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