Sunday, 26 March 2017

Pacific Gull

Pacific Gull Larus pacificus.
This immature (< 4 years old) Pacific Gull Larus pacificus cruises past my position on a New South Wales coastal headland. The water is a beautiful blue but I don't suppose the scavenging gull cares. The species is fairly common, and much larger than the better known Silver Gulls. This behaviour of patrolling the seashore alone is typical.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Meals On Wheels in Preuilly

The Aged Care Facility (EHPAD Maison de retraite) runs the meals on wheels service for the elderly in Preuilly and surrounding villages.

Residential wing of the Maison de retraite, Preuilly-sur-Claise.
Three times a week a panel van driven by Flora does a circuit around the district, delivering a full meal of soup, starter, main course of meat and vegetables, cheese and dessert to elderly people. Flora drives 120 kilometres each time and delivers 33 meals.

The meals are made by the cooks at the Aged Care Facility in collaboration with the dietician. Special diets are catered for and replacement dishes can be provided if the service is asked for them in advance. The meals are delivered cold and reheated in the home. Monthly bills are sent by the Treasury in Ligueil  and the meals cost €8.90 each (subsidies can sometimes be obtained from the Aged Persons Association).

New wing of the Maison de retraite under construction in 2008.
The service covers the communities of Preuilly, Bossay-sur-Claise, Boussay, Chambon, Chaumussay, Charnizay, Petit-Pressigny, Saint-Flovier, Tournon-Saint-Pierre and Yzeures-sur-Creuse.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Budget for the Restoration of the Chapelle de Tous-les-Saints

At the last meeting of our town council the budget for the restoration of the Chapelle de Tous-les-Saints was discussed. Quotes from tradesmen are in and the work will start this year with a spend of €169 829. That will allow the building to be made watertight and the wall paintings to be protected.

Sabine de Freitas, the wall paintings conservator, checking the condition of the chapel's danse macabre.

The work envisaged is as follows:
  • roof €20 594
  • carpentry €38 421
  • masonry €45 720
  • protection of the wall paintings (and some other decorative work) €21 254
which is a total of €125 990.

The current state of the carpentry.

It will be funded as follows:
  •  Ministry of Culture €56 000
  • La sauvegarde de l'art français €21 000
  • La Fondation du Patrimoine and the subscription they administer €25 600 (to which the public can still make donations big and small)
  • two parliamentary reserves €11 500
  • L'Association des vieilles maisons de France (the Old Houses Association of France) €5000
  • Credit Agricole bank €5000
  • La Société Archaeologique de Preuilly (SAP) €5000
The town council has already agreed a grant of €11 840 and will advance €22 519 (which they will get back when the sales tax is reimbursed).

The council agreed and passed this budget with 13 votes of assent and one abstention (Guy Buret).

According to Bernard de la Motte, president of the SAP, at this point there is a shortfall of about €15 000 before we can complete the project. (We don't need to find the full €43 839 as the Ministry of Culture will grant 40%.)

Other budgetary issues discussed at this meeting were
  • a bypass for the town centre
  • finishing the 'Heart of the Village' improvements
  • work on the old girls school, the front of the abbey and the sports ground
  • roadworks on certain streets and parking at the champ de foire

Thursday, 23 March 2017

La Maison d'Adam

La Maison d'Adam is one of the unmissable sights in Angers. It is one of the outstanding architectural testiments to a medieval heritage which are scattered about the city today. The 'House of Adam' (also known as 'the House of Adam and Eve' or 'the House of the Tree of Life') was constructed towards the end of the 15th century. It was acquired in 1900 by the local artisans association and is sometimes referred to now as the Maison des Artisans.

Situated in the Place Sainte Croix, by the apse of the cathedral and on the crossing of the two major commercial streets in the city, the 'House of Adam' is the most exceptional of around 40 extant timber framed buildings in Angers. Its dimensions are imposing, its structure complex and its decoration enigmatic. It is truly one of the most remarkable works of carpentry from the French Middle Ages.

Samson slaying a lion.

It owes its name to the statues of Adam and Eve which once stood either side of the Tree of Life on the ground level corner of the building, and it seems to have been known as la Maison d'Adam since at least the 17th century. Recent dating evidence puts its construction at 1491, and the original builders and subsequent owners were apothecaries.

Mary menaced by a dragon.

Today set back from the square, originally it sat right on a major crossroads, flanked by tall thin merchants houses. Its ideal location permitted the double fronted facade that was twice the normal length in both directions, and six storeys high instead of the normal four storeys.

The multiple gables, the decorative lozenge shaped fills, the deeply moulded horizontal string courses and corbels supported by thick carved posts illustrate in magnificent fashion the skill of the carpenters at the height of their powers. The corner tower houses tiny offices known as écritoires or comptoirs.

It is the richness of the sculpture that above all marks this building out. The decorative themes range from the naturalistic, like the knots in a tree, to the stylised twisted flutes on the posts. There are numerous carved scenes and each post has a character figure or an animal. The themes are either religious or mythical on the one hand or vulgar and profane on the other.

The shawm player (left) and the bagpipes player (right).

The religious subjects include the Virgin Mary and the Angel of the Annunciation, the Pelican (symbol of the Resurrection) and Saint Michael or Saint George slaying the dragon. Then you have the lovers, the flute players and a selection of fantastical creatures. All of this was once painted in bright lifelike colours, but any remaining original paintwork disappeared with a major remodelling in 1814.

The Tree of Life.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Out Hunting in the Forest

The other day we were driving through the Forest of Amboise, between Chenonceau and Amboise, and a large black and tan hound came lolloping down the road towards us. He was on his own and as cars spotted him they slowed down. He came right up to the car going in the opposite direction to us, and then right up to us. He seemed to be checking the occupants and hoping to see someone he knew. We drove slowly and reluctantly past him (we couldn't have fitted him in the car even if we'd wanted to pick him up). 

A bit further down the road we came across a group of chaps with cameras and binoculars. We drove past them, thinking they were birdwatchers on an outing, but soon we encountered a group of mounted hunters. That was who we were looking for, as we realised they must own the dog (and in fact, the chaps with cameras must have been hunt followers). 

We pulled up and I jumped out to tell them about the dog. They thanked me and said they would send someone to fetch the errant beast, who had obviously got separated from the rest of the pack.

Then I asked them if I could take a photo and they agreed. The jocularity I captured was because there was some banter about whether I wanted to photograph the young and handsome members of the group or the old experienced hands.

The horses have all been clipped because they get too hot otherwise in their fuzzy winter coats. Riders generally like to clip horses if they are going to be working because if they get sweaty it takes them a long time to dry off so they can end up first too hot and then cold and wet. Also at this time of year they will pick up quite a lot of mud and if their hair is long it will get matted and be more work to groom.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Eleventh Annual Cowslip

It is a tradition of ours to post a photo of a coucou (cowslip) every year as soon as possible after they flower.

Last week I commented to Susan that the coucou were late (6 weeks or so later than last year), and then almost immediately we saw our first. They are not as numerous as they have been in past years, either - many councils have mown the roadside verges already.

Here are some that have just about survived the carnage.


Brexit March: We will be in London for the march against Brexit on the weekend. We are planning to meet friends and family at Victoria station, then the group calling themselves RIFT (Remain in France Together) in front of Buckingham Palace, before moving on to the start of the march at the Hilton Hotel. I'm hoping to catch up with my friend and former colleague Emile there too (he has the 'reverse' issue to us, being an EU national living and working in Britain). If you are planning to be there too, get in touch and maybe we can co-ordinate something.

Monday, 20 March 2017

A Inconvenient Truth

As tour guides it is important we know as much about the area as we can. This includes knowing which public lavatories one can trust, and which to avoid like the plague (or in case you catch the plague, which sometimes seems a credible risk).

There is no such risk at this well disguised automatic "cabine" in Angers. Recognising it as a WC might be a challenge, but we were really interested by the effort made to stop it jarring with its surrounds.

This isn't the first great public loo we have featured - others are here and here.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Wonga Pigeon

Wonga Pigeon Leucosarcia melanoleuca.
Wonga Pigeons are reasonably common in much of eastern Australia, living in rain forest and coastal forest. They will emerge to feed on fruit and seeds the ground on walking tracks and picnic areas, but otherwise they are quite difficult to spot. You are more likely to hear them in the forest, making their distinctive woop-woop-woop-woop-woop call or clapping their wings together as they take off in a panic.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Lurking Policeman

I walk past this gateway almost every day and every time this life size model of a US highway patrol man catches me out. I glimpse a person just inside the gate and prepare for a brief conversation as one does when passing in a small country town. I haven't said bonjour to the policeman yet, but I bet some passerby has. The house belongs to a local brocanteur (second-hand) and antiques dealer and the policeman is a recent addition to the collection. I've no idea how much they want for it, but presumably it's cheap as CHiPs.

Friday, 17 March 2017

More Magnificent Architectural Carving

Once again I know nothing specific about these three timber framed (Fr. pans de bois) buildings in Angers.

They are 16th century because the upper floors are not jettied out over the street. This method of cribbing a bit more space was outlawed in the 1530s. The figures are quite naturalistic, typical of this period. Also typical are the strong horizontals dividing up the facade, and the prominent cross bracing.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Art Nouveau in Angers

Angers has some magnificent architecture. One of the most unexpected buildings is a large art nouveau structure on one of the principal shopping streets. 

It dates from 1902 and was built as the cafe-concert de l'Alcazar, a popular venue which had been going since 1892. The architect was Gaston Réchin and the chief sculptor Maurice Legendre. The building was in fact a reworking of an existing house that stood on the site and was commissioned by Pierre Thiébault the regimental bootmaker to the 135th infantry and run very successfully by the Widow Bourteau, who had run the Alcazar before its art nouveau makeover. 

The fashion for concert cafés started in Paris in the 18th century, and venues like this offered caberet, cinema, dancing, concerts, balls, acrobatics, magicians and music hall. The Alcazar employed a house orchestra. Not many years after it opened in 1902 it changed hands and became the El Dorado. In 1933 the building was greatly altered, losing its metal bow windows either side of the corner on the first floor and guard rails were fixed to the second floor windows. Today the building is a private club called le Boléro.

Six female busts smile down from on high, to give you an idea of the ambiance inside. Augmenting the pretty women are floral motifs by the carver-designer Louis André, who created sunflowers, roses and chestnut leaves to twine around the openings. The new building had electric light, with ceilings lit like never before. The public was charmed.

Performers came from all over, including the Folies-Bergères in Paris and the Alhambra in London. Locally born Nini Patte-en-l'Air came to dance the cancan with her colleagues from the Moulin-Rouge. On the other hand, young singer songwriters started their careers here before moving on to find fame in Paris. The public taste in operettas seemed to be for the more melodramatic and stunt filled the better (a show called 'The Circle of Death' ran for an extended season).

Berthe Bourteau retired in 1907 and Paul Loos took over, changing the name to El Dorado. But in 1913 scandal erupted when he killed his girlfriend, the dancer Capri.

During the First World War the café closed, but re-opened as a cinema afterwards. Later it became a dance hall, until the Second World War. Then it seems to have been abandoned until being revived as a private club in the 1960s. It changed hands again in 1984, but continues under the banner of le Boléro.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

In and Out of the Merde

Warning: photos of dog poo.

'Thanks for the smell'. These signs have sprouted in a small public garden in Loches. They are hand-made or printed and laminated, presumably by the people who live next door to the garden and whose windows open out on to this view.
In the last year or so the campaign to rid French streets of dog poo has really started to gain ground. It is being pursued in equal measure by fed up local authorities, who are regularly reminding dog owners that they can pick up a supply of plastic bags from the town hall, and fed up citizens who are posting notices on their gates (or as these people have done, in the public garden next to their house).

'Poo goes in the bag -- it's not rocket science!' That's a loose translation to give you the idea. The French is a bit of a play on words which I struggled to adequately translate. The nuance is to do with the double meaning of the phrase 'dans le sac' (in the bag), which if you are caught red-handed is 'to have your hands in the bag', and also if the result is assured it's 'in the bag', the same as it would be in English.
More and more dog poo bins are being installed in public places and as a result, those who do the right thing, or don't own a dog, are becoming less and less tolerant of those who allow their dogs to excrete in the street. It will take a little time, because in the old days, the 'proper' thing to do was to manoeuvre your dog into the gutter if it needed to go. That way the poo got washed away by the street cleaners. However, as street cleaning methods change, the habits of dog owners must change. It is already making a difference, but we'll still be cautioning people to look where they put their feet for a while yet.

'Do the right thing!' and 'help yourself'. These dog poo plastic bag dispensers are beginning to appear in towns.
Wearing my entomologists hat I am ambivalent about the dog poo issue. After all, some of the best insects are attracted to poo, and my first sighting of the rare Purple Emperor butterfly Apatura iris (Fr. le Grand Mars changeant), for example, was on dog poo on the path in the Forest of Preuilly. Obviously in town though, it needs to be cleaned up.

Supposedly, it is 'good luck' if you stand in dog poo with your left foot. What idiot dreamt up that idea?

Monday, 13 March 2017

Twenty Years Ago

Twenty years ago Susan and I left Australia to start a new life in London.

We were emboldened by a certain amount of optimism and naivity. Because it was at the absolute start of the internet era we had looked online from an internet cafe at options for housing and jobs, but it was slow - which we took to mean slow internet rather than lack of options in London in 1997. Between us we had a 4 week booking at a "holiday apartment" in south-east London, a certain amount of savings, a suitcase of clothing and two bass guitars.

I'm not certain of the house number any more, but I think our first place of residence
in the UK was 322 Devonshire Road, Honor Oak. Its the place with the brown fence.

For a while we actually followed the path we thought we would. There were concerts, shopping for new wardrobes, Susan got exactly the job we hoped she would get, and I re-entered education. We even managed to rent a historic house. Over time we settled in to life in London, then realised that it meant we weren't doing stuff any more, that real life in all its banality had caught up. We took a couple of trips to Europe as soon as the financial situation levelled out, started going to the occasional concert again, but it no longer felt like the adventure we wanted to have.

Our second house in London was in East Ham, just around the corner
from where I lived when I was 6 years old

We started looking for another change - and after a while things started to take their own course, one we never thought we would be on. Almost 8 years living in France, owners of a part stable of classic cars, with excellent friends and neighbours. For one of us every day is an adventure as soon as he steps out of the door - words to try to recall, workarounds for grammar, remembering to say "bonjour". Susan has the potager and real soil, something we never had in London, and a growing circle of scientific type friends. Sometimes the challenges wear us down, but we are a pretty resilliant team and one of us eventually comes through. We try not think too much about what the future holds, because at the moment we are enjoying our life here and quite frankly the thought of being forced to change it is too depressing.

But twenty years...


Sunday, 12 March 2017

Wandering Wombat

Common Wombat Vombatus ursinus.

This wild wombat is resident at Green Cape Light, New South Wales. It has an extensive burrow near the National Park ranger's home and uses her carport as a latrine (which I'm sure she could probably do without). However, it does mean that I have excellent photos of wombat poo in my archive. I will forego showing you, but wombat poo is famous because it is cubic in form.

Wombats are about a metre long and can weigh as much as 40kg. They live in the cooler areas of Australia, in forests, grasslands and coastal heath. Solitary and territorial they are mainly nocturnal, but can be seen out grazing in broad daylight too if the weather isn't too hot. They live about 15 years. Like most Australian native mammals they are marsupials, raising their single young in a pouch.


One of my favorite cartoonists has died. Murray Ball started writing Footrot Flats in New Zealand in the mid 70's, and as anyone who has had anything to do with sheepdogs can tell -  he knew dogs!

WWLD may have become an internet meme but this is the first instance of it, from 1977


Saturday, 11 March 2017

Medieval Montresor

Montrésor is one of the plus beaux villages de France, and deserves its title. You can't have too many pictures of this lovely village in my opinion, so here are some more.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Repairing the Ramparts

For several years now the local authorities have been concerned about the state of the ramparts of the royal citadel in Loches. For many years they have been covered in quite mature vegetation which was sending roots deep into the stone, and every freeze-thaw cycle was causing more masonry to slough off.

Newly vegetation free ramparts along rue Saint-Ours.

Now, finally, some funding has come through and the vegetation has been stripped. The job of protecting and putting back together the damaged masonry has begun.

A view of the section just under the jester window (click on the link if you want to see what the ramparts looked like before all the vegetation was removed).

Thursday, 9 March 2017

The Beasts of Montrésor

Susan has already reported on the lizards of Montresor (here and here), but these are by no means the only interesting beasties on show.

The greyhound sits at the feet François de Batarnay on the tomb of the the Batarnay Family.
I assume that's not a saddle he is wearing...

 The rather splendid ceramic snail is in the gift shop of the Chateau

I assume these are lions on the feet of a table in the chateau

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Reading Your French Egg

French eggs are stamped with information for the consumer about who the producer is, when the egg was laid and how the hens live.

On the bottom line of the stamped code, the first figure is a number. It tells you if the egg is organic (0), free range (1), barn (2) or battery (3). Organic means that the hens have access to the open air, are fed 'organic' (ie certified pesticide free) feed and are limited to 6 birds per square metre in the sheds. Free range means the hens are allowed outdoors, but their feed is not 'organic' and they are a maximum of 9 birds per square metre in the sheds. Barn eggs come from hens which are not allowed outside, but otherwise the same rules as the free range. Battery hens (80% of the flock in France) live all their lives in cages, with 16 hours a day of artificial light, and packed in at 16 birds per square metre.

The next two characters tell you which country the egg was produced. FR means France. The next three letters are a code for a specific producer, followed by their département number (in this case, 02, which means Aisne).

The line above says 'PR', for date de péremption (expiry date beyond which it must be removed from sale), which is 28 days after laying, and shows day and month. 

Sometimes there is a third line, which shows the date of laying. This is only necessary if the eggs are being sold as extra-frais (extra fresh), which are eggs less than 9 days old.


Gluten Free Bread: Laurence of Boulangerie Les Pains de Laurence, rue de la croix, Preuilly, is now doing a gluten free (Fr. sans gluten) loaf, with 50% buckwheat (Fr. sarrasin).

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Breezy Times

It's been a bit blowy of late - yesterday the winds were gusting around the 110km/h mark (about 70mph).

Susan and I popped out in the morning to attend to various matters locally, and by the time we were walking home it felt really dangerous - we could hear things flapping and banging, and we were rather in fear of being hit by flying debris.

Once we reached home the wind was really whistling through the wires, the lights were flickering, and shutters were banging. This means that we didn't hear the main event of the day (for us, anyway).

The brickwork on next door's garage has never been convincing.
It is now less so...

How it looked in September 2010
We were rather worried, as Claudette is currently in our garage. Luckily, there is a wall between us and next door, and our garage space has a sort of ceiling made up of 2 inch thick planks. Claudette is covered in the remains of the hay that was stored up top from the days when the garage was a stable, but that's no big deal.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned to Susan that when the garage next door comes up for sale again we should think about buying it. With any luck it will have a new wall by then.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Two Grues (Times Two)

Grue is one of those odd words, where the French word is completely different to the English word for the same thing but has the same two meanings.

These grues are used by the Paris authorities to remove cars parked illegally.
We saw quite a few in our 3 days in Paris, including 4 in one street.

These other grues were photographed flying low over Loches on Saturday morning. 
Whatever Sunday's weather might say, it means spring is here.