Monday 30 April 2018

The Car in Blois

Yesterday was the second annual Fédération Française des Véhicules d'Epoque (FFVE) "use your old car" day. We don't usually need much encouragement, even when the weather forecast is for solid rain (as per last year). Also like last year we went with Rosemary and Jean-Michel, although this year we decided to forego dressing up 1950's stylee for being warm, 21st century style.

Chenard & Walcker F 23 1939.

Lotus Europa.

Did you know there was a club for old furniture removal vans?

A 2CV.
Not 2CV.

We like these events - it doesn't matter if you're in a €900 2CV or a €300,000 Ferrari, all are equal in a traffic jam, and you never know who you are going to be next to when the traffic comes to a halt.

Sunday 29 April 2018


When we were at Sydney airport in January we noticed this reassuring flight information board. We were on our way from Australia to France via Shanghai.

CA 776 was our flight

It has to be said, though, that transiting through Shanghai is less than relaxing. Mainly because you don't actually transit, you visit.

When you are flying through Shanghai your bags (and you) are only checked through as far as Shanghai itself. Even though we only had 90 minutes in Shanghai we had to:
  • find the immigration desk
  • complete the immigration and customs forms
  • go through immigration
  • collect our luggage
  • pass through customs
  • make our way to departures
  • check in
  • go through immigration
  • go through security
  • make our way to the departure gate
This would be quite stressful in Chinese. In English, with minimal instructions and poor signage, we were really stressed. I am not sure that even a departures indication board saying "relax" would have helped


Thank you to everybody for your kind thoughts over the past couple of days. It means a lot.

Saturday 28 April 2018

Fruit Jelly for Christmas

Last year sometime a video was doing the rounds of social media, showing an Asian dessert variously described as Thai or Malaysian, consisting of a watermelon stuffed with jellied fruit. In a show of bravado usually restricted to cake recipes, I proclaimed "that looks excellent, I can do that", and then said "I'll do that while we are in Australia".

Once we were in Australia doubt set in - I couldn't work out what sort of jelly to use, because (as everyone knows) gelatine won't set when mixed with pineapple, and the recipes just said "Asian jelly". There was also an issue with the watermelon. For some reason most supermarkets and fruit shops in Australia were selling quartermelons, and I definitely needed a half.

When we visited Matt and Nina in Brisbane we called in to an Asian grocery, and going purely on the pictures on the packets selected a packet of jelly. What we needed was Konnyaku, an ingredient neither of us had heard of (and we didn't even know that until yesterday morning when I started writing this blog!). Konnyaku is made from the corm (root) of  Amorphophallus konjac, also known as konjaku, konnyaku potato, devil's tongue, voodoo lily, snake palm, or elephant yam.

We then happened across the only half watermelon in Pittsworth in the IGA supermarket, and I was left without an excuse...

First, I cut up paw paw(papaya), mango, strawberries, kiwi fruit, grapes (if they're big ones) and opened and drained a can of pineapple. Then I cut the flesh out of the watermelon - I used a melon baller and set the flesh aside. After that I  mixed the fruit, and put it in the half watermelon shell in sort of layers.

To add colour (not necessary) I made an ordinary port wine jelly from Aeroplane Jelly Crystals, just dissolving the crystals in a little boiling water (in Australia jelly mixes come in little cardboard boxes of crystals). I then made the konnyaku jelly, more or less the same way as done in the instructions here, although I added the malic acid when it was on the heat, which meant it started jelling immediately. (In my defence, the instructions on the packet were ambiguously translated from Malay, and weren't clear.)

I added the two jellies, poured into the watermelon, and voila! 30 minutes in the fridge and it was ready. You just need to be a bit careful to support the melon so it is level and doesn't overflow. A suitably sized and shaped shallow bowl or a scrunched foil ring will be fine. Don't be tempted to cut a sliver of skin off underneath to create a flat base -- the melon will leak. To serve, I cut the half melon lengthwise, and then cut the quarter into slices.

If I make this again, I will definitely make the konnyaku jelly according to instructions, and not preload the watermelon. Rather, I will pour some jelly into the watermelon, add some fruit, and repeat until the melon shell is very nearly almost full. I will definitely use less fruit. I will also drop the colouring (jelly crystals) as this somewhet detracted from the fruit.

Friday 27 April 2018

Boats on the Harbour

There are many boats of all sizes on Sydney harbour - from little training sailing boats to big pug-ugly cruise ships. This means the commute on the ferry from Manly to Sydney is always interesting

A Moth sailing dingy. They now sail on a hydrofoil centreboard, and are extremely fast

Australian Navy LCM-1E landing craft

South Passage, a gaff rigged sailing schooner.

If you're in too much of a hurry to catch a ferry you can call a water taxi

A general work barge, the Boronia

The SKS Donggang, a crude oil carrier

A famous yawl: Kialoa2, a boat I remember from many Sydney to Hobart
races in the 1970s, and still competing. Here it's practicing for the 2017 race

If you should ever find yourself on the Manly ferry keep your camera to hand - you never know what you might see

Thursday 26 April 2018

The Tulips at Cheverny

A week ago Susan wrote about the tulips at Chenonceau, but they are as nothing compared to the 12,000 tulips at Cheverny.

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.