Sunday, 11 November 2018

Autumn walk on Armistice day.

We found this rather wonderful place a few months back - an unsung nature reserve of interlocking lakes and natural woodland. Long may it stay unsung as there are no cars, ice-cream vans or crowds. It's not mentioned as a place to visit at our local tourist office and the vague attempts at fencing suggest whoever owns it would rather people stayed out.
Today it was exceptionally beautiful in the autumn sun: majestic tree reflections in the calm water, a new carpet of gold and yellow leaves and many water birds including herons, moorhens, winter-sheltering cormorants and a colony of white egrets.
Also, wonderful to see was a veritable village of bee-hives which we had to pass (gingerly) a few bees lazily buzzing around their respective edifices. I don't know whether this place might have been ex-gravel pits or is a series of natural lakes but I think it will become a regular haunt through the different seasons.



                                                                      Egret colony


          And as if a quiet reminder of what this day commemorates - a field of autumn sunflowers we passed on the way to the lakes.

Friday, 9 November 2018


Christmas rant time.

8th of November and our local BIG supermarket already has all the festive calories well on display. I tried to find last years rant and can't but I'm sure it was nowhere near this early.


           Cardboard Big Ben of After Eights - or, some creepy and messianic battleship Galactica?

So, After Eight Mints are dominating the territory this year in this particular shop - maybe some ironic statement on Brexit? I just looked up where After Eights (Nestlé) are actually made and was surprised to find they are still manufactured on British soil - Halifax and not within the scary-looking Swiss Nestlé plant somewhere on the edge of Lac Leman.
Hurrah for British products and come the great cutting of the umbilical cord from the EU mother ship (Hopefully Not!!!) at least that will be one export the rest of the world will be raving to buy. Except A 8 mints are obviously as British as Alpine horns, Muesli and Helvetica Font are.


What I found so extra-weird was there were actually people fondling packs of NEW Christmas A 8 special editions: strawberry and mint, cat-liver and gravel flavour, etc, and then placing them in their trolleys. In early November.
Why not some heavy seasonal marketing on Butter Nut squash, VitC-providing citrus fruit, hearty soup ingredients? Well, obviously not quite the same money-raking-in as cruise-ship size display of chocolate from basically one manufacturer.
It's all so sad. Could be quite exciting in a twisted, consumerist way if none of this was allowed until say the 15th of December. Imagine the mayhem as shoppers climbed the wavering cardboard display stands, hurling tens of boxes of Nestle soft-centres into the hands of their waiting family members and/or already bulging trolleys.
Oo. I'm quite cross today. Think I'll head out into the rain for a dog walk then come back and eat some of Mark's home-made pumpkin pie.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

The lowest point, climbing back up and the occasional usefulness of mosquitos.

I never thought I would say this but, last night a mosquito saved my life (to the tune of 'last night a DJ saved my life'). Well, not exactly - saved my life, but turned the positivity back on.
It's been a crappy couple of weeks due to emotional things; too many articles read on the looming chasm of crap humanity seems to be peering into; Brexshit, Trump, and the final straw, a feature on the fact that the Box Moth, which has destroyed just about all of our indigenous Box trees is now moving on to Cypress trees/hedging. Added to the fact that I had the worst cold/possible flu I've had for years, well I was feeling fairly grotty.
After trying to get to sleep for two hours I was just dropping into a cocoon of warmth and drowsiness when I heard a noise that shouldn't be present in early November - a mosquito looking for a last blood feast before? dying? hibernating? feeding up the next batch of offspring? I whacked the air around my head for a while, as one does then got up knowing my sleep had well and truly been disturbed. I stood in the bathroom for a moment looking at my groggy reflection and then started laughing. The final absurdity. The lowest point. Then I knew it had to be time to find the metal rungs stuck into the side of the mental well and start climbing.
This morning, the vile cold is well entrenched - possibly flu (three jumpers on, hot water bottle trapped in the layers and I'm still shivering but the gloom seems to have moved off along with the rain that poured last night.
Such a strange thing the mind. I'm lucky to have one that generally springs back to half glass full after any bad times. It might be a trigger of a walk, a bit of digging the garden, a kind email, or the fact that Nigel Farage only had a vote of 18% confidence on a Britain-wide survey/Channel 4 survey I saw earlier this morning while doing the washing up. Whatever . . . it's good to feel I'm back in my own personal leak-free (mostly) boat and rowing the right way.


Saturday, 3 November 2018


Spot the difference.

The Lorax, by the inspirational Dr Seuss was first published in 1971 and is apparently one of many banned children's books in the USA - too subversive, the wrong message, anti-consumerism. I think he had incredible powers of observation, possibly the ability to see into the future?

We must have read The Lorax to our son Ezra about two hundred times and we/he never tired of it. In the early 90s the message was all too clear especially for someone like me, being involved in the shoddy world of advertising as a stylist.
I worked with companies who produced the equivalent of Thneeds - useless, of-the-moment items that would be produced in sweat shops to then be added to land-fill as soon as the interest wore off/the items broke/or were deemed to be 'so last year' or actually, month, more likely.
I've just read a review of the Lorax film. The story, from this account would have poor Seuss weeping in his grave - sugary, pathetically unfunny jokes all the way through, the message lost under a whumph of Hollywood 'business as usual'.
The book should be brought back and be issued as standard early-school reading along with subjects such as: where food actually comes from, how to cook it; how to garden and nurture food-plants, how to reuse what you have, and how to adapt to a possibly very near world where what colour your next smart phone will be is of absolutely no consequence.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

In my next life...

I'd like to be a musician, or possibly a dancer. If, we get a choice in such things, and I do believe in some hopeful, abstract way that one's soul might return to this wonderful and messed-up place we call The Earth.
I think I've been a reasonably good person, so far - at least enough not to return as a dung-beetle, a leech or a self-obsessed, narcissistic, country-ruining politician. Hopefully.
Over the years I've photographed my incredibly talented (I am allowed to say that, even though I am British, as it's true) pianist husband in his various groups. Working at a Conservatoire now, he has been fortunate to meet several wonderful fellow musicians and I've visually recorded them all, with various degrees of success. I have a degree in photography but also have an inbuilt tendency to feel fear at any sign of new technology, so the workings of my Canon have been mysterious for a long time.
So, yes. Being a musician. I have been, to a very small extent - sang in a rock band, played snare in a samba group, but to really have that deep musical knowledge I regard through the lens as I snap away at their postures and expressions, suspended somewhere in another world of music, is something else.
Which instrument in this imagined new life would I choose? Probably the cello, or double bass, maybe a bass bassoon. Something with a woody resonance that creeps through into your core. Alas, in this life, I'll probably have to make do with singing a few covers, or perhaps my own stuff - novels and songs. Why not?
Here's a bit of a blues song written years ago when Ezra, aged about four (now twenty) became obsessed with train journeys. and asked me if we could go on that Dirty Train to Wallsall. I presume we must have been standing around in Birmingham New Street at the time. Can't recall now.

I'm on a dirty, dirty, dirty train to Walsall, a dirty, dirty train to Walsall.
Man, it is so far and there ain't no restaurant car, I'm on a dirt, dirty, dirty train to Walsall.
Lord, I'd give my soul for a hot bacon and tomato roll, I'm on a dirty, dirty, dirty train to Walsall,
etc, sung in a mournful blues façon.

Anyway, back to the real thing and here's some photos of Mark playing with talented colleagues: flautist, Julie and percussionist, Julian; and in another group, Viola player, Yesault.

And possibly my favourite photo: Mark, Yseult and dancer, Yuko.

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Bonjour, Toulouse!

Yeah well, it wasn't exactly the same numbers as the London Stop-Brexit rally but a few of us Brits in Southern France got together and with permission, bien sur, of Toulouse Mairie, were allowed to make our own small version in the main square.
A few hundred leaflets handed out, much tweeting/Face-booking, and poster holding later we acknowledged it had been worth doing. All the French who had stopped and talked with us were either for Britain remaining within the EU, or happy to discuss the subject, sometimes not really knowing much about it.
The poster announcing that London is officially recognised as the Fifth biggest French city, just before Nice, was read many times with many very raised eyebrows.
No one told us to get off back to the rock and apart from one bloke on a bicycle who methodically made one of the A5 leaflets into a paper aeroplane, curled his lip slightly and threw the dart at us, there was no animosity, no slavering Frexiteers, just polite and supportive interest.


I knew there was a reason I kept the Carnaval hat.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Permaculture and making soil

As an antidote all the crushingly depressing news surrounding us on all media, I opted for re-exploring the subject of Permaculture; something I find fascinating and hope-inspiring.
A few Youtube videos later I felt encouraged to attack our summer parched garden. I'd already made heaps of cuttings from various attempts at an autumn cut-back and had been considering where to have a large bonfire without setting fire to any trees.

Supposing I didn't do a bonfire, let alone several? Or drive a car load of green stuff to the tip.

After watching one truly amazing gardener dumping all his green vegetation along with cardboard, paper, kitchen waste, pine needles, etc etc, I emulated this - not very correctly - but with what I had.
The idea is to not disturb the soil by much digging and turning but to add moisture and rotted down plant material so that you actually leave new soil to develop as the debris gradually breaks down.

The more serious Permaculturists - if that is a word - do a lot more preparation than I did; one guy driving to his local forest, felling semi-rotten trees, hauling them back and burying them in trenches and then covering it all with grass cuttings, leaves, compost, etc, etc.

In a piece he had prepared earlier (hello, Blue Peter) he planted young lettuce plants within the foliage mulch and you could practically see them starting to grow enthusiastically. His garden was a truly beautiful tapestry of plants, vegetables and fruit trees. Ours is a windswept, ragged thing with some nice bits I've managed to keep watered enough over the very long, hot dry summer. It'll be an interesting experiment to see if my mulching attempts bear fruit, or at least potatoes bigger than marbles.

Another film I saw was called Greening the Desert. Geoff Lawton 's extraordinary project has taken some of the driest desert spots in the world and has turned them into living, green spaces. The before and afters are incredible: literally sandblasted areas of rock made into functioning food-producing gardens. So, if it can be done on an inland desert I should be able to improve our Southern France patch of land.