Friday, 27 February 2009


Sitting here in my France shirt at half time... wondering if England can muster the enthusiasm, the talent and the heart, to play as either the French or the Welsh are this evening...

Somehow I think not.

Good engineers do not necessarily make good managers. Good soldiers do not necessarily make good officers, and as much as I admired Martin Johnson's captaincy of England, and as a lock forward, a World cup winning player; I do not believe he is a good manager or coach and tomorrow will show how far England have slipped in both world rankings and in the minds of their fans.

I hope I am wrong, but, having written that, I think it might be necessary to see another defeat for Will Carling's 57 Old Farts at Twickenham to realise they have to get the best coach available.

Martin Johnson is not the man for the job...

Thursday, 26 February 2009


One of the pleasures of hiking or skiing hereabouts is the discovery of a small wooden chalet, open and ready to serve passing skiers, hikers and the occasional dog sled team; the warm interior inviting and a decent plate of mountain fodder made mainly with melted cheese served.

A jug of some rouge often goes down well too...

Vallée de la Manche - Morzine.

We've had a lot of snow as you can see... and probably another metre of the stuff since this was taken.

This is the Vallée de la Manche, near Morzine and the GR5, which passes nearby taking walkers to either the Mediterranean in the south or to Lac Léman and on to Amsterdam for those inclined ... but today this is a randonnée ski up to the Col de Golese. A good three hour ski hike above where the weather closed in and a storm brewed. It took us just 15 minutes to ski down.

A beautiful place for a picnic, sitting on upturned skis and slicing sausage and cheese, and tearing pieces of bread from a baguette.

A great way to spend a day.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Having renovated an old barn on the edge of the Alps in France, I am often struck by the beauty with which local carpenters and other workers in wood, both amateur and professional use the old and the new side by side. The new rough edged but carefully planed outside planking perfectly complementing the new piece inserted to lift the horizontal rafter above the cross 'poutre'.

One of my main loves living over here is to see that houses are still being built by hand, mostly, and not thrown up, which of course does exist; but individual houses and chalets are still the norm.

I wonder if there is a French verb used in housebuilding in much the same way that Mijoter, is used in cooking...?

Friday, 13 February 2009

Reasons I love London, No 8. an irreverant series of indeterminate number...

Another of the reasons I love London. You can pop along to Chinatown and have a good meal of razor clams, and duck, and some brilliantly cooked green veggies, some boiled rice or noodles, and some strange cuts of meat in a wonderful broth with whole slices of ginger floating on the top. A pot of tea and ask for the bill, and what you get is a card receipt printed in Chinese.

It would seem that H.M. Revenue & Customs cannot be too bothered about it, so why should I be ?

Moon rise over la maison d'Aurèle

22 January 2009. A cold and frosty morning; the snow on the hillside behind Aurèle's house clearly visible in the dawn light.

Nice spot.

Darwin & Lincoln - many happy returns mateys...

"Just a quicky!" as the Actress said to the Bishop....

But already I am a day late... this will be registered as an entry of Friday 13th February... however, on the other side of the channel it is still Darwin's 200th Birthday, for the next 50 minutes or so, and for the next few hours on the other side of the atlantic it is still Lincoln's 200th Birthday.

I cannot think of two other blokes, born so far apart, on the same day, that can have had such a profound effect on the future, in their own time, and subsequently in the history of mankind as Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln.

And to think of the enormity of their works and the connection between those major works.

One; the Origin of Species suggesting we all descend from the same origin and Two; The Emancipation Proclamation saying in effect all men are equal and one should not be enslaved to another.... if I grasped correctly what I read so many years ago...

And furthermore, these ideas are still being challenged today. One only has to witness the refusal of entry into the United Kingdom on the 12th Feb., yesterday, of Geert Wilders. A Netherlands politician. A member of the European Union. I have to consider this a little more.

Are we right to refuse entry to someone who is alledged to incite racial disharmony or are we right to allow him entry to speak his mind; to give him the right to free speech, however much we may disagree with him?

Churchill said, (to paraphrase the great man...) Jaw jaw is better than war war.

...must dash, I can feel a glass of Havana Club Anejo Especial coming on; shame I'm not allowed to smoke my Havana cigars in my own house - they'll go off soon.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Thoughts on (digital) photography...

At the end of January I was walking along the lake front at Evian when I was struck by the sight and particularly the colours and the contrast of the blue of the lake with the orange of the small boat approaching the pont in front of the Evian Casino.

By the time I had opened my canvas bag and grabbed the small Leica D-lux 4 hidden in its depths and fumbled with the zipped cover of the protective case, and turned on the electronics, removed the lens cap, pressed the small safety button on the back that acts as a security control and moved the dials, which had of course, moved of their own free will, the orange boat was no longer where I had wanted it to be...

But I took the shot in any case. A grabbed one. The result is above. Not much you may think, but look... the nearby mooring posts in the foreground are out of focus. The depth of field of this small compact camera has come into play without me choosing the f stop.

It confirms to me a thought I have had for a while.

Mega Pixels v Lens.

My first digi camera was a Canon Ixus. It cost me 4999 francs in December 1999. It had a useless battery that cost an arm and a leg to replace and did not last for very long. More to the point the tiny lens sent an image to a 2.4 megapixel register. Some of the shots I took were quite good. But I had the feeling that nothing I took really compared to the pictures I had, for years, taken with my battered Nikkormat FT3 with 50mm lens and a roll of either Kodak Tri-X or Ilford HP5, or for fine grain stuff, Pan-F. Oh, God...those were the days. But I always struggled to have somewhere to develop and print them. Digital photography seemed the answer to my unasked questions. At least until the system crashed and all the stashed photos of the past couple of years disappeared.

I wanted something more though, and could only afford a Fuji Finepix S7000 when I saw a good deal and although I don't recall what it cost, it gave me 9 mega pixels and a decent zoom and light meter reading and although it only allowed me to choose from 200ASA to 800 ASA, it gave me some freedom while remaining a bulky thing to carry in a small shoulder bag. What's more it took 4 AA type batteries which meant I could always buy more if the rechargeable ones I used went flat.

Easy peasy....

It allowed me to get in and get shots for the screen, but to print ? Well the lens was okay, but what I wanted was something that would be creative, compact and easy to use and suddenly Fuji issued the E900. I even went so far as to add the optional lens adapter which would enable me to use a wide angle and a telephoto lens. Wow!

But still something was missing. Taking pictures and printing at 4"x6" or 100mm x 150mm was okay but anything else; forget it. If I took pictures on the finest pixel reading and cropped, then what I ended with was not what I wanted in terms of clarity and quality.

The lens. You idiot. What has changed? A Practica, a Chinon, a Nikon or a Leica. What happens when you shoot the same type film through those ? Well it depends upon the quality of the lens - dunnit ?

It seems to me, and I might be wrong here but I don't think so, a camera is only as good as the lens that is fitted. As it has always been. As it still is...

And so; friends, Romans, countrymen and women I decided now, well last November, was the time to buy a Leica but although I might covet a Leica M series like I might covet my neighbour's wife, the D-Lux 4 would be (almost) as much fun, longer lasting in my pleasures and not half as expensive. And so I did for about €580, or CHF1100 - or at the time, £600. Almost ten years later for the same amount of money a camera that would leave the Canon Ixus for dead. I wasn't even bothered in finding out if the Ixus could compete. I felt sure it could not.

..and so here are a few recent pix of said camera using the 3200 ASA setting, therefore without flash in the dead of night, recording some of Evian-les-Bain's excellent 2008 Christmas lights...

Stick the camera onto B&W dynamic mode and the reportage shots are fantastic.... Ahm in heaven....

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Snow Falling On Pine Trees

As Britain shivers and slides under the weight of a week's worth of snow, we here in La Belle France have been waiting for the same thing to arrive here... but it refused to do much until last night...

So this morning me and Mrs P went off for a raquette up towards the Bonne Eau, in the silence of snow falling on pines trees. The VW slid up the road through the small village of Trossy and close to the Relais de la Chevrette we parked up having scattered a large group of dummies who all stood about the snow covered car park watching as we approached and despite our signalling, made no move to get out of our way. A smart application of hand upon klaxon soon got them grabbing at their day packs and they shifted. It is interesting to my mind that once people get out of their cars they soon forget to think in the manner of a motorist. And vice versa. A slippery slope that needs a certain amount of traction and speed in equal measure to mount, just becomes a place to dump walking poles and snow shoes.

I wasn't as depressed as much as I could have been given England's lacklustre performance against a woeful Italy in the previous day's rugby match at HQ. I was buoyed by the cracker of a game between Ireland and France in Dublin. I wish I had been there. I wished my Mum might have been in the emerald isle at the time she had me. But no, she'd been in London.

The snowed fell steadily, softly, silently and seemed at times to resist the gravitational pull in a futile attempt to stay air bound. But with each flake falling the depth of powder snow increased as we trudged (a damnable word) upwards through the silent woods along a track made not long before by other raquetters .

Past the stream flowing down from the Dent d'Oche, and across to the chalets en route for the Bonne Eau, where an ancient luge, or sled rested against a barn, and upward through the trees heavy with fresh snow absorbing all sound.

At the Bonne Eau,