Sunday 31 July 2016


I'm not a great collector of art, but in a visit to Rochefort-en-Terre a while back, I was taken by an artist combining sand with shiny metal fragments.   I asked her to do a picture of my flute, and this is the result.    An artistic impression, seems to convey the lightness of the concept of flute music, at least to me.

On a different subject entirely, as well as presenting scented roses, the climber attached to the lodge is housing a Goldfinch.

Friday 29 July 2016

La Roche-Bernard

We spent an afternoon at Roche-Bernard, a breton fishing port, now a marina and tourist spot.   It's a pleasant, if unremarkable, outing.

We had lunch in the restaurant called the Sarah B, after Sarah Bernhard, where we had the best Thai style food we've had outside of Paris.  There were only two Thai dishes on the menu and we each had a different one.

Since it was hot, we bought some tickets for the noddy train that takes you around the town, with a running commentary included.  Apparently, some 25% of the boats in the marina are owned by Brits.  Not a lot of people know that, although the number that do increases by about 30 every hour or so during the day.

Here's a few random snaps of the town.

Wednesday 27 July 2016

In for a Duck

Our ducking stools are wheelchair-compliant.  Witch trials every Wednesday.

Tuesday 19 July 2016

Swings and roundabouts

Orange have been offering discounts on cinema tickets for Tuesday showings, for quite a while.  In England they called the programme Orange Tuesdays, over here in France they call it Orange Cinéday.

We have been using it on and off ever since we took out our mobile phone contracts, and at first it worked well:  we'd turn up at the cinema, use the app on the smartphone to ask for our discount code, and off you go.  Except more recently, it started telling us that it had run out of discount codes for that week, and would we kindly like to try again next week.

Well, it's a bit annoying.  The advertising doesn't explicitly say that there's unlimited discount codes, but the wording of the publicity at the time "every Orange customer can (get one)" isn't exactly clear on this point.   The obvious thing for customers to do of course, is to get your discount code on Wednesday for the following Tuesday in case there's a film you want to see, and if you don't use it, well, it doesn't cost you anything.  And Orange end up with a lot of unused codes and frustrated customers.

Today, we turned up at the cinema and we got our discount code; they had not run out yet.  And I discovered that my Cinéday app has two important improvements:  The first one is that it tells you that Orange offer (if memory serves) 50,000 discount codes for use on every Tuesday.  This is a clear indication that the offer is limited.  Second, if it turns out you don't need your discount code, you can "offer it to the sharing community of Orange users".  Cool - a direct appeal to the solidarity of the French people.  And it appears to work.  Bravo, Orange.

We were sat at our usual coffee place, and Anita ordered a Coke.  It was the man I take to be the proprietor who served it, and I noticed that the can is different from what I am used to.  I mentioned it to the proprietor, and he said, "yes, it's 250cc instead of 330cc, but my distributor charges the same for it".  I quizzed him on ths point, and he cofirmed that he meant the price per can was the same, not price per pallet, or per volume.   That's a 30% price hike slipped in there.  Nice work.

Monday 11 July 2016

Progress report

The new flower bed is almost finished - I have spread out all the new soil, and today we had delivered 7 cubic metres of chipped Poplar wood to spread over the top to keep the weeds down.  You can see some perenial weeds creeping through already, but I will zap them with weedkiller before planting anything in it.  

I'll need about four cubic metres more of topsoil, and when that's in place I can finish off the low wall on the left by the gate.  (Because the wall would block the delivery truck.)  I have removed most of the Ivy and Clematis already, but there is some still to do by the gate.  That that is left is starting to regrow already; a job for more weedkiller.

Wednesday 6 July 2016

How does your garden grow?

The weather this year has been rainy and overcast.  According to the experts, we have had about half of the amount of sunshine we would normally expect by now.  The garden is responding accordingly.

This red rose is called Mr Lincoln, it's a bush rose with a strong perfume.  The white one next to it is also strongly scented, a more modern variety.   All of the roses are getting black spot at the moment, even those that resist it well.   The edges of the white petals are also showing some distress.  This is all probably a result of the rain.  Too much rain and you get black spot, too little and you get mildew.

The first Dahlias came from a humid climate.  They have liked the rain this year, and seem to be flowering well, and early.  These two lilac ones were newly-bought last year.  The yellow/orange ones are old favourites.   I have been growing Dahlias, as they represent a convenient way of improving the soil.  When I dig up the tubers after the frosts, it's an opportunity to dig fertiliser and compost into the soil, and likewise when I plant the tubers out in Spring.  As ths soil improves, I add perennial plants that stay in place, and so I suppose I can't complain that I'm running out of space for the Dahlias.

The Day Lillies are starting to make a good display, and the Canterbury Bells have clumped up nicely and are flowering well for the first time this year.

I'm surprised that the succulents that I have spread around the stony edges of the flower beds are doing so well.  I'd have thought that the lack of sunshine and excessive wet would have dampened their spirits.  But no, they are carpeting the space with colour, and even the House Leeks are opening out.  The Madia has grown tall this year, over a metre high, I had no idea it could be that big.  The petals curl up in the sunshine, so it's best appreciated early morning or in the evening.

I like the way that the dark red Dahlias and Hollhock contrast with the white. And the coral pink ones are always nice to see.  They grow all over the place like weeds but I like them so I leave them be.

Tuesday 5 July 2016


Asnières-sur-Vègre is a pretty little village not far from us, and they were holding a village festival focused on local food products (always a popular theme), plus local craftspeople and artisans.   The day was finished off by a gourmet dinner prepared by five local chefs, each being in charge of one course.   A very fine day out.

Here's a few random snaps of the town.  I didn't take many pics of the stalls, though I sampled a lot of  food products; the town had lots of pretty views that distracted the camera lens.

There were some animals on display, presumably as raw ingredients for gourmet meals.  This rabbit is a Flemish Giant, apparently.   The bunny itself was impressively big, but I was taken by its ears, they were HUGE.    These sheep look to me like they could be something out of Star Wars - their faces, anyway.

We paused mid-afternoon for a tea, in a tea room in the middle of the village.   So when do they bring us the cup, I wondered.  Ah, it's under the teapot.   The decorated table was just next to the tea room.  Nice.

Here's the chateau where the dinner was held, and this is the table layout; both quite fancy.  And France won the match against Iceland; we were updated on the progress throughout the evening.

Saturday 2 July 2016

A random walk in music

I read somewhere that a Zen monk was asked to describe the experience of enlightenment.  After some thought his face lit up and he exclaimed "Everything is exactly the same.... but more so!"

When you're near, there's such an air of spring about it,
I can hear a lark somewhere, begin to sing about it,
There's no love song finer, but how strange the change from major to minor,
Every time we say goodbye.
[Cole Porter]

I had a discussion with some friends on a music course one time, on the subject of what was the greatest western classical music.  They all went for Bach's B minor mass, but I opted for his Goldberg Variations.

The Goldberg Variations are written for harpsichord, an instrument that is a bit of an acquired taste.  It was Sir Thomas Beecham who described the sound it makes as that of two skeletons copulating on a tin roof in a thunderstorm.   It's the accuracy of this observation that makes it so devastating and funny.   The variations are often played on a piano, but this is not the instrument Bach had in mind, so for the authentic experience, a harpsichord is recommended.  But it's probably a good idea to get your ears used to the sound first, by listening to some easier pieces.  There are some lovely Scarlatti sonatas, for example, and Bach wrote two- and three-part inventions, all of which are worth a listen.  Take some time.

The Variations start and end with the Aria, and so the Aria (probably best translated as "tune") is what we hear first.  One hesitates to describe anything that Bach wrote as bad, but this Aria is truly strange.  It has barely anything you could call a tune that hangs together, and what there is is almost obscured by a collection of self-conscious ornaments and curlicues that distract from, rather than enhance, the experience.  Still, it's a piece by Bach, and it's reputed to be good, so we carry on listening.

If you want an analysis of the piece, Donald Tovey does a good job, describing the form of the Variations, their overall scheme, and so on, in his book "Chamber Music".  But it is his description of the return of the Aria at the end that carries the impact:   "The Aria returns in its original shape, with a strangely new and yet familiar effect.   Its numberless trills and graces no longer seem curious and posing, and its harmonies are now revealed as what they really are, the support of the whole mighty design, not merely the bass of a delicately-ornamented sarabande. As the Aria gathers up its rhythms into the broad passage of steady semiquavers with which it ends, we realize that beneath its slight exterior the great qualities of the variations lie concealed, but living and awake; and in the moment that we realise this the work is over"

In short, the Aria at the end sounds different from the Aria at the beginning.  Something has changed, but it can't be the Aria.   What then?  This is the strange change described by Cole Porter.  The lark is singing the same song, but the change in the emotional state of the listener changes the effect to a sad, minor key.  The change is strange because it's the listener not the lark that has changed.

But the change wrought in the listener of the Variations isn't as simple as the movement into sadness traced by the lark.  How to describe it?  Our random walk takes us back to our Zen monk.  We can describe the change in the listener by describing the change in the Aria, because they are the same thing from a different viewpoint.   The Aria is exactly the same, but more so.

And we thank Herr Bach for a glimpse of the sublime.

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