Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Let Them eat Toast

Last week Food Writers and Critics were thrilled by the long-awaited launch of ‘Britain’s cheapest lunchtime meal’ – after aeons of in-depthest research by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), this can now be revealed as THE TOAST SANDWICH!

Here’s the recipe:
2 slices bread and butter
1 slice toast
salt and pepper to taste
Make sure toast slice in the middle

The amazing thing is that the recipe is not new!  It was created and published 150 years ago by Mrs Beeton  in her Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management – And here is her original version:

 Toast a thin slice of bread
 Butter two slices of bread and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste
 Place the toast between the two slices of bread-and-butter to form  a sandwich

No margin for error there - you can see why her recipes were so successful. Personally, I swear by her Rice Pudding…

So, you may ask, just how cheap is this 'cheapest lunchtime meal'?  Well, the cost these days of the Toast Sandwich is estimated at 7.5p, and energy value at 330 calories.

If You can create a cheaper alternative, however, let the RSC know at once, because you might win a £200 prize!  (How much does a 3oz tatoe cost, I wonder)…  Although you'd spend a goodly dollop on cooking it, probably...

Various thrifty suggestions have been proposed to make the sandwich recipe even more appetising: why not add an egg; a sardine; a slice of courgette…?  say the chefs.

And mine own tasty addition... a dollop of tinned tomato (I love those), or three or four baked beans.  And an exciting smattering of paprika or nutmeg or basil?

The basic recipe could probably benefit from a tantalising Something after all – as highlighted by one of the comments received: "Well I just tried this and it was the most boring, tasteless sandwich I've ever eaten!"  Bit harsh...

I've been trying to remember what I used to eat in destitute bedsit days - Mothers Pride was certainly a favourite. But I could only dream of a toasting implement.  My brother apparently once made pepper soup (to boiling water, add ground black pepper).  Not only was it unsatisfying, he reported, but it tasted bloody awful.

Anyway, here is a Homage to Toast by (hell's teeth - he looks young!) Paul Young in 1978.  On what one can only assume is some strange children's tv emission.  Great hats, though

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Cat Worrying

Does your cat worry? Does it get tense… ? Nervous headaches?

Or is your cat just bonkers?

Recently we were out gallivanting all day and half the night – (I know - call us WILD!!) – so feeding times were in disarray.

Arriving home we found Mulder-Cat glaring at us from the top step, the protest giblets of a vole arranged at his feet. Scully, trapped inside with only KittyCrunch to nibble, burst to freedom as we let ourselves wearily in. We found that she had enthusiastically emptied her bladder with only her head inside the covered cat tray: ‘Looks nice in there – think I’ll have a pee…’.

But why? She’d never done it before – did she have something on her mind; had she drunk too much KittyMilk and not quite made the little jump required? Was it retaliation for being shut in or – most terrifying – was she… Confused?

After all, the cats are fifteen now – brother and sister twins. Wikipedia says that’s 76 in cat years. And that a cat’s expected lifespan is twelve to fifteen years… have they been reading it too?

In fact Mulder has always been confused. Not incontinently - he just forgets everything he’s ever learnt…

His morning patrol begins with an ecstatic Surge out of the back door then a screech to a halt as a leaf settles close by… A tentative sniff and poke of every plant pot, step, and car wheel - if he’s not careful, any one of them could take a bloody big swipe at him!

Both cats have always been rationally scared of things like traffic… Or the vacuum cleaner - I mean who wouldn’t be concerned about a voracious roaring tube that could have had my flaming ear off, that could!  

Next door’s new puppy was also understandably scary - it got into our garden and bounded joyously after Scully to say Hello. D’you know, she’d never managed to climb the maple tree before… And it was a Hell of a long time before we could make her let go. 

But recently, they’re scared of anything, including us – getting them to come across the threshhold for FOOD is like trying to entice them across a lake of piranhas. Have they forgotten who’s been feeding them for fifteen years? What do they think we’re putting in it – fur-balls?

We started to wonder if there was an evil spirit in the (very spacious & comfy!) room we shut them in at night so they don’t wake us up. We’d usher them in and they’d shoot up onto a table, or perch death-defyingly on the mantelpiece. (Did anyone ever see that film of olden times where they force a maid back into the attic with the fearsome phantom? Our cats had that same stricken look).

So, they chose to stay out, and during the whole summer we only caught fleeting glimpses of them as they snatched a quick bite from under the outside table. Didn’t they Love us any more…? (‘Course not – they’re cats).

A couple of weeks ago, though, the night-time temperature dropped to zero. We noticed them hanging around on the steps as darkness deepened, doing the cat equivalent of nonchalant ball-kicking – 'well… if you really want us to come in I suppose…'

And once I’d achieved that first Grab round the throat and Haul into living room, they remembered all their old habits! One on my knee, one on the floor by the radiator, the brush-before-bedtime, the consoling tin of tuna after worming…

It’s been wonderful – real cuddly pets again - perhaps we would take them when we moved after all!

And then they go and Spoil it All by crotting in the conservatory plant trough. I'd just RePlanted that plant trough!

Actually, anyone have shed-space for a couple of daring vole-hunters...?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

BUY me!

Sought-after location; beautiful, quirky yet cosy cottage feeling (no trace of the abattoir); recently fitted kitchen; lovely relaxing garden with chalet/workshop; fantastic conservatory; en-suite to master; three reasonable bedrooms (well, wouldn’t want to boast…); dual-aspect bathroom with plumbing, talking-point kitchen…

Last week, we viewed 27 such properties in four days in our quest to buy before the chuck-out date on the one we’ve just sold (utterly charming, two multi-functional cellars and some very attractive gravel). After nine splendid years in France it’s time for a new adventure in an unexplored part of the Old Country. And this initial exploration has revealed a friendly, bustly place we love already.

Agents’ details are fabulous these days aren’t they - floor plans, photos and street views, but at the end of a Nine-House day, you can easily forget which one had the handy-hatch-through-to-kitchen, or the fire that was welcomingly lit. (Yes OK – well it worked)!

So I started scribbling surreptitious notes on the details as we went round, like a burglar making an inventory… owner was reading in deckchair;  

couple watching X-factor on big-screen TV; hideous sheep wallpaper; outside loo - filled up with lawnmower

Later we couldn’t decipher these essential reminders at all, so have probably made an offer on the wrong house.

There were of course, some properties you couldn't forget, like the haunted one (rumour has it that ghosts abound in the vicinity). This particular phantom had been a solicitor, apparently, and can be glimpsed on the stairs – certain members of the family have refused to sleep upstairs for fear of his ghostly legs.

The agent related this calmly and neutrally, but said that by law, they have to tell us. Surprising, I thought – and it made me wonder if before leaving the parental home, I should have divulged the seances we used to hold in Mum and Dad’s dining room - SOMEthing was pushing that glass…

(I might mention here that I searched youtube for ghost-on-stairs clips and frightened the Hell out of myself - hence somewhat unsatisfying yet appealing sketch of blue man holding ball of fire, but with nice Wispy Legs).

Another vendor was selling because of divorce - perhaps her heart wasn’t in it when she said, ‘Oh yes – that forest across the road is going to be built on soon, with a Whole New Estate!  Have you got cats, by the way? They’ll love it here – loads of cats. And rats…’

I'd definitely like to put in a word for the agents we met, who were delightful, dynamic and diligent. And their Secret Lives were fabulous: we met an ex prison governor (who would have thought that the most realistic prison drama is Porridge?!); a singer/dancer/actress; an eight-stone female bouncer who bounces by wordly persuasion - it paid well at uni and she loves it;  and a horse dentist!

But possibly the most surprising agent was the one who'd won the office prizes for selling, who surrendered his free time to phone us or drive us round, who worked frenziedly to find exactly what we wanted and then, when he delivered us to a house, said Absolutely Nothing as we looked round.  He stood silently watching us with neither smile nor frown nor utterance - it was most disturbing...  In fact I think his presence may one day linger on in the odd property or two...

And oh god - we're moving at Christmas!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

That's 37 centimes sagely spent...

Last Sunday was the annual village brocante - car boot sale. The village is blocked off to all evil through-traffic, and every street is packed with stands selling the entire contents of peoples' attics and manky old cupboards, and all their children’s cherished hoardings.

Does anyone else find this slightly embarrassing?  I mean, it’s OK at an anonymous Field Brocante, but to gaze lengthily at the personal belongings of neighbours and village acquaintances and then Reject them muttering ‘Heavens...since five this morning?  Well ... bye then!’

Of course brocantes are always more fun if you have an objective... our general aim is Something that brings a chortle, but this year George’s additional goal was a French Monopoly set.  Evidently not played much in this village...

We found several million jigsaw puzzles and plastic men-in-cars, though, and a Poker Kit that I was tempted by. (Not sure why, as Beat Thy Neighbour has remained the zenith of my card-playing skills).  Unless Cunning was included in kit form too... 

Suddenly I spied a red, Chinese-dragon-covered parasol – quirky, decorative and jolly handy in these final days of stifling sunshine. Acceptable price of two euros.  And what a delight when the threatening drizzle became a drenching downpour, and my parasol turned out to be made not of paper but of… something… rainproof!

How proudly I twirled my beautiful brolly twixt stalls being frenziedly covered in plastic. How we Chortled when we got home and discovered the beautiful blue bit was actually Paint once lain in… 

I scooped up a handful of French paperbacks by an author I didn't know but who sounded detectively interesting.  You learn really useful phrases from such reading – ‘His body lay sprawled in the bath, brain splattered across the tiles…’, or ‘What! - That guy's still hanging around the neighbourhood?Doubled my party banter…

After a goodly time wandering, we were contemplating the bar or the refreshment table on the square when we walked into It! Hanging from the fence behind a stall of bottle tops and postcards was a black thing of finest netting. Topped by a black coolie hat from which dangled wisps of material, interlaced tassles and beads – all, blackest black - the Thing seemed to be shaped into a long tube – what could it be?

A lengthy Lobster Pot, I mooted boldly… or something you might get Changed Inside on a beach? (wearing the coolie hat); Mourning Dress, perhaps – elegantly concealing all expression of grief; how about an avant-garde Party Outfit?

None of these – it was of course a moustiquaire! (Not, as I kept calling it, a mousqetaire).
"It's a Mosquito Net for your bed,” the stallholder explained, “Or some people put them over an armchair or a settee - just attach the top to the ceiling”.
Fabulous! It’s bound to repel spiders too! Or why not, at the height of the insect season, just walk around inside it to the shops, for infallible personal protection?  You can also pull it from one end to the other of your picnic table - fly-free feasts!  How have we coped without this wonder!

The stallholder seemed surprised when we said we wanted it, but beamingly detached it from the fence with care, then found us a particularly lovely Hermès carrier bag to bear it home in. 

Styles available are manifold -the two shown above can but offer a basic hint - but here, modelled by a glamorous person we found lurking, is The Most Wonderful!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

I'm a Witchety-Grub - Get me Out of here!!

Aaaaaaarrrrgggghhhh!!   Of all the pansy pots in all the gardens in all the world, it walks into mine… and I’m not touching it with a ten-foot trowel!

I don’t watch Celebrity save-me-I'm-so-crazy!  programmes, but I know what goes on! And I just might be in a position to augment their supplies. (They do stun the grubs before they eat them, don’t they…)?

I was replanting pansies and unearthed this Thing, the disgusting like of which I’d never seen before – would it bite?  Would it get much bigger?  What did it want?

When I described it to a friend she said it was probably a moth larva.

A MOTH larva? - It’s the size of a Beagle!  I mean - what the hell's this... moth... going to eat when it grows up – the actual wardrobe?

My googling shows that there are a zillion types of Moth Larvae, and the ones in our pots (for further prodding has unearthed a veritable  colony) are the ugliest in the universe. Why couldn’t they be the jauntily green ones, or red, the face-painted perhaps... the acrobatic? Or my Favourite - the Dalek Moth larva:

... which will one day emerge as this beauteous Promethea Moth:

The major problem is what to do with our repugnant plantpot larvae – they’re really big for a start... Collected, they're like a bouncy castle, so squashing's definitely out.  As is eating... unless the cats are interested. 

There's relocating, of course, but any chucking over neighbour's fence would have to be at dead of night and they have a hunting dog on constant alert.  Could we humanely stab them with a needle?  Probably not...

Actual witchety grubs, you know, eat the sap and roots of acacia plants.  I was sad to learn that the adult witcheties don't feed at all - they have to exist on the reserves eaten by the caterpillar!  That's bound to put you in a bad mood.  It would have been fairer if they grew up carnivorous and could take revenge on everyone who'd wanted to eat them in their infancy.

This, though, is the fearsome Witchety Moth Beast - if it can't eat you, it can certainly give you a bloody good nibble.  So if you've mistreated a witchety grub, Beware!  Their grown-up cousins are six feet tall, and They Know Where You Live!

Friday, August 12, 2011

'I'm 97 Million Years Old you know, Dear!!'

'Or is it 96… I don’t think they've successfully melted my memory…’

Is This a vision of the future? Not nuclear-wasted or obliterated by foul virus, but cryonically preserved at the last moment - for future defrosting?

Robert Ettinger, pioneer of Cryonics - freezing people - died in July 2011 aged 92, and is now the 106th person to be preserved in liquid nitrogen. He joins a wife and two sons…

At least, he's the 106th of the Cryonics Institute       ( )
but Who Knows what devilish experiments are going on in dank cellars the world over…

(Above: labouring over Frankenstein).

I think it was Woody Allen, unleashed from his Bacofoil in ‘Sleeper’, who first brought this fascinating yet demented concept to my attention…

This is his Robot Butler disguise as he battles with an Instant Pudding wearing hat of the season. 
(For those who haven't seen Sleeper, he comes back 200 years after a routine operation in 1973 - it's a surprise to everyone).

The idea of cryonics, apparently, is that those who are considered dead now, may not really be dead according to the much cleverer medecine of the future. And naturally, people of the future will want to revive all these ice-bodies and welcome them into a brave new world.

WHY will they? This is, in fact, one of the FAQs of people pondering such preservation. BECAUSE, is the Frequent Answer, they’ll be under contract to!  (One thinks of those  reliable contracts to get your roof done or your phone provider changed...).

They will be members of a cryonics community of the future. As I understand it, this community will defrost you and welcome you as friend and family, and sort out your exciting new life with them!  There might even be a nice community gate... 

I suppose, if you are inclined towards a Further Adventure Beyond, this sounds almost encouraging.  And cryonics only costs around 28,000 dollars at the moment, so Hurry while Stocks last!  (nitrogen, jymjams, Kendal Mint Cake).

I may have watched too many bleak futuristic films, but I can’t help envisaging evil robots and acid rains and lab-humans, rather than kind, beaming people who will merrily cure one's impetigo… 

There's a sinister Roald Dahl Tale of the Unexpected  called "William and Mary", where the domineering husband is returned as An Eye - probably not quite what he'd had in mind - and his wife looks forward to puffing endless forbidden cigarettes at him while knocking back endless forbidden drinks... 

I bet cryonics communities don't warn you about that do they?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Indiana Jones and the Water Meter of Doom

Surfacing with the hoover from a corner cranny under the table, I was startled to loom face to face with a Face at the french window!

"Water meter!" he explained, when I’d regained my composure.  (has the uniform changed...?)

"Ah," I frowned, grinning frozenly and thinking, Where IS the water meter?’

"I’ll just find the key…" I shouted, gesticulating idiotically, "Meet you down there…"

The WaterMeterMan comes but once a year (I shan’t bother with the Santa joke), so I always forget where the bloody thing is. We have two cellars at the bottom of the steps outside - I cantered off for the washing-machine cellar, then remembered the meter actually lives in the never-bothered-with cellar, and its key had disappeared, unmissed.

George wasn’t around, so I ran up and down the steps a few times, urged on by the Man looking at his watch and raising his eyebrows, until I happened to notice the key sticking out of the bloody lock.

It was not easy to see, enmeshed as it was by a year’s cobwebs and the remains of their unfortunate captives. The door to this cellar is a sturdy old wooden door, arched, with black metal bands... At least it would be, were it not rather rotten, somewhat splintery and jagged. It has character rather than beauty.

A hundred and fifty years ago before the rain and bashings set in, it probably looked exactly like this: parts.

The door is hidden in an alcove of stone at the bottom of three further steps. "We don’t use this cellar much…" I shrugged to the Man as we battled through the overhanging bushes, and, "Oh! Well I’m sure they won’t sting if we just ignore them…" (Were they wasps or bees, I wondered).

Anyway, having made it to the door and hacked through the webmesh with a big pointy stick I managed (with two hands), to turn the enormous key and very very slowly, opened it. The creeeeeak was magnificent, and I was aware that the Man had stepped back several yards.

There was an illogical yet intense terror in groping for the light switch. But I found it and suddenly the single bulb glared into the far reaches of a cellar packed with wine bottles, bits of cardboard boxes, paint tins, rusty chairs, half a barrel, an open box of rat poison and… a frenzied flock of bats.

I was fairly certain that all the Psycho Screeching was just in my head. Or in the Man’s head… I said to him, "I think the meter’s over there somewhere," and pointed at the far wall. He gazed at me as if I’d asked him to just pop over there and set fire to yourself, will you…?

But, with me gingerly leading the way, we and the bats read the water meter. Then the Man, grinning rictusly, leapt in his van and drove off. Pitiful. Surely it can’t be the only bat colony he’s encountered on his rounds?

And after all, they’d been wonderfully behaved, and much more exciting than the bucket of WWII German rifle cartridges George found a couple of years ago (the gendarmes took them). I read that bats are gentle, docile creatures, just looking for a place to hang out.

It was a pity we disturbed them. Particularly since the episode encouraged us to de-clutter the cellar and now, free of its 1500 empty wine bottles and assorted crotte, it looks splendid… but sadly Batless. They evidently got fed up of our traipsing in and out, and have found calmer quarters - this is an area bursting with appealing old outbuildings they could have mistaken for home. 

So - If you've seen Derek or Tufty, please tell them we've done that repointing on the ceiling...

Monday, July 18, 2011


Grimly we ploughed through the neated rows of vines, ignoring the howling wind and the horizontal rain, focusing only on our Goal – a good view of the Tour de France as it shot through  A Village Near Us!  Rarely does the opportunity come this close – close enough to hear the wheels purring smoothly, to see those muscles pulsing... pulsing, to feel the wind in your hair as the bikes whoosh lycra’dly past - it's an opportunity not to be missed!

A bit of exercise’ – walking instead of driving – had seemed a suitably sporty idea to reach the spot…  But one row of vines looks very like another.  Our water tower marker suddenly appeared on the wrong horizon, then disappeared completely...

George was still sticking to his 'half an hour at most!' forecast; I was losing hope.  “Let’s have a sandwich!” I suggested.  George frowned and pointed out that it was nowhere near lunchtime, and if we just went back along this track until we reached that treeline, we might be getting near the main road...

Some time later..., we did by chance hit the main road, and soon cars started passing us and joining cars already parked along the verge.   People opened their boots to unleash padded coats and canvas chairs (we're generally alone in flinging a jacket on the grass), then strode along to the wide viewing bend, where a crowd shuffled in small clutches, gazing expectantly up the road and muttering, "Should be here any minute...".

After about a week, someone with a mobile yelled, “Caravan in five minutes!”  (Oh thank god!)
And Loh!  It did verily heave into view –  45 minutes of colourful, musical and demented publicity vehicles (of which this is but One - look out for Heroic Gendarme saving child-wanting-hat):

This is George's proud camera-work, and not even our voices are in it, but we were There. I specially loved the veritable Ethos of the Tour, portrayed in giant yellow Balloon Sculpture.

I read that for many people, the Caravan is best part.  (So I'm not the only one...)

Anyway, after It, there follows a lengthy pause before the actual Cyclists arrive. This can be quite handy for erecting foldy chairs, (or brollies as the rain has no doubt set in again), and for shuffling about bagging a better view. Several people had their eye on my lamppost for example, planted as it was on a small hillock.
I leaned menacingly.

Then I had to relinquish my claim because George had gone and  bagged a better view down the road a bit - loads of space, perfect outlook, ditch very leapable - we knew we'd be happy there...

I'd eaten my inadequate sandwich ages before, and was very sorry I hadn't made more effort to grab a flying publicity biscuit.  Messages had got through on the progress of the race, and it was now running an hour late.  Children were getting bored with their death-defying ditch games, and holiday-makers were wishing they'd gone to see another chateau instead.

And then!  A rustle in the throng, an excited murmur and fingers-pointing, the thrub of the TV helicopters (oh god - how's my hair?!) And they're HEEEERE! 

What a Thrill as they burned rubber round that long bend and shot up the Straight towards us!  Such a densely packed crowd of nearly two hundred bikes, looking very like this:

(In fact, this clip was the youtube end of Stage 11, which Mark Cavendish won). 
Our snippet of The Tour was just the same, but without the Pirates of the Caribbean music and the finish line.  It was fabulously exciting and very quick.  What a disappointment when the bringing-up-the-rear van  came past...

Yes - a Disappointment!  Obviously for George the Tour-junkie, but why for a dedicated Unsporty such as I?  The enforced hanging around Anticipating, perhaps..., the frisson of Live Action...

Should I start accompanying George to football matches, one wonders...

Hell No!!

Friday, July 8, 2011

I'm very reasonable - Fly Me!

What can you say about flying Low Fare? 

George and I recently experienced a Low Fares Airline for an intense session of ricocheting between France, Ireland, England and back again, and… well... it's very good In Parts.

It was certainly friendly and it was certainly jolly cheap… as long as you kept your wits about you and just said NO to everything except the seat.

Their first cunning plot was to refuse George’s tiny case at check-in, because it has an avant-garde lump that prevented it from snuggling all the way down into the gauge.   “It’ll have to go in the hold sir – 35euros please”.  (About twelve times the price of the flight).

Undaunted, George dashed back to the car, repacked everything into a supermarket carrier bag, and used that for the whole four-day trip.  A jaunty green, strong and remarkably practical...  In fact, I may use one next time too – who needs stuff neatly folded?

Then it was with a merry grimace that they bustled us through metal detecting, belt&shoe collecting and baggage poking-with-a-big-stick.  

Following that embarrassing procedure you can, if your elbows are determinedly pointy enough, nab a chair for the interminable Departure Containment Area wait, before scuttling across the tarmac and up the rickety ladder to the plane to be counted.

If you’re travelling Not Alone, there follows a tense moment finding seats Together that aren’t over the wing, outside the loo, or in front of the children from hell.  You then open the overhead locker, find it bursting with everyone else’s hand luggage because you’re not the only ones saving 35euros…  So you squish your case under your feet and use your knees as a book rest.  Then you relax and take note of the safety demo…

But Quick! – “it’s Time to start thinking about your first refreshing drink!” (They insist gaily).   "Purple90 – it refreshes your palate; quenches your thirst and helps you relax – Purple90 – the perfect drink!"  I have no idea whether it does all that or what it tastes like – for one thing I was still inwardly chanting Just Say NO, and for another I tend to lose my balance on the turbulent route to the loo, so do my best to avoid it.

I was, however, sorely tempted to take up smoking their “Smokeless Cigarettes…  they could change your life!  As well as win you prizes and help children’s charities!”  Blimey – what the hell’s in them instead of smoke?

Another must-do was Buy the inflight Scratch Cards – “at a very special offer of six for two!”  (Two what…)?   Who needs an onflight  film when there's all this stuff to concentrate on?

As I mentioned, our trip was many-flighted, but on the final one, I was sitting next to a woman who bought packaging for the local viagra factory (how do people find these exciting jobs?).  She didn’t like flying and was nervous before takeoff, so I was taking her mind off it with Jolly Chitchat.

Unusually, the plane launched like a moon rocket with added lurching, and I realised my head was going to come Off.  “Shit!” I yelled inadvertently, clutching the seat in front and trying not to vomit.  The woman’s smile was wan.

She bravely comforted me, though, when we came in to land, accompanied by a splendid fanfare Duddleunh dunh daaaah!  Or something quite like this (whoever Ryanair is...) :-

which is so daft, it brings everyone together into a great grinning blob!

And then - I'm not saying precisely where - but they'd counted us all on, and they counted us all off again. 
But we'll be back, and they know it!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Well - it moved for ME...

Planting a new burst of petunias this week I unearthed many things along with the old dead ones – sticks, snail-shells, a bit of old greaseblob put out for the birds and understandably spat out… A huge grey and black stone buried under the surface… or was that a tatoe infiltrating the pot?

I gave it a tap with my trowel but the clunk was indistinct, so I maneouvred the trowel underneath to dig it out, and it set off of its own accord...

It sprang to the side of the pot then turned to see if I was still there – a splendid chunky garden frog.  Very Like these garden frogs having a party in someone's pond:

Back to my frog in the plant pot - I suspect from my squelchy delvings that I’d been overwatering the petunias, and during the current drought a mini-swamp must have seemed rather appealing to a frog. This one stayed very still while I carefully picked him and his pot up, and carried him slowly across to the kitchen to see if we had any garlic.

Yes, of course I'm fibbing. (Although I confess to consuming frogs' legs when presented with them by someone for dinner).

Anyway, I was already in love with this specimen of amphibeanhood, so I repotted him in the shady leafy long-grassed rocky part that is much of our garden, then watered his new surroundings liberally. Frog Paradise!

In fact, I’m thinking of starting a Home – a sort of Saint Toadywinkles…

What d'you think?

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Battle of Shepherds Hay

As part of the Hideous Scar Competition currently being run by hideously scarred specimens CI and JW:

George has unearthed this ancient and faded, black & white scar image from my Morris Dancing Days...

Pitiful though this scar may look to the naked eye, this was a fearful battle of Bells and Big Sticks, following a performance of Shepherds Hay that went disastrously awry. Thank Heavens you can't see the blood!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Trouble with Gravel...

…is its unruly behaviour.

Have you got Gravel? Would you like some? Had you, like us, occasionally dreamed of covering over that scruffy bit of mud and weed, yet never confronted the task?

Until a delighted friend described how a Nice Gravel Delivery Man had simply steered his lorry round their garden, depositing an even gleaming layer, before driving off beamingly.

We’ll do it! quoth we.

Things got off to a disappointing start when our delivery man couldn’t get his enormous lorry through the gate, so emptied his mini-skips just inside it. He then looked back and forth weighing up the four mountains of gravel and our yard, and said, ‘You mean, you’re going to spread it all round here?’

This was puzzling – did we need more gravel? More yard? But with a baffling gallic shrug and a snort and a Hearty Hi Ho Silver, he was Away...

Since all comings and goings via the gate were now somewhat hampered, we set to with frenzied rake and wheelbarrow to spread the stuff around. It took two days of groan and ache and ‘Go away! I'd just got that bit Perfect!’

Anyway, when at last we’d rolled the final pebble it was Fabulous and fortunately, a timely downpour dispelled the cloud of dust and transformed its appearance from stumps of blackboard chalk to Real Gravel!  Why hadn’t we done this years ago? Perhaps we should be thinking water feature and trellis while we’re at it…

The cats weren’t quite as thrilled as we were – they gave it a delicate poking, then shot across as if on hot coals. Undershoe, it was satisfyingly crunchy, except when scaling the slight incline to the gate when it was like snowboarding up a glacier in an avalanche. "Bit slidy, isn’t it?" yelled a visitor as his car veered out onto the road.

Fine tuning, that’s all it needs…

And then came the Weeds… sprouting triffidly between every stone. Surely that’s not right? Surely gravel not only looks smart but keeps weeds at bay?

No. Weeds are kept at bay by weeding, and weeding gravel is particularly irksome. If you pull a dandelion out it brings its clump of earth with it and leaves you with a gravelly soil mix. You must scrape away; weed; scrape back.

So we asked around and we googled and we experimented. (Avoiding cat-killing chemicals).

We concluded that:  you need several vats of salt&vinegar potion ro de-weed half a square metre of gravel; that point-blank steamer nozzling was surprisingly useless (although it permanently de-skinned my finger en route); and that George’s crème-brûlée blowtorch was really satisfying one weed at a time but we could do with an industrial-canteen-sized one.

I’ve also been out there thrashing the weeds in the manner of John Cleese. But just for my own satisfaction really…

Well, we’ve just had another torrential downpour, and I can see the weeds Bursting Forth anew. And suddenly the answer’s clear – Paint It Green! I was delighted to find that Green Gravel exists!  (They seem to be suggesting you can also use it in your aquarium!

 I think this "Neon" is particularly attractive. (How many 5lb bags are there in 4 tons)?

Now for appropriate burst of Mott the Hoople:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Barry Bucknell Rides Again

‘So where does this one go?’ brandishes George.

‘According to the writing on the back,’ I suggest, (ignoring disparaging comments on people's writing), ‘It goes bnd d drs tds g.’

Clearly, it's destined for... Behind my set of drawers nearest garden end wall. Unfortunately, George has banged another skirting board back in that position - no wonder it was a tight squeeze…

Barry Bucknell would be proud, though. Not only have we painted the bedroom, but also removed skirting boards, and are now tackling their post-new-carpet replacement. George has even managed to hide wires behind these skirtings! Not bad, considering the height of our DIY before moving to France was plug-changing and car-washing.

Here, of necessity, George has: put in light fittings (the only thing left on change of ownership in France is an occasional bulb on a grotty wire), fixed curtain rails, installed new sinks, laid tiled floors… his accomplishments are manifold and staggering. (Well - I paint...). And I’m proud.

Surely the first DIY puzzlings of people our age were stimulated in infancy, when the beaming Barry Bucknell would explain how to Make Things and Then Stick Nails In Them.

(Please Do click on the picture in this link for cacophonous 10-second video of him saying Goodbye)!

For George and I, DIY is still puzzling, and something we enjoy when it’s finished.

Our painting project this time, however, was unusually fun-filled owing to imminent exchange of festering old carpet for new one. What Joy Unbounded to splosh paint around with complete disregard for the floor! (One’s joy was a bit too unbounded near the shelving, but a quick blast of nail varnish remover did the trick).

The Man came last Tuesday to fit the replacement carpet (professional job seemed sensible here), and asked with a smirk if we’d like to keep the old one. No thank you. Lord knows what lurked therein – it was in place when we arrived nine years ago and aeons before, judging from the multi-hued indelible splodges. If he could have picked it up between finger and thumb, I’m sure he would have.

Of course, paramount in DIY is the restoring to original order once the Doing is done. Hence, since Tuesday, we’ve been engaged in the reinstatement of bed, drawers, boxes, linen, clothes, shoes and tons of other bedroom bits...

Slight discord here – I’m happy to restore to the original Open-Door-and-Chuck-in kind of order for now. Whereas George can excel at organising, and this time he has indeed excelled. Shoes have been secreted into neat slide-out boxes, towels have been folded(!) onto shelves with unfrayed parts to the fore, Things hung on hangers – Verily, this is a New bedroom!

What Delight! What a Sense of Satisfaction! And WHAT can we now Stick Nails In…?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Just One Galette-oh!

Buy Five – Get One Free!! Was the enthusiastic suggestion on the baker’s counter. Well, you can’t have too many Galettes des Rois at this time of year…

Or can you? What do you actually do with these six dinner-plate-size slabs of puff pastry, stuffed with frangipane - a sort of almond paste - and a tiny ceramic SpongeBob (or Bob l’Eponge, as he's known here)?

Because wherever you may roam in France during the month of January, there will be at least six other galettes lying in wait. Not to mention the seventeen you’re already digesting from previous galette-gatherings…

Last week at our house (of course we do it too) I, as the youngest, (YESSSSS!), had to dive under the table with my eyes shut and wave haphazardly at the next person to take a slice, until all slices had been took.

This, apparently, is the traditional way of avoiding Nasty squabbles over the assigning of SpongeBob. For, whoever gets him is King for the Day, and wears the Special Golden Crown (that lurks within every galette bag), and must buy the next six galettes. The next galette, anyway.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be SpongeBob… it could be anything the baker decides to bake therein (generally inanimate). Until the 1960’s (one gleans from this handy link):
the Thing was a real dried bean. Oh...

Happily for those with the Collecting Urge, there are now many, many categories of charm to collect – animals, films, jobs, sports, celebrities and perhaps more aptly, religious figures. For the Galette des Rois (Cake of the Kings) celebrates their Arrival in Bethlehem on Twelfth Night (or Take the Decorations Down time).

When I was a lad in Englandouroldcountry, people would bake not charms, but silver sixpences into the Christmas Pud. Many of which would then be swallowed by their grannies, putting a damper on the entire proceedings.

Back to this Galette, which was a new taste sensation for George and I when we arrived in France. George took to it immediately, and I took to the filling, but does the cake have to be quite so hefty...?

There are fillings other than almond paste - apple is very popular for example, and you can add cinnamon, amaretto, or walnuts as I once did and which was Not At All popular.

The Galettes do seem to be around for Ages - yesterday we mercifully microwaved our last two slices. These were ten days old and still going strong. The excess crust went onto the bird table - an exciting and seemingly welcome addition to their usual toasted wholemeal...

And so, as January nears its end, we wave a merry farewell to all those Galettes des Rois. We heave our tums out of their wheelbarrows and contemplate perhaps yoghurt or a banana, a situp or two, brisk pastry-melting walks...

For this Bombardment started nearly a Month ago - we need to sprrrring bouncily back to life with a hearty Get thee behind me, Spongebob!

It's been twenty-four hours now.

I wonder if there's any left on that bird table...