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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