a convention, of course, like most others, but sometimes it can have quirky side-effects.

Monday 21 December 2015

Christmas choirs

It's that time of year again, and our little village of St Pierre sur Erve has held its annual Christmas concert.  A collection of carols, interspersed with secular songs, and sprinkled with a little flute tootling.   I like these little village celebrations; informal, friendly and sincere.  Unfortunatly I couldn't stay for the vin chaud (mulled wine) afterwards, since the event ended at the same time that a concert in Evron (normally 20 minutes away at least) was due to start.

So, after a little sprint in the car, a choir and orchestra of different magnitude, for Monteverdi's Vespers at the basilique in Evron.  Fine performance too, by Volubilis, of this difficult work.  I get a cheap ticket, being a student at the music school.  Can't be bad :)

Friday 11 December 2015


Cliffe is a suburb of Lewes, and it's famous for Britain's worst avalanche that killed 8 people in 1836. It's also where the brewery is located, along with a number of lunching places.  We strolled briefly along the High Street and settled on a Bill's, a bustling restaurant, one of a small chain, just opposite the brewery's retail shop.

Bill's was everything I like in a lunch place.  Busy, but not too crowded, with an excellent menu, and options for a two-or-three-course lunch for less than fifteen quid.  The soup was delicious and the fish grilled to perfection with a spicy covering.  And a jar of the local beer to wash it down.

Of course, since the brewery retail outlet was just opposite, it would have been a shame to walk past. After all, how could I possibly live down the idea that I hadn't been able to organise buying a bottle of beer at a brewery?   Fine stuff it is too.

Thursday 10 December 2015

Lewes Castle

We stayed a night in Lewis, visiting a friend who has moved there from Maidenhead.  I liked Lewes; to start with, it has a brewery, and even better, a castle as well.  Plus, as well as the usual range of chain stores, it has plenty of little artisan shops where people sell things they are enthusiastic about, and where they do their best to enthuse you about them too.

The castle costs money to enter, but is well-signposted and the gardens generally well-managed.  It was built in the time of William the Conk, so there's not too much left of it, but it commands a spectacular view from the tops of the towers that you can climb.  The spiral stairs all go anticlockwise (looking down from the top), to give (right-handed) defenders the advantage.  You could never get away with that these days, of course: the lefties would complain about being "excluded" and demand that a stair of opposite spiral be built.  That this would lead to the defeat of the castle and ruination of the local peasantry would matter not a jot.

I liked this trompe l'oeil painting of spears in one of the castle rooms.  I went in the room and thought "that's a bit daft, leaving metal-tipped spears where schoolkids can get at them", and it wasn't until I was a foot or so away that I spotted my mistake.  The lack of shadow on the leaning spear gives it away to sharper minds than mine.

Monday 7 December 2015

The Savill Garden

We used to visit The Savill Garden near Egham several times a year; it's a wonderful garden, and attractive all the year round.  We stayed a night in Staines to have a look around at the town where we used to live, and to pay a visit to the garden.

The first thing that struck us was the new "Saville Building", a grand entrance to the garden housing the reception, the shop and a restaurant.  This replaces the somewhat quaint arrangements that we were used to, and seemed to me to work well.  Looked at from the garden, the wavy roof of the building is reminiscent of distant undulating hills.

The sky was mostly blue with a few clouds, and the weather was chilly.  The ducks were approaching anyone who looked like they might have food, but I preferred the reflections of the sky and gardens.

The garden had of course, changed over the ten years that had passed since we last visited.  The tree plantings seem to be recovering from the damage of the Great Storm, and I remember when these yew hedges were planted, just lines of straggly plants a foot or so high.

And here's some free extra pics, of views around the garden, including some photos for my portfolio for my upcoming career as a BBC Wildlife Photographer.

England trip

The usual end-of-year trip back to England has turned up a bit earlier this year.  It means that I can play in all the local concerts in France, and we get a bit longer in England, both generally Good Things.

Some observations:

I was surprised to note that one of the things I was looking forward to before going over, was the food.  And rightly so, too.  Thai, Indian in restaurants, proper roast pork and crackling with friends, and a perfectly rare filet mignon cooked by the Brother-in-Law, featured highly in the culinary delights.

Shouting at the telly.  I paraphrase: "My brother went to fight for isis so Britain shouldn't bomb Syria in case they blow him up".

Difficulty of recruiting the right person for the job, or, in fact, not recruiting the wrong one.  The checklist the interviewer has to fill out covers things like "Does he/she have the following qualifications?", and the candidate looks great on paper.  The trouble is, he is known to be utterly incompetent in the rôle, since he has been doing it (or, rather, screwing it up) on a temp basis for the last 6 months.  There's nothing on the checklist form for "Can he/she do the job?"

There are more and better coffee bars in English towns than French ones.  The French ones are dying on their feet, English ones are everywhere.  And the English are muscling in on the quick fixed price lunch too.  We got very fine two-course meals for under a tenner.  Three courses if you want, for 14 pounds.  The Brits are out-Frenching the French.

Property prices.  Nearly half a million quid for a lovely but small one-bed cottage in Lewes.  Wanna buy my place?  800K pounds, bargain.  (Offer expires 1st Jan 2016)

The Savill Garden is still lovely, even in December.  And the entry was free; 18 pounds off, for two.

A Christmas Fair in Wimbledon village, with free mince pies and mulled wine, and people singing Christian Christmas carols, as opposed to "holiday songs".

Tuesday 1 December 2015

'Avin' a larf?

Spotted at Sparky Marky's in Fareham today.

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