Friday 31 October 2008

Guest Author: Trip Report from Arcachon, the Dordogne, Paris (and Malaysia)

[Today's post is written by my sister, and covers what she and her husband did after they left us in Preuilly. All the photos are by Kathy and John. For my post about their visit see here.]
After we left Preuilly we went down to the Arcachon Basin. We found it really interesting with all the oyster farms. In particular the funny little huts that the oyster farmers operate from and their very flat bottomed boats (below).

The Parc Ornithologique de Teich was good with lots of bird hides but unfortunately it was the wrong time of year for the storks or any ducks of interest. We have decided that France and Scotland have no ducks other than Mallards!! We had a great meal at a seafood restaurant where the waitress spoke quite good English and helped John choose something he could eat [John is coeliac]. He reckons the entrée he had was the best meal in France, some sort of salad with prawns and melted goats cheese. I had 6 oysters which were really nice. I am not really an oyster person, although John’s Mum keeps persuading me to try them [John's family live on the east coast of Australia, and take their seafood seriously]. They were large and juicy and very tasty. We also went to the Maison du Oysters! which was very interesting, about the history of oyster farming in the area. We climbed the Dune du Pyla (below) which was quite an effort, and the view of the Atlantic was rather splendid!

It is said to be the highest sand dune in Europe. Being Australian, I was rather surprised France had ANY sand dunes, let alone a huge one.

The Dordogne was fabulous. Our gîte worked out really well and was about ten minutes from five different chateaux. Our favourite was Beynac (below). It was restored as a medieval castle, so it was all dark and gloomy inside, and stands at the top of a cliff overlooking the Dordogne river. We came across it one morning with the sun on it as the mist on the river was just rising. Very spectacular! Another highlight was the Marqueyssac Gardens (below) – fabulous topiary hedges in flowing organic shapes.

We canoed the Dordogne and even went for a swim, just to say we had been, even though it was not overly hot. Lascaux cave II was good, we managed to get an English speaking tour, so got some good info. We also went to a troglodyte fort and town on the cliff face in the Vezere Valley, which turned out to be more interesting than we had expected. Monpazier (below) was fabulous, a bastide town with an interesting market square.

The market still had some old grain measures in it. And lastly we spent the day at Rocamadour (below) which is a village built onto a cliff so has a number of different levels. It is also a place where pilgrims go and has stations of the cross on a zig zag trail up the cliff face. We got some nice souvenirs at Rocamadour. I bought a coffee pot of painted china, a small leather backpack and we bought Js Mum a beautiful table cloth embroidered with violets (I wish I had bought more).

Paris was excellent. We got the train with no drama from Breve and found the hotel no worries. The metro is so easy! We loved it. The afternoon we arrived we thought we better not waste time and we headed off to the Musee d'Orsay. I couldn't believe that you could take photos inside all these museums as long as you didn't use flash! That night, since we were tired, we tried the restaurant under the hotel [not under the same management as Hotel Laumière]. Not a great experience. We ended up with very plain steak and chips! We managed to get to the Cluny Museum of the Middle Ages, Sacre Coeur, Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Eiffel tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre, and the Arc de Triomphe. We had a really nice lunch in a place fairly close to Cluny but on the whole we didn't find eating in Paris as good as we had in the country. The Louvre was great. I had been before so was not worried if we didn't go, so I was really pleased that we had really enjoyed it. We paid for a tour which trundled you round the most famous things, but also gave you a good idea of what else there was to see, so that you could then go back to places of interest after the tour ended. We found the Napoleon III apartments (above) rather fab, and they had some nice glass and Majolica. We were also really interested in some of the Persian and Assyrian sculpture stuff. The Eiffel tower at night all lit up was quite a sight. And Berthillons was closed the day we went there…VERY disappointed.

Malaysia was great. We had a bird guide for the 4 days and found it excellent as he took us to really out of the way local eateries where we wouldn't have been game to try without having someone interpret John’s allergy needs. We ate at an Indian place were they served the meal on Banana leaves. They spooned out dollops of everything straight onto the banana leaf plate and you could ask for more of any you liked. The birds were great, rather similar to South America. We spent most of the time at Frasers Hill (above), a well known bird spot in the highlands. We saw 6 different species of squirrels, 3 different monkeys (below) and a couple of different civet cats.


Thursday 30 October 2008

European Pond Terrapin (le Cistude d'Europe)

The European Pond Terrapin (la Cistude d'Europe) Emys orbicularis is the emblem of le Parc naturel régional de la Brenne.

It overwinters buried in the mud at the base of the reeds in an étang but emerge to lay their eggs on the neighbouring heath and grass lands. The mounds of aquatic vegetation form their preferred hunting grounds. They mostly eat invertebrates, but will not disdain a dead fish.

They are very easy to see during the summer in the Brenne from any bird hide, as they enjoy sunbathing on the logs placed in strategic places by wiley wardens hoping to entice kingfishers and other birds to enhance the visitor experience.

In the last 15 years they have been challenged in the Brenne by the presence of a foreign invader, the Red-eared Terrapin (above). This North American species is bigger and meaner, so there is a policy of removing any Red-eared Terrapins from the Chérine to protect the native species.

European Pond Terrapins enjoy full national protection in France and the Brenne is most important of two principal areas in France that they occur. At present they are not really threatened, but because they require a very specific type of habitat, the numbers would very quickly drop if the habitat too was not protected, and conservationists monitor the terrapins quite closely. This year there was a project to radio track some of them to learn more about their lives and habits.


Wednesday 29 October 2008

Roofs Again

A view of the tile roofs of le Grand Pressigny, taken from just below the château (aka the Museum of Prehistory). I love the contrast between the massed ranks of tiles and the massed ranks of trees behind. There are some very steep streets in le Grand Pressigny as you come down from the château heights to the level of the river. The houses are this side of the river, and the forest the other.


Tuesday 28 October 2008

The Maid of Orleans

Referred to in our household as Mrs Noah. The top two representations are unique, the bottom one is ubiquitous.

Monday 27 October 2008

School Dinners

This is a topic that is very current in the UK at the moment. Jamie Oliver is the high profile figurehead of a campaign that has been waged over the last few years to improve school meals (shockingly, less was being spent on school meals than on prison meals – and in both cases we are talking considerably less than a pound a meal total spend). The government has increased funding and parents are being encouraged to opt for school dinners rather than giving their kids money to buy chips and chocolate for lunch. A good deal of the credit for this goes to hard working real dinner ladies like Jeannette Orrey, who provided the genuinely concerned but perhaps somewhat over exposed Essex lad with his inspiration.

Simon's experience: When I started school in Australia, things were different. We didn't have school dinners, we had a "tuckshop" (stop giggling) twice (?) a week, staffed by volunteers. Orders had to written on a brown paper bag inside which were the few cents needed to pay for lunch, to be handed in before school so the sandwiches could be made by 12.00. I can only remember two types of sandwiches; Coon Cheese and tomato sauce (i.e. ketchup), or devon and tomato sauce. On white bread, of course.

Susan's experience: I went to a primary school that only had 22 pupils. I remember we had a regular dose of a half pint bottle of milk, unrefrigerated and disgusting (and completely pointless, as I and probably every other pupil lived in a household that kept a house cow). Once in high school I too had a tuckshop a couple of times a week, run by the mums and supplied by the local baker and grocer. The most desirable item I seem to remember was a sweet log shaped fruit bun with pink icing sprinkled with coconut known as a coffee roll (I was never that excited by them, but I was a southerner and presumably didn't understand).

In France, naturally, it's a whole different ball game (or so it appears to outsiders – but there are plenty of stories of French people unable to face certain classics of the cantine in later life.)

Every Monday morning you can see parents dropping their children off at school and then checking the noticeboard by the gates. This is where the schools paste up the week's menu for the perusal of all interested parties - quite what course of action is available to a parent if they don't like what they are reading we are not sure. The menus look pretty appealing, although occasionally rather challenging as kid's menus (look at some of the entrées and count how many children of your acquaintance would happily tuck into cucumber or grapefruit).

The menu from the State Primary school in Preuilly-sur-Claise
Translated, the kids are having:

Monday – Pizza; Roast Chicken with green beans; some mysterious item called Kiri; and a banana.
Tuesday - Oak Leaves (whatever they might be); pan-fried pork and a tomato, aubergine, peppers and zucchini stew; and a plain chocolate yoghurt cake.
Thursday – Cucumber; Burgundian purée with milk (whatever can this be?); cheese; an apple.
Friday – Grapefruit; Fish Cube; pasta with tomato; camembert cheese; a sort of caramel blancmange that comes in an individual jelly mould shaped pot and is a classic of the French school cantine, featuring in a practice known as 'gobage de flamby', which I imagine is ruthlessly discouraged by those in authority.

At the private Catholic primary school, they were having:

Monday – coleslaw / corn and tomato salad; turkey casserole with a white sauce; steamed potatoes; cheese; chocolate mousse / fruit.
Tuesday – Potato and Strasbourg sausage salad / some other sort of salad; Moussaka (i.e. the Greek dish of layered minced lamb, aubergine and white sauce); cheese; plain natural yoghurt / fruit.
Thursday – 'Greek style' mushrooms (i.e. fried then braised in white wine and lemon juice with a bit of tomato paste and some herbs and spices, served cold) / Garlic (salami style) sausage; chicken kebabs; carrots sweated with celery and onion, then dressed with cream; cheese; chocolate tart / fruit.
Friday – tomatoes garnished in some unspecified way / broccoli in an oil and vinegar dressing; Nice (as in the place in the south of France) style tuna steak (i.e. with tomatoes, black olives, garlic and anchovies); pasta; cheese; cream dessert / fruit.

What do the poor little souls get to eat on Wednesdays I hear you ask? They only have a half day school on Wednesday, so they go home for lunch.

For comparison, here is a menu from an exemplar primary school in England (good menu too, but interesting how different it is – far less fruit and dairy, but all three schools serve fish on Friday):

Monday – Chicken Bites and gravy, new potatoes, seasonal vegetables; brioche topped with apple and chocolate sauce.
Tuesday – Venison burger in a wholemeal roll, potato salad, mixed salad; pineapple pavlova.
Wednesday – Roast gammon and pineapple, mashed potato, seasonal vegetables; magic chocolate pudding and custard.
Thursday – Pizza topped with mushroom, onion and tomato, new potatoes, seasonal vegetables; peaches in jelly.
Friday – Breaded fish, jacket potato wedges, seasonal vegetables; strawberry tart and cream.

All three schools will serve bread with every meal.

Susan and Simon

Sunday 26 October 2008


In late summer it is very common to see little plots or strips of land, or even sometimes whole fields, covered with a riot of colourful flowers. Occasionally, these fields of flowers have a sign telling you they are 'Jachère'.This scene, heavily wooded ridges above fields which slope down to a village, in this case, Chaumussay, sitting on the river banks, is absolutely typical of the Val de la Claise Tourangelle.

Jachère is what in Britain is called 'set aside'. It used to be obligatory, part of the much derided Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and rewarded by a subsidy, to put aside a certain amount of land and leave it fallow for the year. In France it has become the norm to indicate 'set aside' by sowing a mix of annual flowers, known as 'jachère fleurie', as farmers are not allowed to leave the earth bare (which would allow the proliferation of undesirable plants such as thistles). The seed mixes, in colour coded selections, are rarely native species, but many hope that they encourage beneficial insects, especially bumblebees. There was some research into this in Holland, with the view to enticing bees into an area, who, it was assumed, would then move on to pollinate the nearby crops. Sadly though, it turned out that these flower mixes made no difference to crop pollination – perhaps the bees are too interested in the flowers and don't bother with the crops). In the Touraine I don't think they can be used with this in mind, as they flower some weeks after the summer crops have been taken off, and after ploughing has started for the next crop. Here I think they are used partly just because people like to brighten up the landscape, but also to inhibit the growth of agricultural weeds in areas of waste land.

Usually the mix of seeds is very heavy on the cosmos, but sometimes you see mixtures with a high proportion of California poppy. They are tough enough to survive uncared for after sowing, but do not seem to volunteer year after year or escape into the wild and compete with the native species. Set aside plots are often not rotated in the way land left fallow in a traditional system would be. Often the same plot is set aside year after year. The modern arrangement was primarily a means of controlling overproduction of grain by reducing the amount of land under active cultivation, and so set aside has to be a piece of land that has been cultivated in the past, not a piece of land that has never been ploughed. Although the real reason for set aside was a piece of politico/economic manipulation, it is generally sold to the public as an environmental benefit, providing habitat and food for invertebrates. This is indeed a positive thing, but there is rarely any consideration of how big or what shape a piece of set aside needs to be or where it needs to be situated in order to maximise this much vaunted environmental benefit, or even very much thought about what species should be sown.This year set aside was somewhat controversially set aside (i.e. the obligation to have a certain area of set aside was abolished). Last year 3.8 million hectares were set aside in the European Union. This year, a more complicated system was introduced, designed to encourage farmers to engage in a wider variety of environmentally friendly activities such as installing beetle banks and laying hedges. But jachère clearly remains popular in France, and certainly provides many photo opportunities.

For a couple of very stylish photos of jachère fleurie taken a month ago at the fairytale Château de Montpoupon, go over to Ken's blog Living the Life in Saint-Aignan.


Saturday 25 October 2008

Putting the history of our house into context

When we visited M. Lezeau he told us of the assumed date of our granary - 13th century.

Preuilly was part of the Angevin lands belonging to King John (yup - the evil king John of the Robin Hood tales) who subsequently lost a lot of his holdings in France after the Battle of Bouvines in 1214. I thought M. Lezeau said the granary was built as a result of John losing the battle and needing to raise funds (via taxes) for a campaign to regain the lands, but it appears it may have been Phillip II of France who did the tax thing, because winning at Bouvines gave him control of Anjou and Touraine.*

Also in 1214, the Emperor of China surrendered to Genghis Khan, and in a completely unrelated incident, Oxford University received its charter. Other people who were kicking around at the time include Saint Francis of Assisi, and King Alexander II of Scotland.

What is equally amazing is what the building possibly predates; the Magna Carta, the birth of Marco Polo, the founding of the Dominican Order, the Black Death, and the brewing of Budweiser Budvar beer in Bohemia. The last two are not connected.

If you're having problems with the concept, this highly detailed timeline may help:

*Apparently Susan realised this all along. I obviously wasn't listening properly

Friday 24 October 2008

The Mairie

I realise that we have mentioned the Mairie a number of times, without actually talking about it.
So here goes...

The current Mairie is on the site of the old pork market. In about 1855 a man called Ernest Fumey built a private house on the site, which subsequently passed to his son Raoul. The house was built in the style of the local chateaux, notably the chateau de la Berjaudière on the road to Yzeures. (To my mind it also looks extremely similar to Fontbaudry, on the road to Loches).

In 1933 Raoul Fumey died, and his heirs decided to sell the house. It was bought by the council and eventually, in 1936 it became the Mairie, which up until that date had been in an old building across the road (where la Poste now is). There had been a front garden with large chestnut trees behind a wrought iron fence, which was removed to make a car park, and a clocher (bell tower) was built to take the bell from Notre Dame des Echelles.In April 2008, the street beside the Mairie, which had been named "rue de la Republique" was renamed rue du Marche aux Porcs.

We also have a photo of the back of the Mairie here. It is interesting that although it is the Mairie, we have never actually been inside this building. All the business is done from a new office built into the back of the building and accessed off the rue du Marche aux Porcs. So far we have been there about our water supply, and to collect a "Pas de Pub" sticker, but that's it. No doubt we have many visits ahead of us, but the people there appear to be friendly and clued up, so we're hoping our experiences with French bureaucracy will remain mainly painless.


Thursday 23 October 2008

Robberflies (Asilidae) in France

The Asilidae, or Robberflies, are a large group of often big and impressive looking hunting flies. They hunt by detecting movement, pouncing on other unsuspecting passing insects from their chosen vantage point. If the attack is unsuccessful, they will return again and again to the same rock, log or spot of bare earth, leaf or twig (or washing line).

This one is Choerades fuliginosa, sitting on a leaf at the forest edge in June on a farm track at Roux, photographed at 8 o'clock in the evening, facing the low western sun. This is quite a small species, about the size of a honey bee, and not unlike in appearance.

Robberflies possess mouthparts for stabbing and piercing their prey, but do not bite people. There are over 150 species in France, compared to 28 in Britain. The numbers reflect the general climate -- they are hot weather beasts, often seen in the most exposed and sun drenched places.

Most of the facets of their eyes are small, which gives them good high resolution vision, but they also have a very significant visual adaption -- they have some very large forward facing facets, which are positioned in such a way as to give them binocular vision. Compound eyes work well for detecting movement, but to have the combination of hi-res binocular vision, allowing them to judge distance, for precision darting attacks, is very unusual in the invertebrate world. Their legs are covered in spines, allowing them to form a catching basket under the mouth, ensuring the prey cannot wriggle away -- although there is not much danger of that if the prey has been accurately injected with the Robberfly's immobilising poison. (Note that this poison is harmless to humans.) Mostly they eat other flies, but they generally do not restrict their prey to any particular type.

This female is one of the frustratingly difficult Asilinae group -- perhaps something like the Kite-tailed Robberfly Machimus (syn. Tolmerus) atricapillus. Even my expert contact for Asilidae is unable to identify this group to species level from photographs usually. Its prey is an unfortunate male Common Bluetail Damselfly (l'Agrion élégant) Ischnura elegans, and it was photographed at the Réserve Naturelle de Chérine in the Brenne in July.

Robberflies are never numerous, and do not supplement their diet with nectar the way other hunting flies do, so it is more unusual to see them. They have many characteristics in common with dragonflies, and are just as interesting to observe.


Wednesday 22 October 2008


Tiled roofs in la Guerche

Preuilly sur Claise is on or close to a number of borders. At the time our house was built it was on the border between England and France. During the Second World War it was close to the border between Vichy and occupied France. Now it is very close to the border between the departments of Indre, Indre et Loire, and Vienne.

It is also close to another less formal border - that of roof tiles.

In Preuilly we have flat tiles, known as "tuiles plates". These tiles are traditionally made in terracotta (in French "terre cuite") and are found in all places north and east of us. The tiles are hung by a little tag on horizontal battens, which you can see quite clearly in this photo of our roof under repair.
However - travel only 25 kilometres toward Poitiers and you will see roofs of canal or mission tiles ("tuiles canal"). These are also made from terracotta, but are slung in vertical battens, with one tile on its "back", with another tile upturned over the top. This makes everything look very Roman, or mediterranean. These tiles are in St Germain de Confolens, in the Charente.
Of course, if you had a lot of money when you built your house, or subsequently came into money and wanted everyone to know about it, you have a slate roof. Like a lot of buildings in Preuilly, our barn has a slate roof facing the street, but a tiled roof where it doesn't show.


Tuesday 21 October 2008

Monet's Water Garden

From the strictly regimented strip garden beds around Monet's house, one descends into an underpass and emerges on the other side of the road into his water garden. This garden has a quite different feel - intensely green, very secret and enclosed, much more informally and sinuously laid out.

I visited Monet's garden in June, and completely forgot to download the pictures from the camera and completely forgot until now to blog about it. It was not that I was unimpressed by the garden, but more that the highlight of those few days was not the visit to this 'must-see' tourist attraction, but staying with my friend Edith.


Monday 20 October 2008

Why I am not Always in France

How come I wasn't able to join in the fun and festivities of events such as the Tour de France whizzing through Preuilly-sur-Claise?

Well, on 9 July, I had to attend a meeting at the Land Registry office in Lincoln's Inn Fields in London. Just quietly, the people at this meeting are the ones who really rule the world. These people are Geographic Information (GI) professionals. Some of them are good old fashioned cartographers (otherwise known as professional map nerds), some of them are probably Spatial Analysts (and everyone who reads the British newspaper, the Telegraph, should now know what they are). What these people do pervades every aspect of modern life, and without the software they design and the information they provide, our experiences of shopping, travelling, communication and understanding of natural phenomena would all be considerably less sophisticated.

(Photograph by Ian Stone, Senior Graphic Designer, Land Registry)

Despite the fact that several of the people around this table are serious cycling enthusiasts, we still managed to schedule this meeting for 9 July, in London. I suppose it could have been worse – Lincoln's Inn Fields is one of London's most attractive and interesting squares, with the Inns of Court just next door to the Land Registry office, many imposing neo-classical buildings housing various important British institutions, and best of all, across the other side of the square, the wonderful Sir John Soanes Museum, where I took my colleagues for a post-meeting outing. My friend Tim Knox is the Director, so we were treated to a personal, if whirlwind, tour, including getting up close and personal with Hogarth's A Rake's Progress. (This is just an excuse for me to make a shameless plug for the museum, which I can heartily recommend you visit if you are in London.)

And this man is my boss. I should point out that neither he nor I are GI professionals. He is in fact an accountant, but he is edging towards an understanding of geographic issues in the modern world.

If you are interested in learning more about the world of GI, there are some interesting blogs out there.

I suggest starting with Muki Haklay's Po ve Sham, which means 'this and that' in his native Hebrew. Muki is a Professor at University College London (UCL), and writes on how GI is being put to practical use in the real world.

Then you could move on to Tim Warr's blog. He works for Multimap, who you may notice credited at the bottom of some online maps. Multimap is owned by Microsoft these days.

Steven Feldman's giscussions is also worth a look, as he is a real enthusiast and all round nice bloke.

For old fashioned map type maps, albeit with a twist always, you cannot beat Strange Maps for sheer quirky fun and often outright bizarreness.

If you feel up to it, you could go to Ed Parson's blog. He works for Google as their Geospatial Technologist, and operates on a higher plane than the rest of us (he's a very amusing public speaker though). Do temper any reading of his blog by also reading the Fake Ed Parsons. All good fun in small doses, and you will certainly increase your vocubulary.


Sunday 19 October 2008

La Poste, Preuilly sur Claise

This is our Post Office.
As with many places in France, it is right in the centre of town, in this case, opposite the Mairie. This building dates from 1936, but the building previously on this site was the Mairie (not the be confused with "the old mairie", which was the one before that).

This photo was taken on an early morning foray to the boulangerie, before the group of gentlemen who spend their days sitting on the benches by the letterboxes had arrived.


Saturday 18 October 2008

French Websites

I don't do rants.


One thing that really annoys me is French websites.

Why do they all have to be flash heavy, noise laden, with music? When I look at a website I am looking for information, not a complete entertainment package. What on earth is it about these people that makes them think I want to listen to their appalling choice of lift music? Why do I need a clicking sound if I put my cursor over a link? Are they convinced I am so interested in their business - before I have even read anything about it - that I am willing to sit and wait for their revolving, sliding all over the place, fading in and out pictures to load?

I have news for them - and for website owners in any other country, too.

I don't like these things. If I arrive at your web page and the text isn't loaded by the time my eyes have focused, you have lost a customer. No matter how good your product is.

Your website should be an advert for YOUR business - not a boast of how "clever" your web designer is.

So there


I had debated with myself (it's fun, you should try it) as to whether I should put links to some of the websites I find most annoying, but I will save their blushes.

Instead, I will post a nice, calming photo of the Claise river at Martizay
There. That's better.


Friday 17 October 2008

The Weir at Gatineau

This is the weir at Gatineau the day we first saw it, the 17th May 2008. (If you click on the link you can see it quite clearly on the arial photo, just north of the racecourse.)

Here it is (or rather; here is isn't) 12 days later - after 10 days of on and off rain.

Three months later, and the river has dropped enough for small wading birds to be running up and down the weir.
Why there is a weir and a complex of abandoned buildings here is still a mystery to us.


Thursday 16 October 2008

A Deadly Assassin Lurking in the Bushes

Between April and August there is an assassin armed with a dagger hidden in almost every bush in Preuilly and surrounds.

Many flies prey on other flies, like these Empis tessellata, which come from a family of flies known as Assassin Flies. They are not particularly big (about 10mm long) and not really all that beautiful, but they are brave. They'll take on surprisingly large and awkward prey. They kill their prey by impaling it on their powerful long rigid piercing mouthparts, then sucking out the innards. I particularly like the way they hang from one claw whilst using all their other legs to deal with the prey. The females are utterly voracious, eating everything they can lay their tarsi* on, including males of their own species. As a result, male assassin flies come bearing gifts. They will catch a nice juicy fly and present it to the female, so she is guaranteed to be fully occupied eating it, and not of a mind to eat the male while he attempts to mate or after a successful coupling. This one is a male, so he may not be planning to eat his catch himself, but hoping to pull as a result of having such an impressive feast on offer.

When the males are not hunting (for prey or for females), they hang around sitting on leaves in the sun. You can often see quite large numbers on a well placed bush, especially in May, when this species is most numerous and visible. As Tony Irwin, Curator of Entomology at the Norwich Museum says, hanging around sitting on leaves and tree trunks is the dipteran** equivalent of hanging around on street corners and in pool halls for young men with nothing much else to do but check out the women.

This one was photographed in May at the Réserve Naturelle de Chérine in the Brenne. Lots of his mates were sitting on nearby leaves.

Curiously, there is evidence to suggest that where an Empis tessellata lives will affect the colour of its legs, with those that inhabit woodlands seem to have dark legs, and those in open areas have yellowish red legs. The researchers surmised that it had something to do with the amount of light they receive.

They may have viciously effective piercing mouthparts, similar to horseflies, but they do not bite mammals, so you can safely go out into the countryside or garden.

The prey in the top picture is a female spotted cranefly, probably one like this Nephrotoma quadrifaria taken nearby in Roux a week later in May.


*the techie term for a fly, or indeed, any insect's, feet.

**Diptera = True Flies.

Wednesday 15 October 2008

More Trompette Music

This was filmed in complete darkness at the end of the concert. Isn't technology wonderful!

On a completely differnt note..... (sorry!)

Statistics are interesting things. No, honestly, I'm not going to go all nerdy on you.

You may have noticed in the left hand column a number showing how many visitors we have had. This does more than just count - it tells us quite a bit about you

For instance, over the last week:
  • 28.39% of our visitors are from the USA
  • 23.70% from the UK
  • 21.35% from France
  • 11.46% from Australia
  • The other 15% of you come from 15 other countries, except for 23 of you who are stateless, floating in space or just plain too hard for the counter to find.
30% of you have us either bookmarked or come from a feed service, and 18% come from a search engine. It will come as no surprise that 93% of searches are done on google, but what may surprise is that over the past week 20% of searches have contained the words "snakes" and "France" (it doesn't surprise me, it has been like that for months). Recently "big black beetles has been a popular search, as has "giant moth". Some of the searches that lead to our page you just wouldn't want to know about!

Quite a few of you (I'm not going to work out exactly, it's about 20%) come from other blogs, notably Ken's and David Lebovitz's, either from their links or from comments we have left there. Other people click on the link we put at the bottom of all our emails and forum posts.

Not only do we know where you are and what youre looking for, we also know about your computers:
  • 68.60% - Windows XP
  • 11.80% - Windows Vista
  • 10.20% - Unknown
  • 7.80% - Mac OS X
  • 1.00% - Windows 2000
  • 0.40% - Windows 2003
  • 0.20% - Linux
  • Only 5% visitors over the last week have their monitors set at 800x600.
It is also interesting how many more people read comments than leave them. For every 4 people who reads the comments (about 25% of you) only one leaves a comment of their own. We are surprised at how few people click on the photos to view them full sized (rather than shrunk to fit in the blogspot box). I can't believe it's only about 5% of you, but that's what the computer says.

Don't get scared by all this - These statistics are kept by everybody, on every site you visit, and are helpful to site owners because they let us know what you like to see, and how you're seeing it*. We don't get your name or address, and quite often even the city it says you're in is wrong.

Interesting stuff, eh?


* I could go into a rant about Internet Explorer here, but I will restrain myself. Just.

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Monet's Garden Borders

When we stayed with Christian and Edith in June, one of the reasons for doing so was to visit the artist Claude Monet's famous garden at Giverny. Christian and Edith live about 15 minutes away from Giverny, but have never visited the garden - quite enough nature on their doorstep to keep them occupied I think, and they both prefer wilder places.

Monet's garden is probably on most visitors to France's 'must-see' list. It was on mine, and up till June, I had not seen it. Now that I have, I can report that it is indeed a very beautiful garden, jam packed full of very prettily arranged plants, and slightly less appealing numbers of other visitors, including some very pushy photographers who hog the best vantage points. It is not somewhere I will feel the need to visit again, although I am pleased to have seen it now. (The reason relatively few people appear in the photographs I took is that the paths are all extremely narrow, and many of them are roped off, so one can aim the camera up the length of the garden and not capture a single person on the path because there is no access it -- you can look, but not perambulate.)