Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Sunny Christmas 2018

Quite odd to have sunlight blazing into the kitchen on Christmas day. But that's how it was yesterday. No snow, no clouds, no rain or wind or dismal greyness. And, being almost the shortest day of the year, the sun was low in the sky so the sunny shafts stabbed almost right across the room.

As Georgie and Donnie slaved over the oven and stove knocking up a superb Christmas lunch, I stayed clear of the activity by remaining perched in my kitchen chair, occasionally making myself useful by laying slices of smoked salmon onto plates and chopping up a lemon. Exhausted by these travails, I slowly recovered by swigging vin rouge. And champagne.

Throughout these proceedings, to further keep myself occupied as the diligent duo grafted away, I took a few snaps to record the culinary activity for posterity. This didn't really please Georgie due to her fear that I might load the photos onto Facebook where the whole world and his dog (including her chums) could then witness the somewhat rustic ambience of our cuisine. 'Modern' isn't exactly a word that comes to mind when describing this room. But we simple peasants like it. Well, I do. It's homely and functional. Warm too when the stove's burning up logs. So there.

Normally we knock up our grub and then nosh it upstairs in front of the telly (using just a fork while the left hand steadies to plate - spag bol, curry, etc., our normal fayre, rarely requires fork AND knife).  However, on this auspicious occasion we decided to nosh at the kitchen table, thus avoiding the likelihood of hot spillage onto laps while attacking with knife and fork (thereby not having a spare hand to steady a wobbly platter). And a splendid lunch it was too.

For dessert we headed upstairs and parked ourselves in front of the gogglebox where we stuffed our faces with mince pies, Chirstmas pud and ice cream. Mince pies and Christmas pud?! In France?! Oui! I'd lashed out a few weeks back on an online order from the magnificent Walker's of Scotland. Bought some Christmas cake, chocolate mint and chocolate ginger biccies too. Hang the expense! (£40 well spent, including postage.)

'Twas a Christmas to remember. Very simple. No stress. Just took it easy. Well, I took it easy, being a slob. Was supposed to visit the neighbours at around sevenish in the evening. Didn't quite make it. Dynamite wouldn't have budged me off the sofa. Shall have to pop in later to apologise for a no show. Mind you, they (Isabelle and Christian) apparently had a dozen family members for lunch, and a few more scheduled for a visit in the evening. So maybe our absence won't matter. Much. If at all. Maybe.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Hockney Schlesinger Boman

Hockney's 'Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)' recently sold for $90.3m and became the most expensive artwork ever by a living artist, easily beating the previous record of $58.4m for a Jeff Koons' 'Balloon Dog' sculpture. The painting depicts Peter Schlesinger looking at an underwater swimmer (his new boyfriend?) and was painted by a sad Hockney after his break-up with Schlesinger. It's said that Hockney wanted to convey his pain at Schlesinger's search for a new lover. 

Interestingly, shortly after this painting was finished, Schlesinger hooked up with new lover Eric Boman. Even more interestingly, I remember Boman as a student at the Royal College of Art. When he sauntered into the canteen at lunchtime, dozens of swooning girls (and a few lads) would murmur "By 'eck, he's gorgeous!", and indeed he was (and still is, judging by recent photos). But, to the ladies' disappointment he was gay and rumoured to be part of the Hockney set (thereby causing mass slitting of wrists and suicidal leaping out of canteen windows - the canteen was on the ground floor - by some of the girls, and mass holding in of beerguts while preening in front of mirrors by some of the chaps). 

After leaving the RCA, Boman achieved fame as a Vogue photographer, despite a common belief that he was pretty enough to be in front of the camera rather than behind it. Having researched this painting I've discovered that it features a south of France pool, not a Californian one. Also, Schlesinger (in pink jacket) wasn't there - his pose photo was taken in Kensington Gardens. And the swimmer was actually John St. Clair (who hurt his head on the bottom of the pool when diving in so Hockney could photograph him underwater) not Boman (though Boman may well be the person Hockney was depicting). And Schlesinger and Boman are still together living in New York about 40-odd years later. I wonder if Hockney still sees them.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Misty morning

I remember when I first arrived in our little village I was immediately hooked on the view out front. Despite the cloudy drizzle (I think it was around September '04) I could just make out the distant horizon across the valley. I've been looking at that view for about fourteen years now. It's changed a bit. Some trees have gone and others have been planted. Brush and scrub have been cleared and new fields claimed. And, of course, the view changes with seasons. But the main change is the lighting. Sometimes bright, sometimes dull, sometimes clear, sometimes misty. Take this morning for example. Sunny and misty. Very Turneresque. The view constantly changed as the mists rolled about and the sun rose higher. Enthralling. I think that's the right word.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Migrating cranes

It's around this time of year that hundreds (nay, probably thousands) of cranes (called 'grue' in France, or maybe 'grues' - dunneau for sure) fly south from somewhere around Finland (and/or Russia, Sweden, Germany and other chilly northern places) and head towards the warmer climes of countries such as Spain and north Africa (apparently Algeria is a popular spot) where they spend the winter months. One of their favoured routes is a sort of diagonal line (north-east to south-west) over France, which, of course, means they fly directly over our neck of the woods.

Knowing that thousands of these birdies are likely to be flying overhead at any given moment, means that one is constantly looking skywards in the hope of spotting a gang of feathered travellers other than the usual crows, magpies, sparrows or hawks. This usually results in a stiff neck and/or an unfortunate treading in a cowpat or a pile of dog poo. But..., if one is lucky enough to be in the presence of these migrating oiseaux, one may be unlucky enough to have one's vision impaired by bleedin' clouds. In a circumstance such as that, one will merely be able to hear the flock (or is it a gaggle of grues?) as it passes unseen overhead due to their excited chattering as they trundle onwards. Loud chattering. Non stop chattering while fluttering.

A few weeks back, when Don was here, we heard a chattering in the sky and, sure enough, a gang of grue (or should that be grues?) eventually appeared. Marvellous sight. Time stood still. So did I. Which, of course, meant that I didn't manage to grab my camera in time to take a few snaps.

However, a couple of days ago, another distant chattering way off in the east signalling the possible arrival of another gang of grue. Luckily the sky was fairly clear. Grabbed my camera in the hope of getting some snaps. They flew almost directly overhead. Absolutely fabbeau. Then they were gone.

(Click on pics to enlarge.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2018


Georgie and Donnie reached the ripe old age of sixty last week (Wednesday). In order to celebrate this milestone Donnie had flown out from London to stay with us for a few days as we attacked the Dordogne area for a birthday treat. First stop was the Lidl supermarché at Egletons where we stocked up with grub, vino and champagne for our overnight stay at some gite Georgie had booked. Second stop was Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne where we arrived just after lunchtime. Had the obligatory coffee by the town centre trees then did the obligatory stroll by the river where we took the obligatory snaps with the riverside church in the background. Touristy stuff done we headed on to the gite. This turned out to be a splendid gaff in a splendid spot overlooking Queyssac-les-Vignes run by a charming English couple who had only recently escaped Angleterre. Cracked open the champers as the sun slowly slid below the distant western horizon.

 Next day we decided to ask if we could book the gite for another night. Luckily we could, so we had a whole day to go to..., er..., wherever. Georgie suggested the historic village of Carennac on the Dordogne river. So off we went. Fascinating place, and apparently quite famous (typically, I'd never heard of it). Had a coffee on the patio of an hotel where a coachload of Japanese tourists were noshing lunch. Normally this patio is shut in rainy October (outside the tourist season) but what with the blazing sunshine and balmy weather they'd decided to keep it open. Gosh, it was hot. And, due to lack of rain, the river below was a mere shadow of its former self. Anyways, the birthday girls weren't complaining.

With an afternoon to kill, Georgie suggested we boogy on to Rocamadour, as Donnie had never been there. So off we went. Arrived there and looked down the valley at the dizzying sight below. Then drove down to the bottom, turned around and drove back up again. To reach the old town you had to park in the valley and then leg it up a thousand steps - couldn't be arsed. Back at the top I fancied a coffee and sarnie. All three caffs that we visited politely said "bugger off, we shut at two" (t'was now two fifteen). So I buggered off in a huff.

Next, we headed for our barn and ruin of a cottage near Serilhac. Seemed a good idea at the time. Hadn't been there for years. Thought it may have fallen down. It's on the way back to the gite so might as well pop in. Getting to it is a bit tricky though. Bottom gear wobble up a bumpy, pot-holed, sump-bashing, rocky track. Then park up and continue on foot. Takes about an hour top to bottom. Knackering. But the view from the top, south over the Dordogne area, makes all the effort worthwhile. Especially on a sunny day.

Arrived back at the gite. Bit tired. Fattygayed, as I call it. Been a long day. Only had a few rows. Mainly about map-reading and hitting towns with roadworks and getting diverted in completely the wrong direction. Usual stuff. Gasping for the soirée's vino. Pinot Noir. Nodded off on the settee in front of the telly. Woken up and led to bed.

Next day (Friday) packed up and headed north for home following the Dordogne valley. Very pretty route. Stopped off at Argentat, parked up and sauntered down to the river. Sat at a table in the sunshine outside a fab riverside caff where Don et moi had coffee while Georgie demolished a choccy and vanilla ice cream perched on a waffle (er, the ice cream was on the waffle, not Georgie).
Apparently flat-bottomed barges used to travel up and down the Dordogne from Bordeaux to Argentat carrying goodies like wood and slate. More research required. One of these barges is perched on the riverside as a museum piece and/or tourist attraction and/or educational heritage item. Fascinating. Were they horse-drawn, windsail driven or steam engine powered? More research required.

Leaving Argentat, the landscape changed from smooth Dordogny to roughish uplands. Soft to hard. Felt different. Still pretty, but different. Completed our three day loop by arriving at Egletons where we once again raided Lidl. Then home.

Been a good sixtieth. Lucky with the weather once again. Same as last year. But Georgie says snow is forecast for this coming week-end. Ah well, soon be spring. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Moto Guzzi Nevada

Sold my BMW Funduro a few weeks back. Only rode it a couple of times. Went well, ideal for pottering around the local countryside. Trouble was, it was slightly too high to swing my leg over. This meant I had to get on and off by standing on the footrest then slowly easing my leg over. All a bit precarious. Hence the sale. Went to a very nice elderly chap who bought it as his final bike after a chest operation.

With an empty space in the garage and being without a bike for the first time in over half a century I started searching for a bike with a low seat height. Obvious choice would be an Harley Davidson but budgetary constraints, tractor-like engine characteristics (apart from the V-Rod model with an interesting engine developed in partnership with Porsche which many Harley fans frown upon as not being a proper Harley) and an image which suits bank manager types riding once a week on Sundays (if it's sunny) wearing ripped teeshirts and red bandanas, put me off.

After much searching I'd narrowed it down to a very low kilomètrage (1200kms)  1100cc Yamaha Virago and a 750cc Moto Guzzi V7 Stone 11 (two, not the three which is very new and a bit pricey). But..., the Virago was way up north near Strasbourg and the seller wasn't prepared to accept an offer below €4500 on his €4750 price. Have to admit I was tempted but the weather was nasty (not good for driving) and it was almost the shortest day (again, not good for driving) and getting there and back would mean an overnight stay somewhere. All seemed too much of an hassle. This left the Guzzi as a front runner. But..., €5k, hmm, pricey. Then, as is often the case, something else popped up: a very low kilomètrage 750cc Moto Guzzi Nevada with just one owner from new (a lady), being sold in a village about 25 miles south of relatively nearby Clermont Ferrand.

To cut a boring story short, I gave her an offer she couldn't refuse (well, she could have I suppose, but she didn't), then hurtled along to St. Leonard de Noblat for a cheque de banque, then loaded up the trailer and headed off to Auzat-la-Combelle with Georgie, Hamish and a Thermos. Weather was a bit iffy going there (snow, mist, etc.) but not too bad coming back. Bike was fab, so too the seller and her family. Job done. Roll on spring.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Cranes heading south

It's around this time of year that cranes migrate south from northern Europe, Russia and other chilly places to the warmer winter climes such as Spain and northern Africa. On their journey many pass over our region of France and if you're lucky you can hear them coming (they chatter constantly) and then spot them high in the sky. Trouble is, at such moments, one rarely has a camera close at hand. However, ce matin, Georgie happened to be outside when three or four gangs of these feathered warblers flew overhead so she shouted and I hurriedly took a few snaps. Disaster. Most of the pics were out of focus (without zoom telephoto), others missed their target (with zoom telephoto) and others didn't happen due to flattery battery. Then they were gone. Shown here are two of the best pics which just go to show how bad the others were. Ah well, maybe better luck when they fly north in spring.