Thursday, 12 November 2015

This Ole night-life sure is killing me.....

Now nearing mid-November and the weather has changed yet again. We've gone from wintry blasts to glorious Autumnal days with sunny, often fairly warm days and such unseasonably warm temps that it's now making the national news out here, with bathers taking to the beaches, lakes etc, all grabbing a slice of it where they can. It has its downside, of course, and I've had to keep the mower in use, doing what I hope/plan will be the final cut of the year a few days ago. The mower itself, a relatively new ride-on, is now under wraps till next season/year.

We picked the last of the melons last week, and had some surprise last Rasps and a corking, huge Strwberry, too. Leeks, Broc, Cabbage all still going strong and the Sprouts are also producing well. J has uprooted the Courgettes, at last, and we've decided to plant far fewer of both those and Cucumbers next year: they both become too difficult to keep up with, and as everyone else has the same problem, it's not easy to even give it away at times. The Pots were very good and we've loads in dry storage, and a chest freezer jam-packed full of Toms, Beans, Aubergines, Chillis and Rasp and Strawberry Coulis. We've also made mountains of Chutneys, with the Peach being a firm favourite of most and Pear and Quince - we get enormous Quinces hereabouts - also a winner. J made some excellent Cucumber Relish with many of the over-producing Cucs. All very handy and helpful.

The old Renault 4/Quatrelle - as they're known here - is going incredibly well, economically great and fun with it. They are sort-of collector cars here nowadays and so we get gawping looks everywhere we go, as we're using ours as a daily car rather than wrapping it up for winter, as most do. We're planning to take it over to the UK/Wales around Xmas and hope it manages the journey okay. We can see no reason to doubt it!:

We visited Sweden a few weeks ago, the first time since we sold up and moved South about three years ago - doesn't time fly!  We were based in Stockholm for a few days and were lucky with glorious Autumn weather of warm, sunny days albeit chilly at night. Despite that people were out swimming in the eastuarine waterways that bisect the town. We had Passes for a Blues Music Cruise aboard a large ship that headed out towards Finland then returned full of pretty-drunken Swedes. All in all, it was very pleasant as we had back-stage facilities of unlimited food and wines etc and a decent cabin. We met up with most of the musicians and received a few promo CDs etc. It was all rather tiring, music people inhabit the wee small hours mostly, and it can be hard getting used to the routine.In addition, we spent one afternoon at a wonderful music venue in Stockholm. This is a bar in the Gamla Stan - old town - known as 'Stampen' - (The Stamp). The music was absolutely top-dollar and I met up with a couple of US musicians who are now resident in the city, Brian Kramer (Guitar) and Bert Deivert (Mandolin):

 And a young Swedish blueslady ( I reckon will make it in due course, with more experience under her belt) playing with a veteran of the Swedish blues scene on Harp/harmonica. Shoutin' Red with Bill Ohrstrom on board the blues boat:

We were suposed to hook-up with another US-Swedish import, a Brooklyn guy, now approaching 90 years old, Izzy Young. Young was on his way to meet with us at Stampen bar but we were unable to wait as we had to be onboard the boat by a particular time etc. So we sadly missed meeting him. Izzy was an important man in the US music scene around New York in the 1950s/60s/70s and a number of documentaries have been made about the guy. He ran a 'Folk Lore Centre' in Greenwich Village back in the day and now runs a similar place in Stockholm. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Tom Paxton and almost everyone else hung out there in NYC as they struggled to make it and break in to the music world. Izzy Young provided a warm place with coffee and music etc so was popular with many then broke young wannabes. Young got Dylan his first profesional music booking and helped launch Dylan on the world-stage.  A US Senator has just been over visiting him and his huge archive collection of music memorabilia etc., has just been shipped off to the Smithsonian in Washington DC.

I'm particularly sad to have missed him because a few days ago I pulled out a copy of an album on Vinyl I've had since the early 1970s. It features Maria Muldaur, banjo-ace Bill Keith and many others, including two seminal music brothers from NE USA, Artie (now sadly passed) and his brother Happy Traum, who played on many of Dylan's big-selling albums and now lives up in Woodstock. On the album cover, I'd never noticed before, sits Izzy Young with  Maria M to his side, John Sebastian (Loving Spoonful) behind and Happy Traum to the other side. By chance, on the very next day after I pulled out this album a message turned up in inbox from Happy Traum and today a copy of his new Cd arrived. It's a trange world, music makes it small at times, for sure:

Can't seem to be able to turn the damn round, I fear!!!

Time for some fine - cheap - vin rouge. A bientot!

Happy in action:

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Slip Sliding Away.....

Another three months have simply disappeared, it seems. After an exhaustingly hot, dry summer, we've moved into Autumn with a stark weather-change, fierce winds and heavy rain for days on end gradually giving way to pleasanter dry, sunny days of temperate nature. The change was noted by us but also our neighbours, most of whom are less than amused by the sudden nature of the weather changes we've had in recent weeks.

The veggie patch/potager is reaching its end, though we still have some Aubergines and Toms producing, and the Courgettes also appear to have a second-wind. Leeks, Cabbages and Caulies are all okay, too. The freezers are groaning under the sheer weight of stuff and we had a pretty fair crop of Pots, now bagged up and out back in a cool, dry area. The Beans were not as good as last year though we have a reasonable amount to shore us up through winter. The Peas were a wash-out, sadly.  Strawbs did well as did the Rasps and the Grapes. Both the Melons and Aubergines were disappointing this year. But as everyone else around us were also grumbling, we can't be too surprised - all down to just too, too dry this summer. Not something to generally merit complaint, I feel.

We've done a fair bit of musicy stuff with guest-lists for a few US visitors on the Festival circuit here in France. We hooked up with Florida bluesman, Selwyn Birchwood, a genuinely nice, unaffected young guy who is destined for greatness, I'm sure. He keeps picking up awards in the USA, has a solid recording contract and is a guy we first met out in Portland, Oregon at a Blues Festival a few years ago. So it was good to catch-up again.

In addition, at the same event, we were guested with US soul-blues singer Otis Clay, another lovely guy. I already knew his manager and she had also come across with him. He brought a wonderful 10-piece backing band, Horns, Female vocalists, the whole damn caboodle along with him and put on a terrific live show. At the end, after a wonderful encore of top soul material - Dock of The Bay etc - he literally staggered from the stage, down the ramp to the green-room pouring sweat and clearly exhausted. He had been playing under strobes etc in temps of about 37C and is in his seventies these days.

We followed that festival in Cognac with a blisteringly hot festival in the midi-Pyrannees region in Cahors, a,lovely town encircled in a loop of the River Lot. Here temps were about 40C every day, with little respite in the steamy evenings. Again we had guest-lists with a few visiting US players, including Gospel singer Ruthie Foster, who was charming, friendly and extremely pleasant, despite having a positive 'anti-thing' about Press in general, I later discovered.

Next month we're off to a blues-cruise affair on a big boat out of Stockholm. It will be interesting to return to Sweden for a few days and I've already arranged meetings with some musicians up there and some guest-lists with a few of the US players on the cruise itself. Knowing the Swedes, I rather fancy the cruise will be a bit of a blues/booze cruise with plenty of projectile vomiting going on. We will see. We have Passes and cabins etc thrown in for the event so only have to cover our travel and we have found a failry central place to stay on airb&b, at a very reasonable price. We're already looking forward to it.

Sadly, a few months ago, a very good friend, a UK guy living out here, passed with a massive heart attack. We were terribly saddened by his death. He was larger than life, incredibly helpful and friendly - a truly lovely guy who knew his days were numbered but kept on as if he was in best of rude health. He died while out in his garden cleaning his terracing areas in torrid heat. His wife had told him to stop cause it was way too hot but he ignored her and the rest is history. We went to the Crem in Niort and I spoke at the service.

Then, as if that was not enough, in th past few days two more friends have upped and pegged it. One is a very old buddy of mine from my yoof in Scotland. He died in his sleep and the funeral is in Glasgow next week, so I'm down for that and have booked my flights etc. It will be interesting to see who else attends!

In addition, on the very same day, we learned of the death of a French near-neighbour and friend of JVP's. She took her own life, much to our astonishment. But, of course, you never really know what's going down at times. We attended the funeral yesterday where there was a huge turn-out, illustrating clearly that she was widely loved and admired.  A tragic end, it seems.

Our two dogs took to fighting viciously, ripping each other apart at every opportunity. We struggled for about six weeks but despite trying parallel walking, muzzles etc., it continued until we reluctantly returned the older of the two, Benny, to the refuge he came from. The other dog had been with us longer but it was still a near-impossible decision. JVP was so upset by the loss/departure of her clear favourite hound that after much soul-searching we reversed the process, so to speak, and swapped Golly for Benny with the refuge. So, Benny is once more with us. JVP is happier though I miss Golly and feel guilty about it in some way. So Golly will have to return and we'll try the services of an animal/dog behaviourist who lives  and works in the region, at great expense.



Ruthie in action

I've been asked to take over the Features Editor position with one of the UK's leading blues magazines and have just started this recently. It takes a fair bit of my time each month and is something I can easily undertake. It's a useful number, especially with the extra access and perks it throws up for us both. JVP is now 'my' official snapper and also gets Passes etc. She's enjoying the photography thing and has loads of stuff published already -  a huge change from the world of midwifery!   I'm also working regularly with the principal US blues title, so with all the others too, have plenty on my plate.  Indeed, in amongst it all, I have a chance of steady work as a music hack with a title in northern Sweden - a strange idea but one I'm not totally averse to!

As for the immediate futire, Time for some plonk, I reckon. Take care out there.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Rocking along.....

Another month has slipped past, seems to be the way these days. Summer has at last arrived, after a decidedly variable, unpredictable sort of Spring. Temps now firmly established on a daily high-twenties/thirty basis. All a bit tiring at times, though we have breezes from the coast to temper the heat. Unbearable at times overnight, though.

The festival season is unpon us and we've been to a small local music festival that was, in reality, pretty dire with Hunting Horn ensembles and a truly scarily out of tune, for most part, Big Band with a Brit singer who struggled to find pitch most of the time. His vesion of the old Sinatra classic, 'New York, New York' was frightening, and that's being charitable.

We're off to UK in afew days time; only for abour 4 or 5 days, then back. A friend's daughter is going to house-sit for the cats, dogs and Hens. Hopefully she'll also water the vegies which are now growing profusely. We're already being over-run by Courgettes and Strawberries, Balckcurrants, Rasps and Goosgogs are all excellent. We've also, sadly, had a visitation from the dreaded Doryphore - Colorado Beetle. They are rapatious bastards and can strip Pots/Toms/Aubergines leaf growth in no time at all. J seems to be on top of them now and we think/hope to have caughtem in time before any true damage was done.

We were surprised to find them here though we once saw them marching in huge numbers down the petite rue where we were renting a cottage a few years back about 80 miles South of here. So we knew thm to be in the area/region.

We were given another young Hen a few days ago. She's rather nice, I reckon, though she is being mercilessly harried and attacked by the other four old lags who resent her arrival. It's normal, of course: 'henpecking is a viscious fact of Chicken life, I fear. We're seperating her from the remainder of the flock now and she wanders the entire garden freely and returns to her own hutch each evening at dusk. Oddly, however, she manages to fly/jump ober the fence into the main Hen-run for egg-laying and so far manages this without attack from the others before reversing the process and escaping once again into the main garden.

Yesterday evening we were surprised to see a couple of owls seemingly having a bit of a fight as they flew low over the bottom part of the garden. Territorial, no doubt. They seemed to sort themselves out before flapping off and one of them took over quartering a neighbours garden. They must be facing a challenge from our three cats who still catch mountains of small rodents, tjough Ginger is unlikely be a threat to their diet as he tnds to let the little creagures go and they oft escape his clutches.

Golly, one of the new dogs - the younger of the two - has develpoed a skin problem and is losing his coat at an alarming rate. It seems to have coincided with his being 'Frontlined', so we've shampooed him with a medicated animial product and will ensure he has a different anti-flea/parasite application in future in the hope that will solve the problem.

There are loads of snakes around this summer: mostly Western Whip Snakes, it seems. These are attractive greeny/yellow critters, non-venomous and a pleasure to see. They are on the verges of many fields/woodland edges and scurry out of sight as we approach with a loud, crashing noise through the dry grasses and verge hedgerwos. As a result, they're pretty easy to follow and identify. We also came across a giant bright green caterpillar - clearly a Hawk Moth or something similar, we eventually decided it was in fact a Swallow-Tail Butterfly caterpillar. Hopefully, it will survive the snakes who would no doubt be more than happy to meet it.

We're off to Cognac Blues Festival in a week or so, where we're on the gust-list of an old US soul singer, Otis Clay, for the event. I know his manager who has added us to his meet list for the event, as she'll also be over for it. In addition, a young US blues player, Selwyn Birchwood will also be on the same bill, and as we met him a few years back just after he won a number of big US blues music awards, we'll be catching up with him and his band too. We also have Passes for the entire event, though we won't stay for all of it this year.

Next month we were planning to attend another Blues Festival in Cahors, in Lot et Garonne, a fair way South of us. However, though we have passes etc for the event agreed, it clashes with the Annual Renault 4L International Meeting which is held a lot closer to us in a small town near the Loire. So, with a recently purchased Renault4 GTL - stil running well - we have elected to attend that event instead, where we will be camping and meeting up with a substantial British contingent who are travelling over specially for it. Should be a gas, I'd say. I certainly hope so, though I fear many will be anorack-enthusiastes with near-perect-concours condition cars, unlike ours which is scruffy but servicable!:

Bill Wyman was perfectly pleasant to chat with. Happy to talk about The Stones etc - despite his minders trying to control everything and keep the Stones on the back-burner. He waffled on about Mick and Charlie and only fell silent - with a capital 'S' - when I introduced dear old Keef to the conversation. Clearly some history there, I guess!

I've also a Pass for the forthcoming Cropready Festival in Oxfordshire later this summer. I hope to meet up with Emmy Lou Harris who  will be there with her old buddy Rodney Crowell, a great US/Americana singer-songwriter that I met back in January at Glasgow's wonderful Celtic Connections Festival:

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Je Ne Suis Pas Un Rock Star.....

May has been an odd month here in France so far. Too much windy weather with dipping temps - never Swedish dips - and rainy too much of the time, for my liking. Now again, at last, we seem to have turned a corner with warm, sunny days and glorious vegetation/flower growth etc. Lots of beautiful Goldfinches bobbing around the garden, picking up grain from our Hens run and drinking from the pool. All beginning to feel as it should at this time of year here in this part of Froggoland.

The cats are once again living outdoors for the most part and have changed diet from Whiskas to dried food, supplemented by the ocassional mouse and sadly - Goldfinch! Save of course for Ginger who remains firmly rooted to the idea of living his life as an indoor cat. Golly could do with having his hair cut severely, as it's a beautiful, straight, almost wispy coat that flaps and flounces around him as he belts around the garden. It will soon be too hot for him, so we must make arrangements. Benny on the other hand has a shortish coat and follows J around like the proverbial lap-dog!

J is once again busy in the garden, following a plan of sorts and having again manured the veg plot/potager etc., has began planting for the season: Strawberries are doing well and we should have some very soon; Apple, Pear, Gooseberries, Rasps, Blackcurrants and Cherries all coming on and as we had no late frost and bumper flower blooms on the Victoria Plums and Greengage trees, we are hopeful of a good crop there. The Vines are in good heart and the Walnut tree we managed to rescue from its darkish space behind stifling Hazelnut growth - which we cleared away for most part - is also looking much happier. The Pots, Toms, Courgettes, Aubergines and Beans are also all in though, as the temps have been a bit lower than expected till now, the Beans have yet to sprout. Maybe have to replant/reseed those. The Melons are going in today and the lettuces are already well established. We will add Cauli, Cabbage and Broc to the mix and though we have elected to forego Onions this year we will plant some Shallots, a favourite in Froggo cooking and a winner. Also Garlic, but not until late Autumn together with Leeks etc and a range of winter veg. It's amazing what can be grown here and we still have loads of fabulous beans etc from last year in the freezer. Only just finishing off last season's Aubergines now, tonight will be their last.

The locals all love our old 'new' car, and smile and wave heartily when we drive through the village. They almost all had one at sometime in their younger lives and, if not, admit to having had the ubiquitous - and now collectable - Citreon Deux CV.  As the Renault 4 is of a similar stripe, they are pleased with our choice and make comments about how we are now just like them - ie. driving left-hooker. It's great fun to drive and people actually smile evrywhere we go, stop and point etc. These simple cars, once so common here, are now few and far apart, it seems, much to our surprise.

Our neighbours' Goats appear to be thriving, again to our surprise, as the neighbours, well meaning though they are, clearly still have little idea of how to handle or manage the creatures. We always had a few for milk - Anglo Nubians - when we lived in the Brecon Beacons area, in the hills above Crickhowell. So we have books on husbandry and many years experience with them. The young nanny kid is growing fast and now climbs the neighbours' crumbling walls and peers over at us, always a troubling sign and development given the breeds propensity for trouble, their curiosity and voracious appetite for most garden plants etc. We'll have to keep a keen eye out for the little boooger:

Always on the lookout for nosh and trouble: just over 1 month old, our neighbour's Alpine Nanny Kid

Today is just too hot for gardening, so J has elected to have a day pottering from time to time in it but mostly sitting back, in shade, and reading:

J struggling with parasol while Ginge makes one of his rare forays into the outside world and Benny sits supercilliously in the shade to the side.

The entire village has undergone a facelift-cum-makeover in the past six months with cables being put underground, new water mains pipes and new drainage. To cap it all they also landscaped the place which will no doubt, as many neighbours say, result in a hike in local taxes/rates next year in all probability. However, it certainly looks better, in our view:

This last one, is our alleyway to the house, down behind the Mairie on edge of village.

And last winter, at this small pond outside the former Cure's house - now empty and unused - a beautiful Kingfisher cottoned on to the fact there were large goldfish in the pond, so steadily picked them off so there are none remaining. Sad in a way but a pleasure to see the bird in middle of the village:

I'm still busy writing for an ever increasing number of music titles across three continents and receive anything between 20 and 60 CDs a week for review. Keeps me occupied and it's something I know about and enjoy. I'd prefer it if I could have a better income from it but it's steadily improving, I guess, and I'm making good connections in the business both in the UK/ Europe and the USA. I reckon I'll have to move into music/artist PR work to get a decent, reliable income from it - a similar field but not one I have great experience with. 
A few weeks ago, I spent an afternoon chatting to one of my personal favourite UK musicians, Andy Fairweather Low. A Welshman, he was frontman with Amen Corner back in the 1960s and for past 15 years has been Clapton's guitarist - Clapton credits him with the arrangements for his hugely successful 'Unplugged' album and Andy did help with them, he confirms, and went on to record it and tour in support of its release with Clapton's band. In addition, he  also played with George Harisson; Van Morrison; Tom Jones; Pink Floyd; Bob Dylan, almost everyone of importance, it seems, including our daughter, LVP's old buddy, Robin Gibb of the BeeGees. Nowadays when not fronting his own outfit, The Low Riders, he tours and records with Clapton - he was in New York's Madison Square Gardens with him only last week - and is a member of Bill Wyman's band the Rhythm Kings. Speaking of whom: I'm scheduled/down to chat with Bill next week about his latest solo album, the first in about 30 years. I have a preview copy etc and it is all a bit like his surprise hit 'Je Suis Un Rock Star' in the early 1980s. Still he should be interesting, given his remarkable background!

A cheesy song but I'm looking forward to chatting with him Wednesday 13th - lucky for some, I trust - middle of next week. Andy Fairweather Low tells me Bill's a real nice guy. I certainly hope so!

Monday, 20 April 2015

Here Comes The Sun.....

We've had some wonderful weather recently - warm, sunny, bright with the full flush of Spring in the air and the trees bursting into growth, green, vibrant and verdant. Even been able to sit and eat and drink outdoors on a couple of evenings. All most acceptable. I doubt we could manage that were we still in Sweden, though I'm pretty sure we would have managed Fika - tea/coffee & cakes and biccies - sitting outside, in sun and wrapped against chill.

One of our old former neighbours up there, Mats, tells me the past two winters have been horribly mild - in his eyes anyway. He and his wife Gertude - pronounced Yertrude in Svenska, so not so dickensian as the Engelska version - are both keen on cross-country skiing in winter and trekking etc through forest tracks. He's grumbling because the lack of severe frosts means the conditions are not ideal for their normal winter pursuits. A sign of global warning, no doubt. It still gets down to minus 20/25 or so but seemingly no more minus 30 or below. And without the enormous snow dumps, we all used to enjoy and marvel at.

We have two new dogs, following Jack's demise in late December 2014. He died lying in his basket before a roaring log fire - a reasonable way to go. The two newcomers are Gollly, just under two years old and Benny about 8 years old. Both are Spaniels again and both came from Rescue centres.
They have their moments at times but are now settling in okay.



Sadly, our old car, an ageing Saab 900SE Turbo convertible has decided to partly pack in. Reverse gear was becoming an absolute pain to find at times; a surprisingly common fault with this model. It would be repairable but not easily or cheaply here in France. Ironically, were we in Sweden, I've no doubt we could have had it done at reasonable cost without difficulty.

As a result we were forced to find a replacement, so bought a thirty-five year old, new, 'old' car: a 1980 Renault 4 GTL. We had one of these when we were young, living in the Brecon Beacons area of Wales. We paid about the same amount now as we did back then for a near-new model! They were wonderfully simple and reliable. We always liked it, so we hope it's a good choice over here where parts/repairs etc should not pose a problem. It also came with a full 2-year CT/Control Technique, or MOT.

No more than a box on wheels, in reality

We had this chap hopping around the hall recently, a crapeau - toad. Always pleasant to find them around, I reckon:

And today, when out walking with Golly, I came across a large green lizard, a Western Green Lizardr by name. No camera, so no piccy. We have loads of Goldfinches in the garden each day and the Hoopoe has again returned. He flew into a tree by our chicken-run and sat on a branch raising and lowering his crest for quite some time. A wonderful sight.

The cats remain as ever, though I still miss Charlie, my old favourite from Sweden.  Rocky has a problem with one paw but it's healing now with the aid of Vets, antibiotics and pain-killers, so he's out hunting again. He came originally from Spain, where I found him living as a kitten in the streets of our village. Sally, is another lovely cat, she came from a rescue here in France. Surprisingly, the two of them are like old lovers. They spend their time together, come in and out at each others heels and preen each other constantly. I believe this is unusual in unrelated cats:

                                                           Both have blue eyes

Ginger, who came with Sally from the same French rescue, is adorable but a bit left-out by the displays of affection of the other two. He prefers to be an indoor cat for the most and wants attention constantly from us. He's not against trying to muscle in on the others at times, though:

What is it about cats and boxes, or in this case, truggs???


It's now wine o'clock, so I best be off. I'm off to UK for a week or so, leaving tomorrow. Can't say I'm looking forward to it though I will be seeing LVP, our daughter, and old friends. Also a gig by Phil Ciunningham & Aly Bain while in London. So not all bad!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

The Westerly Wind.....

Weather remains firmly Spring-like here. Thankfully. Mostly dry, sunny but with decidedly cold blasts of wind from the West coastal Vendee/La Rochelle region. La Rochelle itself is a delightful town, very Froggo, with lovely harbours, typical Froggo buildings and a generally pleasant ambience. It can be pretty crowded at times in hot, steamy summer days and is popular as a holiday place with both the French and the Brits, who flock there to the endless caravan/camp sites that proliferate around the Vendeean coast. It also has an EasyJet/Ryanair Summer-only airport nearby which pulls in the punters in Spring and Summer.

Our village is itself a very quiet affair with no passing or through traffic and only about 50 residents. There is a positive feeling of timelessness about it, I find, particularly in early evenings as I wander from home to farm and back for milk as the sun sets. This is centrum:

The typical spaghetti of French village power lines etc., have now been removed and channeled underground. Currently, we have had over six-months of continual roadworks through the place with cables underground, new drainage and water pipes followed by the present tarting up of the place with new fancy kerbstones and surfacing everywhere. No doubt it will be a huge improvement when completed. Theoretically this is due on March 20th but I have my doubts.

J is off to UK this afternoon flying out of Poitiers airport to Stansted, a few days in London then on to Pembrokeshire to see the daughter, LVP etc. She has about ten days over in Blighty before her return and we have a guest list press pass (for both - a friend will go in my stead) to catch a Nashvillian musician who has a gig in London. J will go along, collect a Promo/ CD from her, take some piccies and I'll get some stuff out and about about her in due course. Hannah Aldridge - no relation to Brian, Jennifer or Kate - is one of the upcoming Nashville, modern-country/Americana turks. She sure has a great voice:

Now I must be off, to get J to the airport in plenty of time. A bien tot!

Sunday, 22 February 2015


Another week done gone by. Today is positively Spring-like; bright blue skies, sunshine - with warmth in it - and birds fluttering around. I took Golly for a long walk just after noon and disturbed a pair of Ravens busily renovating an old nest high in an ancient Oak tree. And so, even if I might be optimistic, the darn birds are unlikely to get it wrong.

I've listened out in the hope of hearing our old feathered friends The Common Crane passing overhead en-route to Scandinavia on their Spring migration, but have heard nothing. We are quite close to their normal overhead migratory channels, so remain hopeful. In addition, there's a significant lake site nearby which I'd think is perfect for a resting/refuelling overnight spot. I know they have Avocet, Spoonbill and many other species there, so would expect the Cranes, or Grues, as they're known here - Trana, in Sweden - to possibly benefit from the site. It's a nature reserve with hides etc provided, so almost perfect. They used to arrive in numbers, with an incredible cacophony, (genuinely extraordinary noise) in Sweden around us in lateish March/April for the nesting season.

Cranes in field below house, Sweden. (Not a good piccy)

As it's almost March, I'd also expect the old Hoopoe/Hups (here in Froggoland) to arrive in the near future. We have a pair that nest in woodland surrounding the house/garden. Always a pleasure  to hear their call and see them pecking in the garden:

A few evenings ago we were invited out to the local FM Radio station for a pre-blues festival show that was going out live/en direct. The show ran for five hours. We turned up, as suggested, within minutes of it kicking off and were ushered into the studio with a mic in front of us. Everyone was already pretty pissed. A good bottle of Glenmorangie was almost empty and the wine was flowing freely. What could we do? We had to help out with a fair few glasses from a local, Loire Chateau and polish off the Scotch. I found myself suddenly, and for no discernible reason, being asked for my thoughts on a variety of subjects including the previous blues festival of 2014 and to explain the meaning of guitar finger-picking - in French. I managed to largely avoid the questions where possible and restricted myself to single-word responses, even using English on occasion. By the time we left the gang were pretty well smashed and still had hours of live broadcasting ahead of them. We drove home and listened to the show for much of the evening as it steadily became increasingly riotous and raucous.

I started this blogging lark shortly after having a, fortunately minor, stroke. It gave me a routine back then, in Sweden, and J was able to see what was going on as she was working at the time in Midwifery in St Mary's, Paddington, working - as an NHS employee - on the private unit, The Lindo, much favoured by stars/celebs/ royalty: Diana gave birth to he two Princes there and the trend continues with the latest crop from William & whatsername.  Having moved around a fair bit, Spain, Sweden and now France, I find things rather staid and pedestrian (almost normal if you get my drift) here, after Sweden with its extremes. But we have pitched up in a remarkably welcoming and friendly village. With only about 50 souls, there is a genuine warmth to the locals who have been incredibly warm and welcoming to us. Of course, it helps that J is fluent in the lingo, but they try to include me too.

Just before Xmas I was rushed off into a local hospital as an emergency surgical admission. The villagers rallied around J with offers of help etc. Very heartening, to say the least. And when I was discharged after about two weeks as an inpatient, they again were astonishingly considerate etc, calling to visit me and enquiring after my health. Indeed, they still do from time to time. It would be difficult to single out any one person but without doubt our near neighbours, the farming couple who run a large organic farm on the village edge, were and always have been exceptionally warm and friendly. I trundle down to the farm every few days to buy our 'raw'/unpasturised organic milk by the litre as the cows are literally being milked. The charge is a mere 60 centimes a litre. Which can't be bad.

The village from one of the many farm tracks where we walk ourselves and the dogs.

J spent most of today working out in the garden, prepping things for the next round of planting. She had a good day but as the temp is dropping has decided to call it a day. As will I. It is now wine o'clock, after all.

The garden in full bloom - if that's the word - last summer. The bottom wall is festooned with plums, blackberries - always a pest to contain - and vines.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Spring, Printemps......Earthbound.....

Easily the better part of a year since I posted anything on here. Time whizzes by, it seems. Old Jack, our much loved cocker, passed a few days before the end of 2014. He was almost fifteen, near blind, deaf and was having problems generally. We had him to the local vet a fair few times and he'd survived surgery but never fully seemed to recover. No real surprise, I guess. Each time at the vet, we expected he'd reached the end and she'd say 'Non'! And he teetered on. He slipped away lying asleep in front of a roaring open log fire. A fine end, I reckon and one that saved us all the trauma and distress of a veterinary end! We miss him. He was a wonderful old fella.

A few weeks before his end, we collected another young (18 months) cocker anglais from a Froggo refuge. He had been bred by an elevage/breeder as a stud dog but didn't take to the work, it seems. As a result he was left in an outdoor cage for over six months before being released by the refuge. He's still very nervous at times but is steadily improving on a daily basis. His Froggo name was 'Goliath' - a less appropriate moniker would be hard to find. Initially he refused to walk and had to be carried in and out for pees etc. To overcome this problem, we took on yet another similar cocker from another refuge, an eight year old dog known as Benito. Benny soon got Golly (as we've renamed the pair) off his butt and out and about. So things are improving for both dogs.

Charlie, my all-time favourite cat from Sweden has never returned or been found. Although we now have three others, including his old Spanish buddy, Rocky' - and two from another refuge, Sally and Ginge - I still miss him. He was virtually impossible at times but for me he just had something special about him that I loved.

The veg garden/potager proved to be immensely successful last year. We had huge crops of cucumber; melons; peppers; strawberries; broccoli; onions; pots; toms; lettuce; aubergines; courgettes; beans (French and Runner); Cauli; Garlic etc. Over winter we've had, and still have, Sprouts; Cabbage; Brocc; Cauli; Leeks. It's mostly under manure now, and as Spring seems to have just about arrived, will need turned in and prepped for another season. A job for J. I do only grass-cutting. Our freezers are still groaning under the amounts of stuff from last year, but it's all very handy. We have mountains of plums in the bushes/trees surrounding the garden, both Victorias and Greengages, always a favourite, so have loads of jam. The Pear, Apple and Cherry trees planted seem to have survived and in a few years should literally be fruitful. Ditto the Black & Red currants and Rasps. I plan to plant a Peach tree in a few weeks time, when the ground has warmed up a bit more. They grow prolifically hereabouts.

It's an odd thought but having listed this crop I can't help recalling the limits of what could be produced in Sweden: Carrots; Peas; Cucs & Toms ( both of the latter Greenhoused); Apples and Berries of all kinds. Here we seem to have difficulties with Peas - of all things - and have yet to try Carrots, a project for this year perhaps.

Our daughter, LVP, is still having problems over contact etc with her son/the grandsprog, despite the conclusion of proceedings last year. His father remains a total A**hole and is constantly obstructive. J is going over to UK and Wales to see her in early May and hopefully some progress will again be possible. We've suggested Hamish comes out here for a holiday at our expense this summer during school hols but the father is far from supportive of the idea, although Hamish has had many hols with us in Sweden, France and Spain over the years without issue. We will see what can be arranged!

I'm now writing reviews/features etc., for countless music titles across the English speaking areas of three continents from USA; Canada; UK; and some in other tongues) France; Germany; Netherlands; Sweden (of course!); and Australia. I receive literally hundreds of CDs  for review and Passes for events all over the place. I was in Glasgow recently covering a great music festival, Celtic Connections for a couple of titles. A great fest, I hooked up with both friends and family while also meeting-up with a number of performers including a couple of my personal favourites from the Nashville country/Americana machine, Rodney Crowell and Tim O'Brien, the latter always a genuinely lovely, decent, friendly sort of guy. Nest month is a Froggo fest nearby which should also be great followed by another in Denmark, at Tonder, that I've fancied for many years. With Passes arranged for these, and others, it should keep me occupied for a bit.

Well, that's enough for now. Time to get the mutts out for a walk in the sunshine. A bientot.