Saturday 26 December 2015

The mysterious allure of knobbly gold-chocolates

Perhaps it's the same elsewhere, but France's supermarket shoppers seem obsessed with Ferrero Rocher. We usually receive a box or two from Mark's piano students, but this year there were many boxes under the tree, including the most landfill-esque version we have yet seen: a giant, thick plastic cone, I suppose meant to resemble a diamond . . . this shouldn't be allowed under packaging laws - if any actually exist.


Amongst the many mysteries in the world sit questions surrounding F.Rocher: why do people buy them? They taste like . . .well, a blob of Nutella with sand in it. The actual nut is fine, but I'd rather just have a bag of hazelnuts and forget the sugar, gold foil and gleaming plastic.
It's kind of people to give Mark a present after a year of lessons, but why not other chocolates? Our biggest local supermarket had a chocolate section far bigger than the fruit and veg area; towering displays of everything from milk/dark selection boxes to chocolate covered hamsters, so why purchase F.R? Is it the marketing? the safety in buying something that is recognised/everyone will like (not); the price? - I had a look out of curiosity, and, nope, lots more quality-branded stuff at similar or cheaper - so . . . I think it must be a present list thing - check list: ah yes, fifteen presents to buy for not immediate friends or family, "grab fifteen boxes, Anton," done.
Other chocolates sitting about in the house call out: "Eat me . . . come on, you know you want to." But the Nutella blobs don't have this effect on me, or on other members of the family (maybe the dogs, but I haven't offered them any, hounds being allergic to choc apparently). Mark half-heartedly ate one or two, but the boxes were destined to stay un-opened/be re-gifted until we had an idea of creating a festive pud with them, as no-one had got around to making a more traditional one.

So: Ferrero Rocher red fruit and custard surprise.

Get a big bowl, put knobbly chocs and cream in and beat (I liked this bit) with a rolling pin, put in glasses, add a layer of red fruits, a layer of crême anglaise and a blob of cream on top.



Friday 25 December 2015

Happy Christmas



Wednesday 23 December 2015

Golden Brussel Sprout Award

For the most useless Christmas item of 2015: please give a big hand to the factory that produced . . . a silver plastic apple the size of a sumo-wrestling turkey.
Imagine having to open this in front of your family and look really pleased.


Light and shadows

On my return from the rather grey UK, I was greatly relieved to find that the sun was still shining back home, although it has been a tad dry - not good for next years crops/garden etc.
The dogs sprang from the car on seeing the two neglected fields that we have adopted as their race track, and ran in a big grassy circle while we stood, revolving slowly, watching this wonderful sight.

A view of a brick-built folly with its 'rabbit ear' guardian cypress trees, winter vines, and mist in the Aude valley

Tuesday 15 December 2015

Edit number five

I was so sure last time that it was right . . . and then I got it back (Hoxton, edit 4) and discovered about seven pages worth of mistakes, typos, wrong names, and general story outline to be improved upon - Oh, for an editor.
So, this is the new one and from a brief flip through it's looking good (no cover yet).


         Here are a few illustrations from the book.


Monday 14 December 2015

Dog rigueur


What the best dressed hounds are wearing this season . . . 

Our rescue greyhounds in snuggly fleeces this morning as it was hovering around zero

The worst cup of tea . . . ever


I love tea. Love it! But unfortunately, due to a boring neuralgic pain-in-face thing, I can't drink too much of it due to the teoline or whatever is the caffeine equivalent (can't do coffee either).
It's become a treat, quite a highlight of the day (sad): the choosing of which time to take the glittering beverage, what to serve it with - obsessional even . . .
So, when, a day or two back, we were travelling to the coast, a salon du thé presented itself along the route, we decided to stop. Tea! and cake! so many to choose from, oh!
I opted for a cherry and peach fougasse slipper-like something, and Mark, a tarte au citron. We asked what teas they had. Actually, I only wanted builder's creosote, but felt I should honour the fact that they were a proper tea house.
She looked blank for a moment, stumped by the question, so we proceeded, "Deux thés au lait, s'il vous plaît."
We sat and nibbled cake and she placed two wrapped green tea bags on the table.
"Excusez-moi, madame, est-ce que vous avez du thé noir?"
"Du Lipton's yellow label, peut-être?"
"Non, que du thé vert."
We nodded English-ley: "Lovely. Two teas with milk, alors, merci."
A teapot was placed in the microwave.
We nibbled more and looked around at the functional space: not the remotest nod to cosiness: no flowery china, flowers, table clothes, etc - strip lights, 80s formica, and a mean looking santa in the window.
The teapot having been hand-tested for luke-warmness, was placed placed on the table.
Ah, warm milk, authentically Indian... but no water.
Being British (and pathetic) we dunked the bags a bit. No tea colour came out, just a hint of piss- colour. Mark braved a question.
"Do you think we could have some hot water?"
She stared at us as if we were insane. "Mais, - you said thé au lait, n'est-ce pas?"
"Yes, but you have to make it with hot water and then -"
"Ah, oui, vous avez raison - I forgot, my nephew usually makes it. He knows the method." She added as if tea with milk is a crucial part of a closely guarded chemical warfare secret .
She humphed and returned five minutes later to present us with a second teapot, half full of tepid water.
We made the best of it: pale jade-coloured liquid with slightly off, milk clumps. Actually we failed to make the best of it; ate the cakes and stood up to pay at the counter.
I was dreading the 'was everything all right' thing, but as we were not in the USA, this didn't occur.
I thought perhaps she might have, being slightly overwhelmed by our complex demands, and thus making a cochon's ear out of what should have been my highlight of the day, say, she wouldn't charge for the drinks, but she didn't, and she did - charge.
We left and stood for a moment, watching through the window as she cleared our table, slightly slopping the still-full cups of chilled green tea, and mentioned again the idea of doing our own tea salon/books/weird stuff, shop. Watch this space . . .

Saturday 12 December 2015

The F.E.W

Proud Mum's club - we were all there last night at our sons' band, The F.E.W, playing in a small but incredibly lively café in Fa (Aude).
Freddy, bass, Ezra (my son) drums, William, Guitar.





Friday 11 December 2015

Cracked Eye

Great name - great publication.
In this busy world maybe we don't always have time to sit and read as much as we might like. Cracked Eye is an online publication specialising in short stories, short films, and my favourite way to take in some one else's imagination, audio stories.
The site is beautifully constructed and features some great illustrations too.
Paste in this link and enjoy . . .


        Illustration by Leosaysays for my story The Hundred and Fifty-Eighth Book'



Wednesday 9 December 2015

Never work with animals or children

That's what photographers used to say when I was a stylist.
And it was true . . . The times I had stood in a studio waiting while a harassed mother tried to coax a toddler into sitting still for the required photo, or watching with suppressed laughter while someone chased a cat around the room after it had just been groomed for the millionth time ready for its fifteen seconds of fame as the star of Purry Chunks, or similar.
Baby clothes catalogues were probably the worst. We used to have about three babies in reserve as the time limit on prodding (however gently) an infant into the right pose was . . . short, to say the least before the 'whaaing' would set in.
These days photography for me tends to be snapping odd buildings, plants, etc, the family, and our dogs - usually difficult to capture as they move fast, unless asleep (dogs, not family). This moment though was an exception. 'Bali' had obviously seen a rabbit or other small beast and was 'frozen' giving me enough time to struggle the camera over thick coat, switch it on and snap just before she leapt.


Tuesday 8 December 2015

French bureaucracy for dummies

There isn't one - a book, one of those friendly looking black and yellow titles on everything from car maintenance to taxidermy (possibly - I haven't checked).
But then I don't think anyone could write one on this subject as no one seems to know what is going on anyway.
Yesterday, I went down to our local social security system office where I sat next to a dying, weeping fig for thirty minutes to then be told by a brisk woman who appeared to be aged about fourteen, that we had done it all wrong. It being something so mind-numbingly boring that I won't bother to describe the Kafka-esque mess up.
I went back home and we searched for the appropriate document, found it (possibly) and went back. After my second chat with the plant I saw a different woman, more sensibly aged and with a bright but actually welcoming manner.
She looked at the piece of paper and shook her head making those tsk tsk noises that French women in positions of (perceived) power are so good at.
"Mais, non, Madame. This is not ze right one - you need the . . . " she then proceeded to tell me I needed the 'letter de radiation'. This was alarming as I don't think we have ever agreed to being radiated. I also learned that the fourteen-year old had given us the wrong forms and that I would have to fill out three more with exactly the same information on them.
I cycled home, made tea and looked up the word 'radiation'. It actually means finished, gone, kaput, which I though was résilliation. Still you learn something (many things) every day, n'est pas?
We then both went down and sat in a queue after which we were told that it was still wrong and that we would have to make an appointment to have a longer chat, assuming another piece of paper would arrive from the company who should have sent it four months ago.
I cycled home and met 'The Bee Man' - lovely neighbour who, yes, keeps bees. I told him of my morning's waste of time to which he recounted similar stupidities involving bureaucracy with a final comment which I think I will write, print out and stick on our bureau wall.
'Ma chère madame, we are around 40 million French people and 39 and a half million don't know what is going on. You are not alone, you can be sure of that.'
I think I shall make our own copy of French Bureaucracy for Dummies. A blank interior with someone doing a Gallic shrug and the words 'Bon Chance.'

Saturday 5 December 2015

Action dog - sofa slob

'Don't these dogs need a lot of exercise'?  said a fellow hound-walker the other day on observing the keen-ness in our two Galgo's (Spanish Greyhounds) strides.

They do - but preferably in the form of a rabid sprint round a field, after which they will happily amble home and collapse onto a sofa.
Long slower walks are good too, but watching them this morning I think I've got the formula right, for me too: brisk walk up a hill, let them off the leads and gawp in admiration as they blur past, tongues lolling; walk back, them to collapse, me to get on with some work feeling refreshed and a perhaps a little lighter of flab.
I'm not sure what you do if you live in a city with these dog-types - borrow a dog track?



Husband is similar although he does more sprinting (work) and less sofa-slobbing.

Festive wonders of youtube

Haha. Wonderful - "there are huge pairs of pants" . . .

Monday 30 November 2015

Moving forward

Online publishing magazine 'Cracked Eye' have included my story 'The hundred and fifty-eighth book' in this month's edition.
Excellent publication featuring short stories, films and art.

Wednesday 25 November 2015

London on many tangents

            Big, isn't it? London. Coming in from the South-East side, not sure what the cluster of blue and pink 'jewels' are to the bottom of picture, possibly a huge fairground.

Another pilgrimage to my hometown, mainly with the excuse of researching for my series of books set in London (Londonia) in 2072.
I went with a sort of plan: a series of directions to take, pictures to sketch, train journeys to make etc, but as ever in this city, the plan became a long series of walking tangents as I spotted ever new things to investigate and photograph.
I arrived on a freezing evening after a long wait for a bus at Stansted, and was gladdened to see the little rectangular neon sign of the St Athan's hotel in the otherwise dark street of Tavistock Place.
For anyone wishing to stay cheaply in the centre of London, this hotel is brilliant: very cheap, clean with friendly staff and in a great location.

                                                           Gower street, early morning

Centre Point under wraps

The following morning I walked Eastwards towards Shoreditch and to St Leonard's church, the main setting for the first of my books: Hoxton. After many extra wanderings I arrived in time for their service and afterwards a chat with the very cool vicar, during which I gave him a proof copy and talked over possible ideas for a book launch there - whenever I actually finish/publish/ or get published.

I'd never noticed the café ('Kick') across the high street before, and, liking its eclectic mix of furniture outside - school desks and formica chairs, decided to have lunch there. Wonderful interior, and delicious food noted and eaten I walked back to the West end via Brick Lane, with many more tangents, including a visit to an Indian sweet shop - mmmm.

 fancy lettuce in a deli

 When I worked just off Brick Lane there were many fabric shops like this

rather extraordinary graffiti and murals

So, back to the West end, a bus trip over the river, a tad of opera in Clapham (arrived 3/4 way through a small scale, and very good, version of La Boheme) followed by fish and chips with friend Penny and a last tube journey of the day back to Russell Square.
The next day was cold enough for gloves, and cold enough to require fast walking, which I did, with no plan again. I meandered discovering new details, new streets, new (old) drinking establishments and visiting the churches that sit on islands in The Strand. I can't believe I lived so long in London with our ever stepping into these ship-like edifices surrounded by shoals of cars and buses.

An interior detail of one of the Strand Churches; all back, white gold, and oddly, very well heated

                            Part of the incredible entrance to Lloyds Bank on The Strand

A drinking house (Seven Stars) opposite the law courts. I really wanted to go in but it was only 8.30 in the morning. Probably the best name I've ever seen above a pub door.

                                         I liked their window display, particularly this.

Big cities are all about big stuff: sites, shows, flash shops, over-visited monuments . . . but it's the small details I often find more fascinating; things that tell a quieter and overlooked narrative of the everyday city.

      The first drinking fountain in Metropolitan London, complete with its own cups on chains not quite like the numerous coffee boutiques a few feet away.

two of several metal objects sunk, or possibly adhered to the pavement near the Brunswick center.

                                                     marble sign near Russell Square

And one day I'll do a walking tour/photographic marathon of all the London Blue plaques.

thought this one was a bit . . . desperate. Surely she had some other claim to fame? And she didn't even live in this house, but one on the site of . . . 

 He lent someone some socks who lived in this house - no, actually he did live there.

And so on to Mayfair to gawp in shop windows at diamonds, terrible art, Porches and handbags. 
If one were to look at a heat photograph of London, there would be many hotspots in the roads of this area; most of the restaurants possessing Christmas decor-festooned terrace, and, blight of our current times (one of them), the Patio Heater. 
As with most cities (I imagine), the difference in clothes, cars, people, shops, etc within just a few miles is incredible - Bethnal green in the morning, Mayfair in the afternoon; my brain couldn't cope with the overload of visual information and I had to go in a scarily smart teashop, just to observe . . . 
I couldn't really get the camera out but the sight of five suited-men with slicked back hair and black everything sharing three cake-stands worth of delicate sandwiches, cakes and macaroons was a wonder. 
I walked back as dusk was seeping and looked at the theatres; nothing on at the National Opera as it had been taken over by London Fashion awards - people hoovering the red carpet, assembling more patio heaters and placing palms in pots. The first scantily clad women appeared (glad I had my gloves, scarf, coat, yak fur on, etc. I stood in amazement for a few minutes while the crowd increased and the press vultures landed. "Giz us a wave, Babe," shrieked the woman next to me as a female attired in a small amount of blue chiffon turned to look at us plebs. I left and went to queue up to see real art in the form of Ai Wei Wei at the Academy. Sixteen quid to get in but worth every farthing.

            This was a lot of money - at least they could have taken a bit more time over the lines (Mayfair art gallery)

man eating oysters between TWO patio heaters - air temperature in rest of street about three degrees.

          You need one of these in Mayfair - the hills/snow/tractor tracks and mud are appalling

                                    Patio heaters and hoovering at the fashion awards

Beautiful and meaningful art at the Academy

After eating a kebab, I walked around a lot looking at the night time city before going to see 'The Lady in the Van' along with two other people in a cinema on Leicester Square. Everyone else must have been at the fashion awards or possibly christmas shopping - Argg, every year it gets worse. The very worst of all was the interior of a three floor shop, which I think used to be the Trocadero, devoted to M&Ms.
Three floors . . . devoted to small violently-coloured sweets that all taste the same, along with cushions, clothes, china, pens, towels . . . 
My feet were now protesting, so, after a mug of hot milk in a coffee shop: "Really? Madame, just . . . hot milk . . . " back to the hotel via some back streets thinking about the film and remembering how at the end Mr Bennet had put a blue plaque up on his house to commemorate the van. Must see it next time. 

                                                               Three floors of festive landfill

  some very average women shaped mannikins with heads obviously inspired by those tiny mushrooms you get in Chinese restaurant cooking

Leicester Square with wheel and cleaning lorry

Late night London