Tuesday, 20 March 2018

At the Dentist

Simon goes to the dentist (for treatment) way more often than I do. My dentist has retired, and I haven't bothered going to the new young dentist in town yet. Dr Renaudie, my old dentist, rides a Harley, wore a checked shirt and string tie for work, had a dukebox that played country and western music in the surgery and he cracked jokes all the time. The new young dentist will have to be going some to beat that, but his first name is Claudius, so that's a good start I guess.

Simon about to be examined by Dr Beye.

Simon's teeth have had to deal with a lifetime of Ventoline, which increases the risk of cavities and other oral problems. Unfortunately Simon, like many people his age, was thoroughly traumatised by the dentist in his childhood. Luckily, now, we have Dr Beye.

We first made an appointment with him several years ago when Simon cracked a tooth. I couldn't get him in to my dentist in Preuilly, so I rang around. The receptionist at Dr Beye's, in La Roche Posay, said they didn't have a slot immediately but she would ring me if one came up. True to her word, a couple of hours later, she rang me and said if we could get there in 20 minutes, an appointment had become available. Easy peasy. La Roche Posay is only 10 minutes away.

Dr Beye is a big African man, of few words and remarkably small fine hands. In the past 6 years Simon has had root canal work, two crowns and a couple of fillings done by him. Dr Beye's calm demeanor and the improvement in dental techniques (especially anaesthetics) in the last decade or so mean that Simon now more or less willingly goes to the dentist. In the old days he would have put up with many months of pain and discomfort, and swallowed endless painkillers on a daily basis rather than put himself in the dentist's chair.

When I asked Dr Beye if he minded if I took this photo, his response was very French. 'Non, ça ne me dérange pas'  ('no, that won't bother me').


Just a quick word about the Tour The Loire gift store. We notice that people have ordered t-shirts, mugs and a tote bag - thank you very much all. We ordered a set of coffee mugs as a thank you to my brother and Rosie and were really impressed.

If you're looking for a unique piece of Loire Valley memorabilia, it can be bought here.

Monday, 19 March 2018

The Twelfth Annual Cowslip Photo

Every year about this time we post a picture of a cowslip. It used to be the first cowslip of the year, where we would excitedly stop the car and back track to take a photo (they are roadside specialists), but more recently they have been the first photos we have been able to take in safety. Age/wisdom I guess...

One reason we post a cowslip photo every year is because it means spring is here or hereabouts. This year it's definitely hereabouts, as we are expecting frosts and fog and maybe even a sprinkle of snow.

There is, however, another reason. In 1981 I travelled to the UK with my Mum, and she had me driving all over East Anglia looking for cowslips, her favorite childhood wildflower. We saw one in the six weeks we were there, and the farmers all said it looked like they were on their way out. You can imagine my surprise when we arrived in France to see cowslips in profusion. Mum is no longer able to travel, but this pic is for her.

Sunday, 18 March 2018


Yup - we went there too. The Gate of Heavenly Peace was one of the places we visited on our 12hour layover in China in November. It's a big thing, being 66 metres (217 ft) long, 37 metres (121 ft) wide and 32 metres (105 ft) high, and serving as the gateway to the Imperial City, which itself contains the Forbidden City. These days it tends to be used a a saluting podium for offical events - you can see the enormous ranges of seating for the generals either side of the actual gate.

Tiananmen at night (with added tourists)

Of course, Tianenmen is probably more famous for its square, first built in 1651 and enlarged to four times its original size in the 1950s. After another rebuild in 1976 it is now 44.05 hectares (109 acres) in area and is claimed to hold 600,000 people. It's one of the biggest monumental squares in the world, and surround by monumental buildings, including the Great Hall of the People, The Monument to the People's Heroes, the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, and the National Musem of China.

The Monument to the People's Heroes and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong

Because it was night, and because we're just not well connected enough to get high above the square to take an overall photo, you will just have to take our word (and everyone else's word too) about just how BIG it is. It's big! Luckily, being a winter's evening it wasn't full so we were able to appreciate the acreage (and having walked one side, the length) but although it felt kind of empty, we weren't the only people there having our photos taken.

Tianenmen Gate

(and some extra, random pics!)

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Pest Control in Namadgi NP

Invasive species are a tremendous problem in Australia. In Namadgi National Park, in the 'high country' (as the mountain terrain is known) around Canberra, non-native canines are some of the species they are trying to keep under control. This is partly to safeguard the native species that might be prey animals (I assume mostly small marsupials and ground nesting birds) but also to placate sheep farmers whose land adjoins the National Park. The National Park is seen as a reservoir of fox and wild dog populations by the local farmers.

Poison notice in Namadgi National Park.

1080 is a brand name. The chemical compound is sodium fluoroacetate and its use is strictly controlled. Baits are pieces of meat that have been dosed with the poison. They are placed at carefully chosen locations along the access tracks around the edge of the park. Bait sites are chosen by first laying out fresh meat and using trail cameras to record what comes to the meat. Baited meat is then only set out at sites which were uniquely used by foxes or dogs. The meat is usually buried to a depth of 10-15cm. Canines can easily sniff this out. 

Ejectors are a type of bait set in a sort of trigger mechanism. When the animal puts its muzzle around the ejector and pulls with sufficient force the bait is ejected into the dog's mouth. This technique is used to protect other wildlife that might be attracted to meat because only canines have enough strength to trigger the ejector. This method also avoids the risk of animals caching baits that could be found later by non-target species. 

The term 'wild dogs' is a sort of catch all which includes dingoes, feral dogs and their hybrids. In other parts of the park 1080 is used to control feral pigs, using impregnated wheat, and the presence of dingoes is encouraged because they will prey on the piglets. On the edges of the park though, it is considered necessary to protect the neighbouring sheep, and the programme has been very successful at doing so.

A notice informing of biological controls for Vipers Bugloss and Nodding Thistle.

Animals are not the only invaders. There are plenty of plants too. At Brayshaw's Hut I came across a notice informing walkers that the CSIRO were using a biological control on certain plants, Vipers Bugloss Echium vulgare and Nodding Thistle Carduus nutans (aka Musk Thistle). Both these plants grow in natural abundance in the Touraine, but they are invasive aliens in the Australian bush.

Vipers Bugloss in Namadgi NP.

Vipers Bugloss is closely related to one of the most notorious and long established of Australia's invasive alien plants, Patersons Curse E. plantagineum.

I don't know what bio control the scientists are using here, but it's likely to be one of a number of species of weevil which have proved successful on Echium and Carduus species.

The CSIRO is the rather wonderful Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Random Manly Pics

The ferry at Manly Wharf. This is the harbourside beach.
To the right of the photo is the shark-netted swimming area

The safe swimming area at sunset. At this point Susan was still swimming.

The view from JB and Rosy's apartment in Manly.
The light coloured building in the background is Manly Wharf.

The view from Manly Head on a very, very heavy day
(40C, 999% humidity - and no, I haven't missed a decimal point).
You can see the city of Sydney in the background.

In our 8 weeks in Australia over Christmas I spent more time in Manly (10 Days) than I ever remember spending there in the 30 years I lived in Australia. Most of the previous times was for a couple of hours at the beach, or parking in order to catch the ferry. Turns out that it's an interesting place, especially as soon as you get away from people (of which there are a lot!).

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Hedge Trimming and Flowering Forsythia

Alex takes on the privet.

On 9 March gardeners Alex and Nicole came over to trim the hedge at the orchard. This is a tedious job that I am quite happy to pay someone to do and an afternoon's work from them costs a couple of hundred euros. Good value in my book.

Working on the hedge.

 It took longer than it might have because they had to do it all with loppers. The hedge was woody enough due to be left for three years that they couldn't use their petrol motored hedge trimmer.

Common Glow-worm larva.

 While I was clearing Dogwood Cornus sanguinea from the fenceline and the base of the Chasselas grapes I came across a little Common Glow-worm Lampyris noctiluca larva in the leaf litter. It will have spent the winter drawn up on itself but now the weather has warmed up a bit and spring is here it will be ready to ferociously hunt down slugs and snails. They will tackle prey that is much bigger than they are and possess a toxin which they inject to paralyse their meal. So far as I can tell the orchard is just about perfect habitat for glow-worms.

A pile of 3 year old coppiced hazel, cut into firewood kindling lengths by Alex.

Two small Pine Processionary nests in the Scots Pine.

I was less than thrilled to discover two small Pine Processionary Thaumetopoea pityocampa nests in the Scots Pine Pinus sylvestris. They were too high up to lop out even with the long handled extender type loppers so I got Alex to saw off the entire branch. He was really dubious, but I think came round to it as a practical solution that doesn't in fact spoil the look of the tree. Once the branch was down on the ground I clipped off the nests and immersed them in a bucket of water (with a lid, because they float). This is a low tech, inexpensive, environmentally friendly way of dealing with an insect that is actually rather dangerous. Normally I would live and let live (eg paper wasps nesting on the veggie garden gate post). Pine Processionaries are one of the few exceptions and I was careful not to expose myself to their urticating hairs.


The forsythia by the gate wasn't out when the hedge was trimmed and Nicole was careful to check with me whether she should cut it. When I said yes she suggested I gather the sprigs and take them home. They only took a couple of days to come out in a vase.