Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Monuments to the Dead

Amboise is a town with quite a lot of public statuary, memorials and monuments. Sixteen of the public monuments commemorate war dead. That's more than one for every thousand of population today.

'The town of Amboise, to its children, deported workers (forced labourers), dead for France.'

'To the widows and orphans, victims of wars.'

'In homage to the combatants of Indochina 1945 - 1954.'

The town of Amboise, to its deported, dead for France in the Nazi forced labour camps.

The main war memorial in Amboise.

The main war memorial honours those who died in the First and Second World Wars and the Algerian War of Independence. Situated on the Quai du Général de Gaulle, it is surrounded by a number of steles (four of which are pictured above). This is the memorial around which most commemorative ceremonies are held in Amboise.

The monument has two distinct parts. The lower part acts as a pedestal, and carries the dedication, the lists of the dead and the arms of the town of Amboise. On the pedestal are three figures -- two soldiers and a woman. The soldier on the left represents a young recruit. He's wearing his full combat uniform and equipment for fighting in the trenches, but he's survived the war. The central figure is more funereal. He's a territorial, that is to say, an older soldier (over 40) who were given a variety of tasks, but usually did not fight. He holds a wreath. The third figure is allegorical. She represents the town of Amboise and wears a crown to indicate Amboise is a fortified town. In her left hand she holds the arms of the town and in her right holds out a wreath of laurel and oak to the soldiers.

The work is by the Amboise funerary monuments carver Angibault and the sculptor Garand from Tours. It was originally installed at a different location in the town in 1924, but moved to the current location in 1982 and restored in 2013.

Today is ANZAC Day in Australia, when the country stops to honour its war dead. In France, today is the national day of commemoration for the deportees (those sent to forced labour and concentration camps in the Second World War).

Grace Dorothy Brand was born in August 1932 in London, the eldest girl in what would turn out to be eight children.

Three generations of the Brand Family

During World War 2 she was evacuated from London a number of times, and later she and I were to revisit some of the places she spent time, even finding her name in the register at one of the village schools.

She married my dad in August 1959, and in 1966 they emigrated to Australia with 3 children to set up a new life. Mum was as proud of her Australian Citizenship as she was of her English Heritage.

We had a phone call from my father to say that mum passed away earlier this morning French time. I will miss talking to her, even though the last few years it has been difficult.

We're working today and tomorrow, so it will be an interesting time. I'm not doing the thinking thing for a few days.  Simon.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

The Chateau at Rouvray

We have mentioned the chateau at Rouvray a number of times, but never actually managed to visit. It's only open on European Heritage days, but because that's September we are usually working.

It's tucked away in the woods, and we are certain you can't really see it - so imagine our surprise the other day when we saw it from the road on our way to cake club. We agreed amongst ourselves that we're not that unobservant, and they must have removed some trees.

Monday, 23 April 2018

St Georges Day 2018

Today is St George's day.

He is patron saint of: Preuilly sur Claise, Aragon, Catalonia, England, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, and Russia, as well as the cities of Amersfoort, Beirut, Fakiha, Bteghrine, Cáceres (Spain), Ferrara, Freiburg, Genoa, Ljubljana, Gozo, Milan, Pomorie, Preston, Qormi, Rio de Janeiro, Lod, Barcelona and Moscow. He is also the patron saint of the Boy Scouts, skin disease sufferers and syphilitic people.

As he is Patron Saint of Preuilly, St George's day (or a day close to it) is when we have our town fair. This year the weather was particularly fine, and there were more stalls and traders than we have seen for many a year. The previous years the weather hasn't been particularly good, and the fete has clashed with events in nearby villages.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Lunch at Patonga

Patonga is a small village just south of Woy Woy, on the shores of Brisbane waters.

The Patonga fish and chip shop

Last December we went there with my father for lunch at what turned out to be one of the best fish and chip shops this side of the moon. It's rare that a fish and chip shop will serve excellent fish with excellent chips to match, but our $48 (about €30) bought us a pile of seafood and potatoes we couldn't have jumped over if we'd tried, which was excellently cooked and as tasty as all get out. It wasn'tjust fish, either, but fish, calamari rings, prawns, potato scallops and chips. Ace. And enough for me to have reheated for dinner (and a little garnish on breakfast the nest day).

The view from our table

Lunch is served - Susan and my father consider further hardening of the arteries.

After lunch, for entertainment we watched a pair of Whistling Kites following a fishing boat and fishing scraps out of the water.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Wondabyne station

When we were in Australia we travelled by train a number of times from Sydney to Woy Woy, a city on the Central coat of New South Wales and 80km North of Sydney.

The last station before Woy Woy is Wondabyne, the only train station in Australia inaccessible by road. Passengers using the station are either hikers who arrive and depart on foot, or residents who live the other side of Mullet Creek and commute to the station by boat.

The platform at Wondabyne is about half the length of a standard railway carriage, and passenger wishing to leave the train have to announce themselves to the guard on the train, and be ready at the last door in the last carriage, by the guards compartment. If you wish to join the train at Wondabyne, you have to wave at the driver of the train, who will (hopefully) bring the train to a halt - again you have to use the last door on the train.

 The parking lot at Wondabyne Station

Although we used the train quite a bit we never stopped at Wondabyne, so even though I was ready to jump out the train and take photos, the only photos I have were taken through the train window as we rattled along.


We didn't manage a blog post yesterday, the first time in many years. We were busy doing multiple and varied stuffs.


Today is the Fetes St George in Preuilly, so don't expect to drive through town. The Grand Rue will be blocked, and there will hopefully be a number of traders and brocanteurs, as well as beer and sausages.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

What's Flowering in the Orchard?

Lawn Daisy.

 Lawn Daisy Bellis perennis (Fr. la Pâquerette).

Honey Bee on Sweet Cherry blossom.

Honey Bees Apis mellifera (Fr. les Abeilles domestiques) seem to especially love cherry blossom.

Dog Sick Slime Mould.

Dog Sick Slime Mould Mucilago crustacea (Fr. la mucilage en croûte). The Dog Sick Slime Mould colony in the orchard has lots of outbreaks of fruiting bodies such as this one pictured. They are abundant in the autumn, but there are a few now in the spring. This organism is usually referred to as a fungus, but in fact it is a myxomycete in the family Didymiaceae. Slime moulds are neither plant, animal nor fungi, but primitive single celled organisms like amoebae. They eat soil bacteria and slowly migrate across their habitat. Every now and then they clump together to form fruiting bodies such as the one above. The creamy sponge like material you see here is made of calcium crystals and hides a core of black spores. If you touch the organism it will release a cloud of very fine powder. They are almost always seen on grass and are very widespread and quite abundant here.

Early Spider Orchid.

Early Spider Orchid Ophrys sphegodes (Fr. Ophrys araignée).

Lady Orchid.

Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea (Fr. Orchis pourpre) just showing the first glimpse of the flowers to come. The previous two years the Ladies and the Spiders were hit by hard frost just as they came into flower. They can take a couple of degrees below zero, but minus six was too much for them and they keeled over. This year the weather is warm to the point of summery just as they are flowering so I have a more typical display.

Greater Stitchwort.

Greater Stitchwort Stellaria holostea (Fr. la Stellaire holostée). Like many yellow or white flowers, not easy to photograph and achieve any sort of detail, so I am rather pleased with this photo.


Dandelion Taraxacum agg (Fr. Pissenlit). Fresh young dandelion leaves are one of the traditional spring tonics, but once they are flowering you don't want to be eating them -- too much acrid sap which could burn your throat, and tastes too bitter to be pleasant anyway. The French name means 'piss in bed', presumably indicating that it is a diuretic. The English name refers to the 'lion's teeth' form of the leaves.

Common Vetch.

Common Vetch Vicia sativa (Fr. la Vesce commune). The scientific name indicates it is edible, and it was once widely cultivated as stock feed.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Beating the Bocage

On Saturday I joined friends Carolyn and Tim on a hunt for the rare wild flower Snakeshead Fritillary Meleagris fritillaria (Fr. la Fritillaire pintade). I gave them a list of sites that I knew of and they chose the Véron, the area of land between the Loire and the Vienne rivers, west of Chinon. Sadly, we didn't find many fritillaries, especially compared to previous visits, but we did see some nice things.

Aubrac cattle on traditional bocage grazing meadow.

The Véron along the Vienne is laid out in traditional bocage pasture, with small fields surrounded by hedges. The soil is permanently damp and the grass is lush. Very little of it is used for grazing now though. About half of it has been planted with poplar trees and the other half must just be cut for hay.

Whose poo is this?

We didn't see any Brown Hare Lepus europaeus (Fr. le Lièvre d'Europe), but they are obviously here. There was a collection of telltale droppings on a track.

A Grey Heron Ardea cinerea (Fr. un Héron cindré) ambles across the track.

Spotted Dead-nettle.

Spotted Dead-nettle Lamium maculatum (Fr. le Lamier à feuilles panachées) grows in profusion in a couple of places.

A bracket fungus. 

On one old felled tree trunk (ash or poplar, but I couldn't tell for sure) there was an outbreak of the bracket fungus Lentinus tigrinus. It's an impressive fungus that I have seen before on felled poplars on the banks of big rivers in France. It likes dead timber that has been saturated, and is seen almost exclusively on poplars or willows.

Mating Orange Tip butterflies.

Early spring is the moment when you will see Orange Tip Anthocharis cardamines (Fr. l'Aurore) butterflies along ditches and hedgerows where their caterpillar host plants Garlic Mustard Alliaria petiolata (Fr. l'Alliaire) and Lady's Smock Cardamine pratensis (Fr. la Cardamine des prés) grow. As it happens, these two are sitting on a Meadow Buttercup Ranunculus acris (Fr. la Renocule âcre).

Old Ash trees along a ditch.

At this time of year it is very obvious that many of the fields are still bordered by old Common Ash trees Fraxinus excelsior (Fr. le Frêne élevé). Once, they were pollarded and probably the prunings would have been used to augment the grazing cattles' diet in the summer when the grass was drying out. Now no one maintains them and the cattle have mostly gone. The trees get older and more gnarled, a lot of them are hollow, providing nest sites for all sorts of creatures -- bats and other small mammals, birds and insects. Ash trees are traditionally used in these damp environments as their roots help stabilise the banks of canals and ditches, but without being continually pollarded they will start to suffer from wind damage I should imagine. The old pollarding level is a weak point and once the branches get big enough, that is where they are likely to snap.

Poplar plantation.

The bocage field system is being replaced by Hybrid Black Poplar Populus x canadensis agg (Fr. le Peuplier du Canada) plantations. They form strange eery ranks that shimmer with a weird silvery glow. 

A crane fly.

Early spring brings out certain species of crane flies too. This female is Tipula lateralis. This species inhabits damp grassland.

The bocage of the Véron is a strange beautiful hidden secretive world. Walk around it and you will encounter virtually no one. A jogger, a dog walker, a few fishermen down on the river but that is all. Very little man made noise (a boat on the river perhaps) but lots of bird song. And all within easy walking distance of some excellent wineries in the Chinon AOP whose vines are planted on the sandy soil a bit further back from the river. All the little fields and parcels of land are privately owned. Slowly it is beginning to change, as traditional grazing is no longer practiced. To make any money out of the land many owners have chosen to convert to poplar plantations. There is currently no protection for the bocage except the goodwill and knowledge of the private owners.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Tulips at Chenonceau

Tulips flowering in the cutting garden at the chateau of Chenonceau.

Every spring the tulips put on a colourful show in the Loire Valley. A couple of the chateaux gardens are always especially magnificent displays. This photo shows the tulips in the kitchen and cutting garden at the chateau of Chenonceau last year in mid-April.

The chateau of Chenonceau always displays the most stupendous floral arrangements in every room, and as far as possible, the flowers are grown on the estate. Naturally, tulips feature strongly in the early spring.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Twentieth Wedding Anniversary

Today is our twentieth wedding anniversary. Usually neither of us remembers our wedding anniversary, but we thought we should make some sort of effort at celebrating reaching two decades of loving harmony (ahem).

On the Great Wall of China in 2014.

We got married because we had to. Not because I was pregnant, but because the laws in the UK are so archaic that despite being an established couple of about 5 years duration when we arrived in the UK, we would not have been each others next of kin. If either of us had been hospitalised for something serious it could have been a problem. So we got married, in our local registry office, a very attractive 19th century building that had a former life as a Carnegie library. I took half a day off work and Simon went on honeymoon to America on his own. We told no one and the whole thing cost about £100. I'm not posting any photos because although they exist, we can't find them.

 In Tiananmen Square in Beijing, 2017.

Anyway, now that we've made it this far, what would be an appropriate symbol of our union? So...we've decided to buy a new mattress for the marital bed. Actually,we don't have much choice. The mattress is as old as the marriage, and is showing its age. It is a Relaxsan foam mattress made in Italy. We bought it in London for very little money and loved it right from the outset. Relaxsan were the first to manufacture high density foam mattresses and reading their reviews, everyone who did as we did had no reason to regret the decision.

We spent an afternoon trawling the mattress shops in Chambray-lès-Tours. We tried out mattresses ranging in price from €300 to €3000. You will be unsurprised to hear that the €3000 Tempur mattress, made in Denmark, was our favourite. However -- €3000! Eek! And it would be 10 -12 weeks before it was delivered. Our bed was bought in London and is not a standard French size, so our new mattress needs to be custom made.

 A publicity shot for Loire Valley Time Travel.

So, Simon has scoured the internet, and our current plan is to buy another Relaxsan mattress online, from a British supplier for £280. They apparently only sell in Italy and the UK. We've heard they have modified them a little, but hopefully we can a) get one delivered to France, and b) we will love it just as much. After all, we want the marriage to last another 20 years.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Blue Hole, Bermagui

I think that Blue Hole at Bermagui on the New South Wales Sapphire Coast is the most beautiful tidal swimming pool I've ever seen. Sadly, I've never swum there. I didn't even know of its existence until friends Rick and Helen took us there after lunch at the Tathra Pub, almost as an afterthought. We didn't have our bathers so didn't go swimming. We just watched the locals come and go and it was obvious that many of them use the pool regularly.

In 1937 a local resident devised a plan to create a training and competition pool. He brokered a deal whereby the New South Wales Department of Works and Local Government would grant £200 if the locals raised another £100. In the end Bermagui District Lifesaving Club also contributed £100. The money allowed the dynamiting and dumping of rocks to enlarge an existing rock pool. Later, another £100 was forthcoming to make the forty or so steep steps down to the pool, and a paddling pool was added on one end. Finally, the Department of Works coughed up another £300 so that a changing shed could be added. Bill Dickinson, who had the original idea, personally contributed £300 and considerable personal labour. The pools flush clean with each tide and water quality testing proves it is of the highest standard. More recently, in 2011, the council has added a viewing platform, not just to enable tourists to watch the swimmers, but also to look out to sea and spot whales on migration in the autumn.

Look up and you will see Sea Eagles.

Looking down the coast from the pool.


Simon's note:

In the early 1970's I spent a school holiday at Bermagui, in a campsite not 500 metres from the Blue Hole. For some unknown reason, we never found this well signposted swimming pool. Whether that was our fault or theirs I am not sure.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

What am I Photographing?

What am I photographing in Rick and Helen's kitchen?

It's a large male geometrid moth of some sort, and rather beautiful. A trawl of the internet reveals that this is a species currently called Hypobacta tachyhalotaria. It was only named in 2009 when DNA sequencing revealed that the mainland species previously known as H. percomptaria probably doesn't exist. That is to say, it exists on Tasmania, but the similar looking moths on the mainland are something else (and probably a species complex, not even a single species). He was photographed in the house of friends Rick and Helen on the Sapphire Coast of Australia (the southernmost bit of the New South Wales coast).

Friday, 13 April 2018

The Southern Downs

The area just South of where Susan grew up is known as the Southern Downs. It's part of the larger (77,388.7 km2) Darling Downs, at the top of the Great Diving Range in Southern Queensland.

According to Wikipedia
"The landscape is dominated by rolling hills covered by pastures of many different species, vegetables, legumes such as soy beans and chick peas, and other crops including cotton, wheat, barley and sorghum. Between the farmlands there are long stretches of crisscrossing roads, bushy ridges, winding creeks and herds of cattle. There are farms with beef and dairy cattle, pigs, sheep and lamb stock. Other typical sights include irrigation systems, windmills serving as water well pumps to get water from the Great Artesian Basin, light planes crop-dusting, rusty old woolsheds and other scattered remnants from a bygone era of early exploration and settlement."
To me, it looks like this

and this

I spent much of the late 1980s and 1990s driving huge distances through this countryside, but I have to admit I like the Southern Touraine a whole lot more!

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Likin' the Lichen

I've only entitled this blog post the way I have because if I don't someone will do it in the comments.

Common Orange Lichen.

I went on a most enjoyable lichen outing on Saturday 7 April, organised by my friend Marie-Claude. She's become a real expert on the subject and is busy training up others. I was super impressed by how much work she had put in to make sure we all got to grips with the lichens we were looking at. The site chosen was the Puy de Besnard La Colline near Chinon*. It's a nature reserve on a sandstone topped limestone ridge, full of rare species of plants and no doubt other orders too. I've written about visiting it the Puys de Chinonais before here and here.

Cladonia foliacea.

Marie-Claude had prepared sheets of photographs of each of the possible species and made it all look so easy. She has been greatly supported in her learning about lichens by Jeannine.

Physcia tribacioides.

Jeannine had a marvellous story about how, some years ago, when she first got interested in mosses and lichens, she found some specimens she thought were rare, or at least unrecorded in our area. She made an appointment with the leading lichenologist of the day, who worked out of a fusty dusty back room in one of the big natural history museums.

 Grassy-leaved Buttercup.

When she got there and showed him her specimens he was intrigued. He asked where she had found them. 'Chinon', she said. 'Where's that?' he said. 'In Indre et Loire' she replied. 'Jean! Jean!' 'Claude ! Claude !' he called out to a colleague, 'We've got people from 37 here!'.* Each of the French administrative areas called départements are numbered and Indre et Loire is 37. Apparently to live in 37 is to be unimagineably exotic.

The group gathers around to look at a lichen.

We saw some very common species and some very rare species. Common Orange Lichen Xanthoria parietina (Fr. Parmélie des murailles) is a leafy, bright yellow, abundant and widely distributed lichen. Technically it is a fungi that has been lichenised by algae. It's one of the most familiar lichens due to its high visibility, and because it is one of the most studied. The bright yellow colour is a pigment produced by the lichen to protect itself from sunlight. It will be grey-green where the sun doesn't reach it. It occurs all over the world with the exception of Antarctica, and will grow on many substrates, especially if they are in the sun. It's not fussy, whether it's on trees or buildings, but is especially partial to spots that have plenty of bird poo stuck to them. In France it is very common, occuring everywhere except the high mountains. Recent research has revealed that it has antiviral properties that may be useful against influenza. In the old days it was mixed with urine and used to produce a pink dye for woollen textiles.

Early Spider Orchid.

Cladonia foliacea is one of the so called 'reindeer mosses', which are really lichens, and a largish genus with many species that closely resemble one another. Reindeer themselves mostly only eat one species, C. rangiferina, which we didn't see on the day. The C. foliacea was growing with C. rangiformis (the brown wispy bits bottom right in the photo above) and C. furcata. They are common lichens of sandy or calcareous soil, so right at home on the Puys de Chinonais.

Violet Oil Beetle.

Physcia tribacioides is a real rarity in our area. La Colline is the only recorded site for it in Indre et Loire. It seems to be dying out, as it is associated with older trees and undisturbed sites such as churchyards and old private parks. It is a leafy lichen that is naturally a grey-green colour (some lichens are pruinose, with a powdery surface that gives them a grey-green appearance but hides their real colour, which could be very dark). Petractis clausa is also only recorded on La Colline in 37.

Petractis clausa.

Grassy-leaved Buttercup Ranunculus gramineus (Fr. Renoncule à feuilles de graminée) is a southern warmth loving plant of dry grasslands, on the edge of its range here. It is rare and protected in Centre Val de Loire. Nearby was a colony of the first orchids I've seen in flower for the season (we saw two species flowering), and a male Violet Oil Beetle Meloe violaceus (Fr. Méloé violet) ambling about. I assume he's munching on the rare buttercup and the equally rare Pasqueflower Pulsatilla vulgaris (Fr. Anémone pulsatille) as he will need the poisons they contain to protect himself and his offspring.


Marie-Claude scouring the ground for lichens.

Wrapping up the day with drinks and practicing our identifying skills with close up photos.

* Both Marie-Claude and Jeannine have been in touch with me to point out that we were on La Colline, not Puy Besnard. They are both landscape features known as the Puys de Chinonais. Jeannine also pointed out that the lichen expert in her story was Monsieur Boissière and he called out to his colleague Claude Roux. When I came to write the blog I couldn't remember the names of the people she was talking about, so I opted for a generic version.