Saturday 30 December 2017

At home

What to do at home?   By which I mean, what is the leisure activity that you do when you have the time and space to do it properly, with all your concentration, at home?  For me, it's music, either playing or listening, and the financial investments I have made in my stereo and its music collection, and my flute and sheet music over the years reflect this preference.

For my brother-in-law, his leisure activity is playing computer games, specifically driving simulators.  We have played football simulators and other game types over the years but it's driving simulators that capture his imagination.  So now that he has done all the house improvements and other DIY projects that need doing, he has invested in a proper driving simulator.  It mimicks a racing car cockpit complete with stick or paddle gear shifts, pedals, sound and vibration effects, etc.

He has done the "career path", starting on go-carts and progressing to formula 1.

I tried it, it's good, not that I'm competent on it.

Friday 29 December 2017

London dusk

In London the other week, my walk to Top Wind, the flute shop near Waterloo, took me over Westminster bridge.  I thought that London at dusk was looking pretty.

Tuesday 26 December 2017


On our way to join a friend for lunch, and being a little early, we took a detour to Bosham.  Such a pretty little village, and seeming quite active with a busy café, and an artists' gallery and shop amongst other attractions.  The sailing club is in what seems to be an old water mill, and the church is quiet and interesting. 

Bosham is featured in the Bayeux tapestry, mentioned as a stopping point for Harold and his army on the way to meet William (later "the conqueror").  This reproduction of a section of the tapestry is on display in the church. 

I wouldn't give much for the survivability of the place when the sea levels rise though, and the lintels at the garden gates in the village speak of high tides from time to time.

Monday 25 December 2017

Christmas day

On this special day, I thought I'd share with you the garden decorations put up by one of our neighbours not too far away.

Saturday 23 December 2017

Rocking horse

I came across this rather strange and magical rocking horse/chair in a house that is for sale in the village.  It looks like someone has taken a piece of driftwood and made a dreamworld rocker out of it.

It has bedsprings at all four end of the rockers, I guess to stop it tipping too much forwards or backwards, and wings as armrests.  I wonder who played with it, or sat in it, and where they flew with it.

Thursday 21 December 2017


The two opening paragraphs of this newspaper item struck me as quite funny.  It was in The Times, 14th December.

Tuesday 19 December 2017

Help yourself

There's a garden centre near Titchfield, beside the ruined abbey, called Abbey Nurseries.  We often go there when we visit the rellies.  It's on a quiet road, and the old abbey makes a pleasing backdrop to the plant displays.

Here's a thing in the shop that puzzled me: these baskets.  A notice just above them reads "Please help yourself to a basket", together with a comment that the baskets are not for sale.  Now I remember in the early days of self-service groceries, a grocer took a person to court on the basis that he had walked out of the shop with a basket of goods without paying.  The grocer lost the case because a notice in the shop said "Please help yourself".

So am I supposed to just help myself to a basket?  Since they are clearly not for sale, I presume they are being given away.  Sadly, I didn't have the time to test my hypothesis.  Or rather, I didn't have the inclination to have to argue my case in court.

Monday 18 December 2017

Trouble brewing

I find it odd that beer and tea are both brewed, but wine is not; it is made.  Apparently this is because boiling is used at some point to make both tea and beer, but not wine, although I think that the fermentation involved makes winemaking closer to beer-brewing than tea-making.

Some friends and I made some fruit wines when we were teenagers, with varying amounts of success.   The best was rhubarb wine that my mate Nick made, and I have long wondered if I could ever make anything as lethal good.

We have a few damson trees in the garden, and they always produce more fruit than we can eat, and this struck me as an ideal source of raw material that I could use to test and re-hone my skills.   So while we were in England recently, I bought  a set of wine-making gear from a nice chap at 4u2brew Ltd, a shop in Fareham that sells such stuff.

Here it is; all I could need: a demijohn, yeast, airstop, bung, various chemicals, a siphon and a hydrometer.   I have yet to see anything like this for sale in France.   Never seen it at car boot sales, nor spotted any specialist brewing shops.  Mind you the French would probably think you were a bit mad, trying to make wine with anything other than grapes.

I will let you all know how I get on.  I'm beginning to think it was a mistake to dig up a rhubarb plant that I had; I'm going to have to wait until plum time.

Incidentally, you can get fruit wines in England, I saw some at a garden centre, but it was ten quid a bottle.

Monday 11 December 2017

Social music

Playing in a harmonie wind band isn't just about the music, it's about the social aspect too.  It's a good opportunity to meet with like-minded people and increase the circle of friends and acquaintances.  And on top of this, there is the opportunity to combine with other harmonies and groups in exchange visits and concerts.

This year, for our end-of-year concert, our harmonie at Ste Suzanne combined with three others to give a concert with 120 musicians on Sunday.  Four harmonies in total; four conductors who took turns at conducting the different pieces.  A good time was had by all.  The programme was of film music, starting with the dramatic Also Sprach Zarathustra, used in 2001 A Space Odyssey.

We of Ste Suzanne will be off in January to join the same groups for a joint concert at Bouguenais near Nantes.

Friday 8 December 2017

Showery weather

A little walk today where the showers, heavy clouds and low sun made for some lighting effects.

Sunday 3 December 2017


The déchetterie is where you take stuff to be recycled or disposed of, that is for whatever reason, not suitable for the smaller local bins provided.   For example, you take used engine oil there, half-empty paint tins and garden waste.  We have been going there a fair bit recently with garden waste.  Normally I shred and compost all the waste from my garden, but recently we have been cleaning an area that contains a lot of wild clematis.

Clematis is vile stuff; toxic and with a sap that, if you shred the plant, ends up in a fine spray and does nasty things to your eyes and lungs.  So we take it to the dump from where it is shredded along with other garden waste in industrial quantities by huge machines, then composted and distributed (sold?) to local farmers.

Our déchetterie has had a revamp recently.  It's much bigger than it used to be, with a big tarmac on-ramp, plenty of large containers for the rubbish, each one for dumping a different type of material.  There is a container for card, one for plastic, one for metals, and so on.   Much of it gets recycled.

Generally I'm in favour of recyling efforts, although I do wonder how efficient they are.  Does the Earth-saving value obtained from recycling my bins of plastic, glass and metal compensate for the use of diesel to drive there?  How about if you take into account the energy needed to build the place?  Would the planet be better off if I just let the clematis dry out then burn it?  I have no real idea.

Friday 1 December 2017

First flurries

The UK is apparently under a blanket of cold, and France is getting a bit chilly.  The east of the country is apprently under several inches of snow and we have had the first flurries here.

Thursday 23 November 2017

Crisp day

A bright and crisp autumnal day, so an opportunity to walk around the lake at the Gue de Selle.

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Useless units

The petrol pumps at our local supermarket have been upgraded.  There is now a button that you can press on the diesel pump to give a fast delivery.   You unhook the nozzle, press the button and you get diesel at the super-fast rate of 5 metres cubed per hour.

This is handy to know if you need to fill a 5 metre-cubed fuel tank; you can do it in an hour.  Or even a one metre-cubed one; you can fill it in 12 minutes.  The time to fill a normal car fuel tank of capacity say, about 80 litres needs a bit of calculation.   I hope you have a calculator handy.

5 metres cubed per hour is 5,000 litres in 3,600 seconds, or about 1.4 litres/second, or say 10 litres in 7 seconds.   So you can fill an 80 litre tank in just under a minute.

A posted delivery rate of 1.4 litres/sec would be helpful;  7 seconds for 10 litres might be even better.  But 5m per hour is useless.

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Paris via Le Mans

I had not come across the word dystonia until August of this year.  I was at a flute course/holiday when our tutor (Philippa Davies, an amazing flute player and lovely person) discussed the symptoms of one of her colleagues, and I was forced to observe "that sounds like what I've got".

It started when I noticed that certain of my scales on the flute were no longer regular, as in regular as clockwork, that is, with the notes evenly spaced in time.  The problem was in moving from A to G going down the scale, which is achieved by the fourth finger of the left had pressing down the G key to cover the A hole.  (No jokes please).  The fourth finger, instead of just going down onto the key, was going up before going down, and I was completely unaware of this.

No problem, thinks I, a couple of weeks of careful practice in front of a mirror so that I can see what's going on, and all will be fixed.  Well I got the finger doing the right thing, but since then, my left hand stiffens up when asked to do certain specific actions, which results in incorrect rhythms and wrong notes.

After discussions with my doctor, other flute players and a pianist who has suffered a similar problem, I went to see a neurologist in Paris.  A lovely guy, a New Zealander, specialist in musicians' problems, and he confirmed I have a focal dystonia.  Basically this means I have to reset certain aspects of my playing technique from zero; correction takes a long time.  Researching online finds, for example, a guitarist who claims to have emerged completely from the problem, after 7,000 hours of practice.

This could be a problem, given that 7,000 hours represents about 20 years at an hour per day which is my usual rate of practice, and I'm 61.  I might have to re-think my participation in various activites to ensure that I'm only involved in things that I can actually do.

Monday 13 November 2017

Bulk buying

I was in our local cash & carry buying ingredients for our guests' meals, not so long ago.   Figs were on the list, for a fig sauce.   As you can see in the photo, 250 grammes cost €5.33, and 500 grammes (twice as much) from the same producer costs €5.50, just 17 euro cents more.  I bought the bigger packet.

Sunday 12 November 2017

Troc plante

For the last couple of years, at about this time, there has been a small plant swap event at Sainte- Suzanne.  Having nothing else to do of any urgency this Sunday, I went to have a look.

The weather was not kind.  November is a good time for transplanting plants, but poor weather-wise.  It was drizzling when I set off, and when I arrived at the huddled tents, the heavens opened and the wind blew.   The tents were kept in place only by people hanging on to the legs.  Later, rocks were found to hold them down.

I sheltered under the coffee tent since it seemed the best bet from a comfort point of view, and the coffee was free.  The hot soup was free too, but it was a bit early in the day for that.

You didn't have to bring plants to swap; it was really a plant give-away, with people bringing spare things from the garden.  I came away with some seeds of large sunflowers, (4m high, the guy promised me)  and something I was assured was an edible veg, a bit like spinach.  Plus a raspberry plant that makes orange fruit - I am hoping the birds will leave it alone; they devastate the red ones.

Wednesday 1 November 2017

A walk

On the safety of Elves, and protection from lawyers

I have a big garden so I do a lot of gardenng.  This would be hard on the hands if I didn't wear protective gloves of some kind.  And the gloves tend to wear out quickly; I get through a couple of pairs per year.

The best ones I have tried are branded Stihl.  With bright orange highlights, they are easy to spot if I take them off and leave them lying around somewhere, and being made of a soft leather, they are tough and flexible.  I had occasion to buy another pair yesterday.  They are described as "Protective gloves for chain saw users".

They came with an 83-page booklet in 26 languages.  Including helpful information to the effect that if you get petrol, oil, grease or anything else that might burn on the gloves, take them off because there's a fire hazard.

It's a wonder that all clothing doesn't come with such a warning, really.

Wednesday 18 October 2017


On a whim I got myself a Google Chromecast device the other day.   It has since become a standard piece of household kit in routine use.  It allows you to send pictures and movies that would appear on your PC or tablet, to a nearby TV screen.

That doesn't sound particularly exciting, but combined with suitable software on the Android tablet, it makes for an improved telly-watching experience.  Mine is an old TV, no internet connectivity and bought before the days of HDTV, and the Chromecast occupies one of its two HDMI slots.

A nice piece of Android software called Molotov lets you watch live TV and record chosen programmes, so together with Chromecast it eliminates the need for both an HD tuner box and a video recorder.   We're free trialling a Netflix sub (for the second time) and the Chromecast eliminates the hassle of having to connect up the tablet to the TV via the HDMI cable every time.   YouTube videos too are easier to watch on the big screen.  The tablet acts like a remote controller.

The thing seems to configure itself easily enough and I got it working in a few minutes.  It didn't start properly again the next day though, and I had to reset the router (i.e. turn it off and on again) to get it to work.  Apart from these teething troubles it seems to work reliably (touch wood).

Picture quality is good; it starts out pretty rought but sharpens up in a few seconds.

Thursday 12 October 2017


Peacock butterfly on Sedum

Tuesday 10 October 2017

Autumn harvest

Anita made this little decorative display in the dining room, all from the garden.

The Dahlias are at the back centre, with, to each side, an orange squash that I grew from seeds I collected from a commercial one that we ate last year.   The green and yellow stripey ones are an acorn squash, variety Harlequin.   The grey one is a small grey Hubbard squash, in fact the smallest one from the plants that I harvested - the other fruits are about 18 inches long, 12 diameter at their widest.   Plus, next to it, the red kuri squash that the French call a potimarron, that is also a Hubbard squash, but a much smaller variety.

Monday 9 October 2017

Mushroom management

One of the specialist industries around Saumur is the growing of comestible mushrooms.   The deep caves in the soft rock make for ideal growing conditions with constant temperature and humidity.  We visited such a farm while we were there.

The mushrooms are grown for the most part, in small bales of nutrient wrapped in black plastic and with holes cut in, through which the fruiting bodies of the mushrooms grow.  Different recipes of nutrient suit different species of mushrooms, but most seem to be based on straw or hay, with manure added.

The place we went to is called Le Saut aux Loups and claims some 3km of caves under exploitation, of which about 500m are open to visitors.   The displays showed not only current crops of growing mushrooms, but also how they were grown in the past.  Apparently, they used to use internal combustion engines for certain mechanical tasks in the caves.  Despite the (natural) ventilation in place, I bet it made for a nasty working environment.

Gathering wild mushrooms is fairly popular in France, and every year some 1,000 people are poisoned, of which about 2% die.   The most common cause of death being the Death Cap fungus that resembles a number of edible species.   About the same number of people are accidentally shot and killed while hunting. 

I have been out on a mushroom gathering in an organised group along with an expert, and have also eaten some normal "champignons de Paris" (the small white ones with pink gills that you find in supermarkets everywhere) that I found in the garden.

It's not something I do very often.

Sunday 8 October 2017

The abbey at Fontevraud

The abbey at Fontevraud is about halfway between Saumur and Chinon, and we went to see it on the second day of our break.  It's a most impressive building, originally a monastery, then more recently a prison, now it is being restored as a tourist attraction and historical monument.

They had an exhibition of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her son Richard the Lion Heart, both of whom are buried there.  Their effigies were on display, along with panels telling real-life Game of Thrones story of the Plantaganet dynasty.  (In English translation too, which is unusual for France, but the need to cater to tourists of multi-national origin is starting to be recognised)

You couldn't visit the kitchens because they were still being restored, but the tour of the rest of the building is interesting and well-signposted.  There was a display of spooky owl art in the abbey cellars.  Created by means of fine fluorescent thread attached to nails, and illuminated with ultra-vioilet, these shone out in blue and white in the otherwise dark catacombs.

Saturday 7 October 2017

Art for art's sake

There was an exhibition of modern art on at the Chateau Montsoreau.   It probed the question of "what is art", to which the response is clearly "not that", especially if it needs to be justified by explanatory notices written in impenetrable artspeak.

There were some mirrors.  I call this picture "A Portrait of the Artist as an Old Photographer"

Wednesday 4 October 2017


We took a short break - two nights at Montsoreau, a little town on the Loire where it is joined by the Vienne, a short way upstream from Saumur.  We stayed at the hotel Le Bussy in a comortable room with a view of the chateau.

The chateau as it stands, no longer has the two high-peaked rooves that stood on top of the square towers at each end; they are now completely flat.   However, the one on the right is accessible to visitors and you get a good view of the Loir and surrounding countryside.  There was a housebout (apparently it's a toue cabanée - see comments) chugging past, heading for the Vienne, making waves on this otherwise calm day.

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