Friday, December 23, 2005

I've found a brewer!

I mentioned the brewer at our party earlier in the month. But I'm not sure the importance of this guy came across. The French consider themselves the best in the world at beer, well, at everything really. There are times, even amongst relatively humble members of the species, (yes they do exist), there are times when you wonder if the world would even exist without France. It's almost like listening to a conversation at a London gentleman's club at times.

Anyway, personally, I have a taste for one or two Welsh and English beers, although my enthusiasm was knocked a bit the last time I saw my mate Zebedee. Three pints of olde English stuff on an empty stomach and I was definitvely 'hors combat'. I missed out on the fish pie and everything. I'm sure it's all in revenge for a damaging session he had courtesy of one of my many brothers in law.

Anyway, apart from that, I like Buckleys Best, (sold out to Brains a few years back), Felinfoel Double Dragon, (I believe this was the first beer sold in cans) and HSB by Gales (A family company sold out this year!)

Needless to say it's not easy to find this stuff at Ecomarché. So what's a welshman to do? Find a local brewer that's what. And this is he. I mean he is him. I mean ... oh froth! You know what I mean.

He's in the middle of creating his own brasserie nearby, and we all hope it will open in 2006. (Lots of work to do on the building.) And we'll be regular customers. More news as it happens ...

That's one of the big highlights coming up in 2006. There are many more, and when the new year has chimed in, I'll be looking ahead at what's planned. In the meantime, have fun.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


I've mentioned my restored window frames before, but some while back. But I haven't been idle, oh no! The development of a series of tryptichs has been going on. Try something out, sit it around the house somewhere for a couple of weeks and see what occurs to me, then try something else. So this is one of latest three ideas under development.

The idea with all of them is to have a more or less obvious 'narrative', if three images is enough to call it a narrative. Any thoughts about this one? By the way the silver balls are part of our Christmas decorations, not part of the window frame idea. They were just hanging there! Don't forget, the main arena for these cartoons is over at birdinabox, where I'm collaborating with my 8 yr old daughter as well as each of us developing our own images.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

We knocked THE BIG ONE off too

Before the evening festivities, (see below), we did manage to get li'l lamb to join in with the Christmas ambiance. And with Bunny's two girls around too, there was all the innocent Christmas play that makes it one of my favourite times of the year...

This afternoon is the local commune's Christmas party - le sapin de Noël. There was much spoilt brat dissapointment last year, so I hesitate to go through that again, but hey, it's only once a year, and you never know. I'll let you know how it goes, and I may get one or two photos of the big red man himself!

The last of the summer verveine

Alcohol can be many things in a life, some good some bad. I've wondered about how some alcohol links lives and people, and this is one example.

One of our most pleasant summer encounters this year was with a small family of orstralians that Bunny picked up at a picnic in the local park.

When we talked about their plans, it turned out they were virtually passing the door about a month later after various travels in other European countries. So we invited them to stay with us and share their experiences over a barbie and a glass or two of wine. A great time was had by all i think. They generously brought a bottle of top quality verveine - a locally renowned liqueur made from lots of different flowers and herbs.

I decided that we should keep it for times when we got together with bunny and family, and that's what we did. Last night we saw it off, and toasted the good health of our ortsralian friends. And the joy of chance encounters. And our good health. And the new year. And probbly sevurull other stuff wot we thort of an then din membah mush an ....

Friday, December 16, 2005

So this is for who again?

As Christmas draws near, we're getting more and more festive. We went up to bunny's place to pick up this year's tree, and had a look at their creche ...

I'd done a bit of vaguely artistic something above the fireplace ...

Not without its risks, given the size of the thing and the heat we manage to get off it at times.

And then we brought the tree in and tailored it to fit into the house. Just.

So now we're waiting until li'l lamb is not in school so that we can decorate it.

Only, remembering last Christmas, and the little tree we put up in the kitchen, and even looking at these photos, where is li'l lamb? ALL these activities were planned around her being there. And she's been upstairs playing in her room instead.

So, as I said, this is for who again? Well it's just as well it's for us too...

And we'll have a go at the BIG ONE tomorrow afternoon - eh oui, school on Saturday morning!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

These feeble strands of memory

Perhaps I'm too easily pleased. Perhaps I don't have enough to do. I don't think either possibility is likely, but then I wouldn't would I? But surely there IS something special about this morning?

One of the village elders called round this morning, to say thanks for the two photos of her I printed and framed a little while back. She wasn't in on Sunday when we agreed I'd take them over and wanted to apologise for that too. Neither gesture was necessary, but we appreciated both. The great thing though was having the time to chat over a juicy cup of strong coffee.

No school for li'l lamb on Wednesdays, and we were doing some school-type stuff in English. My work/life balance is such that there are many times when I can go with the flow. And the flow was started this morning by mixing our observations of the village since we moved here with this elder's rich personal and inherited knowledge of life here dating back over many generations.

To give you but one example ... In a few villages around the area there are small buildings sometimes called l'assemblée or la maisonnette. They are most often marked by having a little bell or campanile on the roof. Here la béate, depending on her experience and the needs of the village, would provide a small nursery, teach prayers and the catechism, la dentelle and other things. In some places, where she was better educated than many other in the area, she also acted as midwife and doctor, or the much more evocative sage-femme in French. This woman may have had a little garden of her own, but was also brought food, milk and so on by the villagers. She lived in l'assemblée, upstairs in one small room, itself often built simply by the villagers.

When school was made compulsory, la béate and then l'assemblée seem to have lost their place in the villages. Another change in the law seems to have transfered ownership and responsibility for the buildings, (along with other property) from the village to the commune, roughly equivalent to the parish council, possibly hastening their decline further.

These feeble strands of memory stretch back many decades, maybe even centuries. But they are frayed and will not survivie this generation. The last time it was used, the elder as a young woman, together with two of her contempories, both still here, set up some kind of shrine to celebrate La Sainte Vierge in May. I wonder if they have any photos ...

These memories, together with the feu de joie and the old stone walls are being lost and destroyed as I write. What, I wonder, can I do about that?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Bird in a Box

I had some fun working from the first doodles to get this far. I'm enjoying it so much I've set up a dedicated blog here.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

We can only hope that death stalks no more …

Those of a sensitive disposition please stop here and find something else to do. Anything else is fine. Really. And if you're looking for cartoons, click here instead.

Another cat had a close shave a couple of days ago apparently. And has not survived the weekend as a result. One of the women most affected, although it was not her cat, has been convinced and very vocal about Dick being the culprit. I’m convinced he’s innocent. Or should I say that he was innocent. The owners decided to put him down. His gentle nature and joyful character will be missed every day. He used to accompany my partner in crime every morning on her walk through the woods. He was always happy to find a quiet spot in our garden, near to us for company, and away from venomous top dog Bambi. No more.

The very saddest thing is that he was ‘adopted’ by someone who consistently neglected him thereafter, not to the extent of maltreatment or under nourishment, but he simply wasn’t interested. We could have offered him a home. The time for that is gone.

I don’t want to start talking about motives for either the accusations or the reaction that has provoked, although I’ve thought of a few that leave no one with any dignity in the affair. And I don't want to let rip here with my sadness and anger. All we can hope is that no more cats are brutally attacked and killed. Such a miscarriage of justice would be too much.

I hope you’re happier wherever you are Dick. You’ll be fondly remembered.

Li'l lamb's square card doodles

Here's a few of li'l lamb's ideas for using my old business cards.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


One or two of my first unprocessed results from this morning. I'll have to ask li'l lamb if I can post some of hers when she gets back from delivering les couronnes to the village.

PS I got my cards all written! They might even get there before Christmas at this rate - that would be another rare success.

Christmas Cards

One of li'l lambs free Saturday mornings, so we planned a bit of a lie-in. I managed about 40 minutes. Lamb, if she is to be believed, woke up at alarm time. Maybe we'll managed a bit of sluggishness tomorrow morning.

In the meantime I've been writing some Christmas cards. Always a pleasure to spend some time remembering far-flung friends and relatives, and this year I might add this blog to the address details.

Lamb and I spent part of the morning finding interesting ways to use my out of date business cards. I think we came up with some good stuff, and when it's finished I'll snap a few and let you have a look at them. Any ideas about what to do with them now will be welcome!

Friday, December 09, 2005

twenty-five things about a welshman on wine

1. I played in the Salvador da Bahia carnival in Brasil exactly one year to the day after first picking up a samba drum.
2. I had some minor bullying at times at school.
3. But the only fight I ever had I won.
4. Winning the fight felt worse than being bullied.
5. When I was 16, someone told me I was the oldest person they knew.
6. I’ve been married for ten years.
7. My daughter is Franglaise.
8. She speaks better French than me, and better English than her mum.
9. My daughter is my best teacher.
10. I scored the winning try for Wales against England in 197something.
11. Or was that a dream? No that’s THE dream!
12. I once signed up to fly fast and kill people.
13. I left.
14. Making mud pies remains one of my favourite things to do
15. Now I have to call it gardening.
16. Taking pictures is one of my main passions.
17. I won a prize at the school Eisteddfod once.
18. I was too shy to go up in front of everyone and get it.
19. But at least I wasn’t sick from eating my raw leek like whatsisname.
20. I read loads and loads and loads.
21. I had stopped reading for pleasure, but decided to start again.
22. This is my most successful, and quite possibly the only, example of using my willpower to change a bad habit.
23. Half Welsh and half Scottish, I drink whiskey but don’t wear a kilt. Or should that be I drink beer and wear a kilt? I’m not sure now.
24. I once nearly ran over one of the biggest folk stars in Scotland, (by accident – he was staggering across the road bladdered at about 9 in the morning).
25. For the first twenty years of my life I lived in one place. In the last twenty I’ve lived in 19. I’m hoping the next move will bring that phase to a close!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Ah yes, the English teaching

I forgot to let you know how that interview type thing went.

Well I got there in good time, found the place no problem, found the room no problem. Only there was an almighty row going on inside. I strategically placed myself at a distance where I couldn't hear enough to understand what was being said, but I could hear if life-threatening behaviour was in progress and I could intervene.

At the appointed hour, the smiling face of my interviewer breezed through the door, the give-away stiffness of the lips only barely detectable. All handshakes and 'how are you's with both of the combatants and it was into the interview room. The contrast in behaviour about the fulcrum of a split second was dizzying. It reminded me very much of another story ...

Sharing a room with other researchers and postgrads meant sharing at least one end of phone conversations too. So imagine the day a few years ago. Six people, one phone. The sunlight streaming through the window. All heads down and working hard. (A rare occurrence it has to be said.) The phone rings. The nearest person picks up and passes it over to our female Greek postgrad. The Greek conversation starts pretty lively, passes through warm to heated quite quickly, and then develops into what sounds like the biggest, most almighty row any of us have ever heard. Work stops, eyes make flicking contact behind her back, one person decides to leave the room, while the rest of us try and work out wtf might be going on.

We consider, between us, World War Three, the jealous discovery of adulterous behaviour, or somethign serious like forgetting to tape the latest episode of The Young Ones.

After a full fifteen minutes of apopleptic behaviour, she puts the phone down. Dust is visibly settling as a silence slowly develops into something cloying and tangible. She sits down and starts reading. Calm, relaxed and at ease with the world. Apparently. Someone ventures the question. "Are you OK?" "Sorry?" "Are you OK? You know, the phone call?" "Sorry, I don't understand." Well it sounded pretty serious. Is anything wrong?" "Wrong? No not really. That was [boyfriend]. We were just deciding what to have for dinner tonight. Why?"

Whenever she got a call after that, instead of one person walking out, we all went for a coffee.

Right, where was I? Ah yes, the English. Well we had a chat, I heard a bit about it, but had one of my intuitive feelings about the whole thing. So I think I kept the option open. I'll go down to deliver a 30 minute trial lesson at some point, and then look at it again in the new year in the glorious light of other opportunities. Whatever they might be...

Les Couronnes, the school, the streetlights and the poor

There are traditions in many places of parents raising funds for their kid's school. They’re obviously not the same everywhere. Here, the latest round has found me a bit miffed as I’ve thought it all through. A brief bit of background …

Apparently, the local education authority decides on school standards, curriculum, holiday dates, free Saturdays (don’t ask!) and so on. But not money. They don’t decide how much each school gets to achieve these things. Le Maire does. And they don’t all decide the same. So you get a Maire, any Maire, and they may have different priorities about spending.

In this case, they’ve been installing urban street lights outside remote farms this year. Terry the Cheese virtually had to send them packing with a shotgun under his arm, having searched for three years to find a nice quiet rural spot to make sheep’s cheese, and in no mood for a little urbanisation thank you very much. So for reasons like these, sometimes schools find themselves short of a few bob, especially for trips away, even if they are prescribed by the local education chiefs.

That’s the background then. So now what happens is the ‘Friends of the School’ or Amicale Laïque do stuff to raise money to help out. Now I’m not against this idea in principle at all, but what’s happened this time doesn’t feel right. The two kids in our village, my little lamb and her neighbour from the same class have been all round the area taking orders for Christmas couronnes. Dozens of them. Our neighbours are, for the most part, retired paysans often over 70 years old. So they’ve had five euros each elicited out of them. The couronnes were made by a particularly keen bunch of parents last Friday. Only, so many had been ordered that there wasn’t enough material to do any of them justice. So now, we’ll be collecting said couronnes and delivering the sorry things to the neighbours. Who will probably be as sorry as we will be when we ask for the fiver.

All this will raise a few hundred euros to help pay for the school’s week-long class away at the seaside. And represents the cost of installing just one of the street lamps that many people didn’t even want. There’s something not quite right about scrounging fivers from poor old retired farmers instead of using public money somewhat better.

But then the (ab)use of public money round here is another very big story …

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Grim Reaper

Death is stalking the village. The gruesome discovery of part of a head and leg is just the latest horror. First it was Biscuit. Then it was Pistache. Last week it was one of Jan’s. And then the gruesome discovery.

There are three dogs in the village. Top dog Bambi, new boy Dick, and the girl between the two, Border Collie Toxane. Maybe we should consider foxes too? I don’t think so. The dogs have been stalking the known cat hideouts for many months. Many kitties have been seen up trees over the summer with one or more of the suspects at the base. And then the black dog hair found in Pistache’s lifeless claws. Who do you think is the culprit?

Monday, December 05, 2005

The British Pub Quiz Hits the Auvergne

The British pub quiz is unknown in these parts. But I think it's a hit! It was sooo popular, and, being an optimistic sort most of the time, I hope we might do a monthly one in our mate's new Brasserie when it opens. This one was all on a geography theme. World music intros, (points for: continent, country, group and song); island outlines to work out so on; and 40 famous faces from around the world. I did introduce a bit of a French bias considering the players a bit. I won't tell you what they were, because I'll e-mail the sheets to you if you're interested - just add a comment and ask for them!

The evening was more than just the quiz though; we asked everyone to prepare a turn, so we had a couple of stand-up jokes, some unaccompanied singing, guitar and singing, didge, djembe and violin. A good range of good stuff, and a superb atmosphere all round. Can't wait to do it again. Although having spent all of Friday preparing and all of Sunday cleaning up, I hope we'll do it somewhere else next time!

You couldn't be there I know, so I've chosen a few photos for you to look at. Wojafink?

My partner in crime with beer in hand awaiting the 'off'.

The huge fireplace made a great backdrop to the room, and we anaged to get about 30 people in there, more or less comfortably - cosy.

The guacamole went down very well, but we're now on a humous diet for the rest of the week.

The beer brewer himself, singing his heart out.

And the Bard of Boutaresse to the right elbowing away and singing songs in Patois helpfully translated into French as we went along.

A great evening all round really. By the way, the low lighting blurry effects are deliberate - they have more atmosphere I think. Cheers!!

Friday, December 02, 2005

1/3 The Sunflower with Bee


Here's the photo of my bottle, now rested, cached in my studio for security ahead of tomorrow's party, and awaiting Fred's company for tasting.

The 'thing' behind it is one of my old window frames currently being turned into a picture frame for my photos. I'm working on some photos of blue bottles transformed by having been taken through a net curtain with summer back-lighting. The Stormhoek bottle is sitting on an earlier draft mocked up to see what it looked like in a frame, (not that one, a smaller one). I decided they would look better with more space, hence this big one acquired for me by Terry the reggae, (as opposed to terry the cheese). The windows all have three frames in them, all slightly different sizes, having been made by hand. They are made of beautiful oak, and I'm taking care to sand them down so that a very little of the base coat of paint is left to accentuate the wood grain before I add the antique polish.

The other one I'm working on at the moment is a tryptych of sunflower studies I did in the summer. Funny, seems I work on my summer shots when it's cold and grey, and yet in the summer I worked on last winter's snow and ice shots from the period of -17. Nothing like being in the moment is there?


Well whajano! It worked this time. Great, now where were those others that I wanted to post up last time?

More brushes with French bureaucracy

I know, I know, communication is difficult at the best of times. And I'm not French, so my social context for the communication is not attuned. And the langauge of bureaucracy the world over bears little resemblance to normal langauge. But this week's displays of contempt, innacuracy and complete disregard for the impact of letters and phone calls have reached a new low. Maybe it being winter and cold and grey doesn't help either, but the effect on my (our) morale is not good. The return of thoughts about calling it un jour and heading back home is not unexpected. I suppose they will pass.

I have something of an interview later today. having signally failed to make any impact on potential French clients or employers in my normal line of business, I sent out a CV proclaiming my talents as a teacher of English to adults. So I've been called on it and will be meeting the boss about six o'clock. This time it's just as a temporary stand-in for evening classes next week, but might lead to other things.

And I'm well set up for it after my contact with the great French state apparatus. NOT. So it's back to the comfort zone this afternoon to restore some semblance of optimism, enthusiasm and self-confidence before heading into the fray.

Wish me luck

Saturday, November 26, 2005

A big day for muther

I could be blasé about appearing on the web, having appeared here and there many times with Batala (warning! graphic heavy site) in my Pompey days. But it always gave me a kick. As it has me muther, who is somewhere to be found here. (For how long, I can't say.)

Friday, November 25, 2005

Wine freebie - or global impacts: Three

And finally, the gapingvoid and Stormhoek wine freebie has hit the Massif Central too. Mine got delivered yesterday, with my own personally printed label, (can't give you a photo yet, see below). Here's global microbrands, market disruption and all that jazz having a one-way relationship with my little village. I'm looking for ways to add the other dimension - I have a few ideas, and will be working on them over the winter.

Anyway, back to the wine. The delivery man was exceptional. Having spotted it was wine, he professed himself an amateur and proceeded to advise me to allow it at least two days repos before drinking it, and to allow it to take a couple of degrees of temperature from the room before drinking it. He enthused about wine, he loves wine, he wanted to share all that with me. It was a warm and cuddly experience. So warm and cuddly I didn't dare tell him that it wasn't French wine. I'm absolutely sure it would never, ever have occured to him that it wasn't French wine. Absolutely.

So, I will follow his advice, although I would have done both things anyway. But there's more mileage in this bottle. Oh yes! Apart from Bunny and the Oldest Hippie, my nearest French mates, there are one or two others that could be interested. I may well try a blind tasting event of some sort.

And then of course there's Fred. Fred was a motorbike mechanic. he decided he wanted to make wine, and has bought and is renewing a small vignoble in the Puy de Dome. He's passionate about his wine, and the attention to detail and level of care is outstanding. I won't say he know's every grape by name, but you get the picture. What about the wine? Well, I like it. At least last year's two wines were good for me. And the somelier of the Elysee Palace, (where the French President lives), also thought they were good. He called Fred at the end of his second season last year and bought out his remaining stock.

I'd like Fred to try some Stormhoek. Decisions decisions. One bottle may not be enough. And I can't get it in France. Mr Orbital Wines of London suggests that it may never be sold here. So I'll have to try and get hold of some in old Blighty. If it's any good of course. But I'll ask Fred about that.

Global impacts in the middle of nowhere: two

Then there's avian flu of course. By all accounts it's not possible to get this from eating chicken, but the consumer being a fickle sort, especially with lots of choice on the supermarket shelves, this fact has not stopped them avoiding chicken in their droves. The impact? Well our neighbour Bunny raises rabbits for food, and he's doing quite well - rabbit being seen in this part of France at any rate as a good healthy alternative to chicken. He's not complaining, but I haven't been up to ask the rabbits what they think.

Some photos

Sorry no photos, blogger doesn't want to know ... &^£$$"!

Like a new place

Two weeks in the UK, initially for work, but soon dedicated to my Dad who was taken ill two days into my trip. Two work meetings (that were the reason for the trip in the first place) were cancelled, leaving me free to do some practical stuff for Dad. This was handy, given that he's likely to be away from home for some months recovering from the stroke. We normally keep in touch 2-3 times a day by e-mail and text, and now still have the texting thing, even tho' in theory mobiles are banned from hosptial wards. Between my sister and I, we hope to get him kitted out with a laptop and internet connection by the time he's farmed out to what used to be called a cottage hospital for the hard work of rehabilitation. He's got a couple of projects to work on, one a spoof work magazine he's been writing anonymously for years, and the other his substantial body of doggerel poetry that deserves a wider audience. I suspect we may get some of that on one of my other blogs 'by yer in overne' in due course.

Being at home in Swansea was a bit strange. This was the house I grew up in, in the town I grew up in. Yet it felt different. It was no longer the same PLACE. This was something I noticed on a previous 'illness-free' trip home. I also noticed it when I visited our 'old' house in Pompey which is now let to a friend. Yes, this is the house where we lived for 3 years, the first house we owned (in partnership with the bank and a mother). But it's not the same place. This one still has a vibe.

In and around Swansea, there are a few landscapes that still feel like the same place. For me it's because they are invested with people energy. Sometimes others unknown have left something magic, some vibe behind. Something they noticed when they found it, and added to in their turn. Sometimes the vibe is our own, and while we are there, it lives; when we move on, it leaves with us.

The landscapes are important to me. Can they really be affected by people as houses or other buildings are? (That reminds me that there is the negative angle on all this too. One building - an ex-military prison in Stirling had an extremely disturbing vibe. I don't know what it feels like now.)

So here I was in early November, in autumn, clearing leaves and enjoying the last surprisingly late fruits of my garden - cherry tomatoes being a particular favourite. I leave to go to old Blighty, and when I get back, it's winter. The first snowfall is arriving as I write.

Waiting for the school bus with excited kids. Enjoying that special peace that falls over the landscape with the snow. Transforming the house into a cosy refuge, our massive fireplace really coming into its own. This place has its own vibe, which is great, and we are adding to it every day we are here. Our dream is to buy this or another similar place and vibe away to our hearts' content. Wish us luck.

PS Some pictures to come - Blogger doesn't seem too happy about uploading this morning.

Global impacts in the middle of nowhere revisited

I commented on the price of fuel oil recently, and was horrified at the price. I forgot to include the VAT in the second figure - aaaaaagh! The impact of this is now surprising. You would not believe the number of lumberjacks that have appeared in the woods, and the price of wood. And the three-four month waiting list for getting a wood-burning stove installed. I wonder how many of the neglected little parcels of woodland will start getting dusted off over the winter.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Global impacts in the middle of nowhere

The rioting and associated political debates in France do have an impact here. They crop up in conversation from time to time, but less often than you'd think. More often than not the weather (surprise surprise), local history, school and recipes crop up, (just thinking back over the last couple of days.

But don't let that persuade you that this little corner of the Massif Central is isolated from the world at large. Most people here have oil-fueled heating. And in the two years since we've been here, the price has risen from our first bill of 292 euro/m3 to today's order at 645 euro/m3. Renting this staging post limits our rights and enthusiasm to insulate better and we don't really have that many other heating options. But it certainly focuses the mind on having one or two other options. I'm a fan of renewables, which should come as no surprise, and they will certainly feature wherever we find ourselves. But the largest wind farm in France outside the window encourages thinking as widely as possible.

There are a number of disused watermills around here, the area seems to have been peppered with them at varous times. Unfortunately many are complete ruins, but one or two are relativeley intact and could be put to use generating electricity. This could also help restore and preserve the architectural heritage of the area. I wonder what the engineering case is? I must ask the oldest hippy what he thinks, he used to be an engineer. That will be a different topic of conversation...

Sunday, November 06, 2005

And the effect is?

Well it's attracted some attention from the neighbours. One girl was disappointed at the result, having seen it at two courses high and expecting it to reach the dizzy altitude of the wooden flag pole that you can see sticking out the top of this one. It's about 4m long, so that was never likely, but I did promise the make the next one bigger. The thing in the background is one hedgehog of a pair that used to be dragged along behind a trailer full of merde to spray it around a bit. Redundant now, I found it amongst a bank of brambles along one boundary. It's quite a big thing to find, but not as big as the wall that it was sitting on that I hadn't seen before either! One of my ideas is to rebuild the wall, (which should appear in the middle distance of this view, to the right of the tree in the middle). Whether I do it or not depends on whether I get enough practice at cairns and other small projects over the winter. I rebuilt two low steps this morning too, so I've made a good start. Move over Andy Goldsworthy ...

The first ephemeral garden

Well, here I am at the first attempt, and great fun it was too.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Ephemeral gardening

Our temporary stay here in the village is longer than expected. I find it affects my motivation in the garden. You can do quite a lot quite quickly if you have the time and the money. And since we should be moving on to our own place any time now, (I do believe it, I do!), I have had a pretty ambiguous attitude to the wonderful space I have to play at gardening in. Yesterday though, I discovered ephemeral gardening. I'm happy to admit this has been stimulated by my recent evening trawls through my gardening magazines. After all that was the idea of buying them and trawling through them again. So with some vague images of Japanese gardens and Andy Goldsworthy stuff in mind, I went out to rediscover one of my ideas that got a bit left behind when I did my back in at the beginning of September.

The idea was to use one large oval area to create our own poor attempts at art, with one outcome for me being practice at working with dry stone construction. I've uncovered quite a few of these on our (rented) bits of turf, and thought it would be fun to improve their condition, (I'm not sure I could claim to have restored them exactly). So I planned to build a dry stone tower with a flag pole in it that we could hang stuff on from time to time. I piled up some material to work with, and laid the base layer and then it all got away from me. But I went out there yesterday, cut the grass down with a hand scythe, (green aerobics in action), and then decided to take a 'walkers' cairn' approach, rather than a dry-stone wall approach. So you could say it's a step away from lobbing them in a pile. That's what I did, and I am pleased. I also think I learned a bit about the materials by feeling and seeing the difference between the pile of stones and the cairn. There's a nice journey there that I'll be taking the next steps on.

But the great thing for me was what I did next. I started raking the grass up, but then pulled it into a circle around the cairn, so that it now looks like an earthworks around a castle, (well it does squinting into the setting sun, with a following wind). Given the wind we've had recently, the whole earthworks thing could be gone in an hour or so, but what the hell, it's an ephemeral garden. I can do something else tomorrow.

And all of a sudden, my garden has all sorts of other possibilities that i probably wouldn't have done if it was our own turf and I was only thinking long-term. Boy have I got plans. And of course the great thing is that when we do get our own place, (soon, soon), I can still do this!

It doesn't take much to make me happy. Some might say it's sad, but you know what? I don't give a fork, or a rake or anything else. And when it's stopped raining, if the wind hasn't blown it all away, I'll get a shot of it for posterity.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Still enjoying the peace, but...

Still warm and sunny, beautiful afternoons, crisp clear mornings. We have the biggest wind farm in France in the view here, and with the first light on the masts it looked spectacular this morning. Too far for a photo, but I'll get out there one morning to get closer.

The but in the title refers to my jet-setting lifestyle, living here and working in the UK, and the new winter Ryanair service. I am of course grateful to Ryanair for the possibility of being able to do it at all, but the new winter service has kicked in, and adds a few stress points to the experience. It's usually an early start in the winter, and we're now taking off from Stanstead at 07:30. It's better than last year. This year they've dropped to 4 days a week, Saturday to Tuesday, and that's making my next trip longer than necessary. I'm sure I'll find things to do, but I don't really like being away that long when it doesn't seem necessary.

This, together with a couple of other things has prompted a return visit to 'the project'. The project is to create a relaxation centre. The other couple of things are: the end of my partners in crime's first season as masseuse at a nearby luxury hotel - time to review; and the appearance on the market of a very nicely placed B&B business. My P.I.C. will be going to have a look at the place sometime soon, and then we'll have a planning meeting over a very reasonably priced bottle of Bordeaux and see where we go. It's quite exciting to be having another look at 'the project', there's been a lack of a Big Hairy Outrageous Goal over the summer, as enjoyable as it has been. Anyway, if we have any news, you'll be the first to know!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Autumn or Indian summer?

I've been dragging myself away from my computer and the two current contracts for short breaks. When I do, I can't understand why I took so long. Barely a few paces in any direction and the views, peace and autumn colours are stunning. Yesterday evening and again early this morning I took the car a bit further up into the hills to take some photographs of spots I'd noticed last time I came back from the airport. It's just fantastic country, and I'm pretty pleased with the pictures. The apple of my eye is on holiday and is busy with a friend making a teepee in the garden in front of my window. My partner in crime collected a few of the biggest carrots I've ever seen in my life from one of our neighbours on the way back from her daily consitutional this morning. And I've managed a bit more garden work, gently easing my back into activity after its recent problems. There are times when life is simple but just fantastic, and being conscious of it at the time is about all it takes to feel a deep happy peace.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Kurdish recipes

Back in the Massif after a week-long work trip to the UK, the order of the day is to find some Kurdish recipes to offer some friends this week. My usual infallible searches of the internet haven't found a great deal, although I'm looking forward to the spicy red lentil soup.

I'm also heading outside for much of the weekend to take full advantage of the incredibly mild temperatures (14C of a morning and 20+C of an afternoon), and the lovely light and autumn colours. My garden also needs some TLC. There are still tomatoes ripening amongs the flowers, and we took another half dozen courgettes in yesterday. It's hard to equate that with the first snowfall of the winter that was falling this time last year. Long may it last!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Number Twelve. Ice Cave

This last photo in the exhibition was taken in Switzerland. A small group of us were exploring a glacier when we found an opening and managed to get inside this space. While taking a few shots, a large boulder at the entrance moved to partly close off our way out. We didn't hang around. This is a 16"x24" print on a glacial white mount in a white frame.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Number Eleven. Spirit

This is the second one that hasn't made the transition to the web very well. The original is nice and crisp. The title is a little wordplay. I spent two weeks tracing the coastline of parts of Harris and Lews in the Western Iisles some time ago. On the way, I stopped at the Harris Hotel in Tarbet. While waiting for the restaurant to start serving lunch, I sat in the bar chatting to the barman. Just about every bloke that came in asked him, (in Gaelic) who I was, and then bought me a dram; impressive hospitality. So by the time I tucked into my meal, I was more than three sheets to the wind. But so fortified, I set off on my bicycle to cross the island. On the way, I stopped for many a rest, including a spell by this small loch. Looking down on it, this composition appealed to me, but whether it was the spirit of the loch or of the hotel I had in mind, I couldn't say. Presented at 16"x24" on an ivory mount in an antique blue frame.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Number Ten. Of the Circle of Callanish

In the Western Isles is the stone circle of Callanish. Each of the stones has a presence or spirit personality that almost welcomes you as you stand before them. At the exhibition, where, if you remember, each picture only had a number, a number of visitors called this one 'The Virgin' or 'The Virgin Mary'. It was printed at 16"x24", mounted on ivory and framed in antique blue wood.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Number Nine. Waterfall.

This one has lost more detail than the others in its transformation to the web. But I think you can still see the effect of the sunlight on the rocks in the foreground, and the unusual appearance of the water in the background. On an ivory mount in a light natural wood frame, print at 16"x24".

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Number Eight. The Unlikely Line

There are a few rocky shores around the Gower coast that are fascinating to explore at low tide. Amongst the rock pools, I spotted this unlikely line below the receding tide. I photographed it several times as the tide went out and the rock dried - and this was the best shot. It was presented at 24"x16" on a white border in a matt black frame.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Number Seven. A Distant Shore

Swansea Bay is a sweeping stretch of (mostly) sand. It is shallow, and when the tide is out it is well out. It attracts large numbers of sea birds who feed in the shallow pools that the tide leaves. I liked the spotty effect of the birds in the mid-ground and the water filling the sandy dimples in the foreground. Printed at 24"x16" on a white mount in a lightly-washed natural wood frame.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Number Six. Sea Breeze in the Reeds

Taken behind Oxwich Bay, Gower in mid-winter, the buds appear russet against the dark leafless branches forming a backdrop for the dry feathery reeds in the foreground. The reeds are so dry and light that the slightest breeze can move them. It is a strange feeling to see them moving, but not to be able to feel the breeze that is doing it. It seems as if they are moving on their own. Presented at 20"x30" on a 4" ivory mount in a 2" natural wood frame. Some people looking at it can jump to the conclusion that this is an autumn picture due to the reddish colour on the trees in the background, although you don't have to look for long to see that there are no leaves to be seen, and autumn is no undoubtedly long past.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Number Five. The Long Sunrise

There I was taken a ferry from the Malaysian mainland to a small island that was just getting developed for tourism. It was a small ferry and an overnight crossing. The bunks were built for Malaysians, who, although not wishing to over-generalise, are shorter than me. My feet would have stuck over the end, except that there was a helpful little fence around all the bunks to stop people falling off. Anyway, after failing to sleep for about 5 or 6 hours, I decided to go up on deck and get a coffee. I saw a rather dismal sunrise and was just about to go back down and wake up my Malaysian (and therefore short and very much asleep) travelling companion. Luckily i just caught this second sunrise developing as the sun rose above the bank of clouds on the horizon. I stood there spellbound for what seemed like hours, and shot about 3 rolls of film. This is one of my two favourites. I had it printed up at 20"x30" and surrounded by a 2" matt black frame without a mount.

By the way all these are for sale, in case you wondered.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Number Four. Blue Stone

Taken in the Cairngorms, side-on rather than top down, this large boulder opened up many possibilities as I looked at it. During the exhibition, some saw a serpent's eye, some commented on the softness that the lichen seems to coat the rock with. Others noticed the depth in the picture, (which may not come across at this size), especially below the 'eye'. Presented almost as number 3 was 24"x16", white mount and black frame, but matt this time.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Number Three. Awful Offal

This was presented at 24"x16" on a 3.5" white mount in a 3/4" black glossy frame. It was given this name by the person that bought the first of the limited edition of 7. It was taken on Gower near Swansea, looking vertically down on rocks as the tide was going out. As the water left and the rocks dried out the effect of the water on how the surface 'felt' changed. Here the rock looks soft enough to be as floppy as a fish, and, with some of the curves reinforcing the perception, many people at the exhibition give it a title like that.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Number Two. Gurnards Head

Presented at the same size, mount and frame as number 1. This was taken in the far west of Cornwall as the tide was coming in. I climbed further and further down the rocky headland getting nearer to sea level and the power of the waves. At one point I was hit by a wave and almost dragged into the sea with all my kit. Luckily this shot was on a film already safelytucked away and stayed dry. (The camera survived too.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Exhibition photos one at a time with comments

Number One. Strange Shore.

This was presented as a 30" x 40" print framed with a 4" white mount within a matt black 2" frame.

The shot is across a sandy bay in the Western Isles. The orientation of the bay, winds and tides mean that sand has flowed into the bay but not been scoured out. The streams making their way through the sand to the sea have carved complex interlocking shapes. Many visitors saw a dead landscape, lunar or desert.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Another door from an odd angle

Our house has barn attached, and this little door is half way up the wall.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

I like French Windows and Doors

The medieval village of Auzon in Auvergne has many superb architectural features. Some are relatively modern, but no less interesting to me as photographic subjects. This one has had some Photoshop treatment to coarsen the grain.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Today's photo

This was taken at La Chaise Dieu. When I looked down the cloister, the strong sunlight created shapes on the floor that looked like tombstones or even broadly human figures. I used photoshop to reduce the detail of the picture until I thought I couldn't take away any more without losing that idea.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The Exhibition Photos (in reverse order)

All shown with just numbers for now. When the exhibition ends on 24th, I'll republish and add the titles and impressions of the viewers, plus my own titles and the story behind each one.