The Swimming Lake

Hello.

After spending six months back in the UK, I’ve finally come back to France. To Normandy to look after a farm. How long I’m not quite sure. Maybe enough time to finish a novel?

Yesterday was hot. Very hot, so I spent it in the small lake we have here. More a large pond. Later I made a short film accompanied by music someone recorded in a street in Nantes. Where I am is about 300 kilometres from Nantes so there’s very little connection. Except that it’s in France.

For those of you who’ve never read this blog, it started out in Lyon in 2011. Then it was called BLOGLEY and was about living in Lyon. Since then it’s become a general platform for stories, travel articles, short films, audio pieces, and general pieces about nothing in particular.

So if you have a few minutes of your life to waste you might want to browse some posts. Or you could even buy the book: A Man in France by clicking on the photo of bottles of wine and cans of beer opposite —->

If not, this 60 second film with music from Nantes pretty much sums it all up.

How to Build a Shepherd’s Hut

This is how I built a shepherd’s hut from a kit. With deadpan commentary.

 

 

How To Tap Walnut Trees to Make Syrup

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I like maple syrup on my porridge. It’s sweet, nutritious and tastes great. It’s also expensive. So yesterday morning Elizabeth said to me, ‘Why don’t you tap the Walnut trees in the garden? There’s loads of them.’

‘Oh yeah,’ I said looking out over the walnut grove of the chateau we look after over the winter. It once produced nuts on a commercial basis, now it’s tired and overgrown. And while the trees still produce nuts, they’re only appreciated by the family of wild boar who have taken up residence there.

The truth is there’s an untapped reserve of walnut syrup on my doorstep. So I rushed out to tap it. The results were spectacular. Here’s how you do it.

1. Find a walnut tree – this is an English Walnut, but Black Walnut trees are equally good. The best time to tap them is now (February/March). Cold nights (preferably freezing) and warmer days. In the morning about 10 o’clock.

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2. Drill a hole about a centimetre in diameter at hip height. PS. If you’re planning to use your walnut tree for making chairs and tables – don’t do this!

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3. Push a metal spout like this into the hole.

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4. I don’t have one like this – this is one from Canada (where else). So I used a piece of cut off hose and jammed it in.

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5. It works fine (little bit of leakage down the tree). Now you need to set up a bowl underneath and wait.

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6. When I first did this, I thought the sap would be already treacly and brown. But it actually looks like water, which you can drink and tastes really nice. This bowl took about three hours to fill, but it depends on the conditions.

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7. The next step is to take it inside to boil down, or set it up on an open fire.

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8. Let it boil away furiously. Open some windows as there’s loads of steam. Hence why it’s better outside!

9. Drink coffee while you wait. It takes about two hours for 5 litres of sap to boil down.

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10. Boil until you get a brown syrupy liquid in the bottom. But don’t boil it down too much as it will cool down and solidify more. (And don’t forget about it either and burn it. Or your house down!). Then decant it into a bottle or jar. Et Voila! 100% pure English Walnut syrup grown in France.

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11. The one above is a touch too syrupy for my liking. I made that yesterday. The one below I made today and is about right. A lovely rich colour.

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OK, I know what you’re saying. ‘You don’t get a lot, do you?’ No you don’t. About 35mls of syrup from 5 litres of sap. But it’s great fun to make, especially with children, plus you’re connecting with nature from the inside out as it were. So how does it taste? Play video to find out!

12. Philip Ogley tasting his home-tapped Walnut syrup.

 

For more information on other trees that can be tapped, visit site: https://wildfoodism.com/2014/02/04/22-trees-that-can-be-tapped-for-sap-and-syrup/

Photograph of spout courtesy of http://homestead-honey.com/2014/03/10/beyond-maple-syrup-tapping-black-walnut-trees/

Souillac to Groléjac: En Canoë

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My last post concerned a paddle down the Dordogne from Meyonne to Souillac. This one concerns a slow meander down the same river from Souillac to Groléjac (see map above).

I say meander because somebody upstream has turned the river off. I mean this quite literally as there is a great big dam up at Argentat with some EDF engineer sitting behind a huge control panel munching on egg filled baguettes wondering how low he can make the river go without it officially becoming a stream.

There couldn’t have been enough water in the river during June, now in July with temperatures soaring into the mid-thirties, there’s hardly enough water to flush a toilet with, and the canoers I’m supposed to be instructing are getting pissed off.

We had clients from Oregon last week complaining that they’d booked a canoe holiday, not a paddle-along-a-long-lake holiday. I told them to try and enjoy it and forget about all those worries back home. ‘Pretend you’re a twig on the back of a mighty river,’ I said, half-quoting Planes, Trains and Automobiles. ‘Go with the flow.’

‘But that’s the problem,’ he declared, ‘there is no flow!’ Clearly missing the point of the line from the film, and most probably the point of the holiday itself.

‘It’s just a puddle,’ Mr. Juicer from Oregon continued (He wasn’t called Mr. Juicer at all, he was called Paul Mango, but I’ve adopted this childish habit of giving my clients pseudonyms to make the job more interesting). ‘We were promised canoeing on the mighty Dordogne. It says it in the brochure for Pete’s sake!’

‘It doesn’t say anything of the kind,’ I reminded him. ‘It actually says,’ and I started quoting from the brochure I’d delightfully digested one evening on the toilet before I came here, ‘Enjoy a gentle paddle down one of France’s most famous and longest rivers.’

I looked smug and advised him that there were plenty of other holiday destinations more suited to adventure if that’s what he craved. ‘Like The Congo, for example.’

‘Why would I want to go there?’ he asked.

‘Exactly,’ I replied. ‘Hence the reason people come to the Dordogne to laze around on a canoe all day, eating large lunches at the numerous riverside restaurants without the fear of being eaten alive by crocs or shot by South African mercenaries mistaking you for Islamic State fighters.’

That seemed to shut him up and off he went silently floating down the mirror-like Dordogne thinking of lobster lunches and relaxing more. Good.

Fact is, the river is too slow at the moment, I agree on that. It’s like being promised the thrill of bombing round a race track in a Ferrari, turning up and being given the keys to a Fiat Panda. Disappointing to say the least, so I understand the customers’ frustrations even if there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. Except kill the EDF engineer up at Argentat, steal his egg sandwich, and turn up the river to full.

On the other hand, there’s very little chance of capsizing, which means you can simply relax, crack a beer and float gently backwards. As the video below demonstrates. And if you don’t like the look of it, go to The Congo. Or stay at home.

259 – Blogley in Souillac

 

Where is Souillac and why am I here? Good question.

Over previous summers, I’ve taught English to earn a few coins. This year I wanted to do something different. Mainly because I’ve retired from teaching, as I was starting to feel self righteous, and I didn’t want to become one of those people who think teaching is the most gratifying job on the planet. It isn’t. It’s tedious and boring and I’ve had enough. Good. I’ve got that out of the way.

Enter life as a holiday rep in the Dordogne. Ferrying folk around from hotel to hotel, giving cycling and canoeing lessons, and dealing with fuming Basil Fawlty type hoteliers.

‘But surely Phil, isn’t that a bit of a step down? Isn’t that what you do in your twenties? Shouldn’t you be thinking of a career?

The answer to all those questions is NO. If I’d wanted a career, I’d have spent my twenties saying ‘Yes sir, no sir,’ to people I didn’t like waiting to get promoted or fired. Now 42, I’ve luckily avoided that phase, and as a result can pick and choose what I do with my precious time. This summer, it’s being a holiday rep in the Dordogne. Next summer, I might be wearing a kangaroo outfit in a circus in St. Petersburg.

I’ve never done this type of work before, so I don’t know what it’s going to be like. I once worked for a festival company driving and managing a burrito stall over a summer. I guess it’s going to be similar. Only this time I’ll be driving around holidaymakers and canoes instead of boxes of canned chili con carne and tortilla wraps.

Truth is, these types of jobs are like jigsaws. Once you get a few pieces in place – reading a map, telling the time, buying hoteliers bottles of pastis (in this case)  – the rest usually falls into place. Even the tricky leafy woodland part, where all the greens look the same, eventually becomes clear. Unless you’re really bad at them and your beautiful Turner landscape ends up looking like the vomit stained carpet of an inter city nightclub. In which case, it’s probably best to go back to teaching. Or cleaning toilets (of a nightclub?).

So that’s you all filled in. Updated and ready for another chapter of Blogley. Another chapter of A Man in France, which of course you can buy from Blogley Books.cover image

251 – A Critic’s Response to The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd

Today I received the following video footage from a well known book critic who I sent my book of short stories to for review. This was his response.

245 – At the Chateau with JP Brown

What the 17th century chateau Elizabeth and I are looking after doesn’t provide is a selection of board games. So it was a shock to my friend – self confessed game addict and Barcelona based photographer Justin P Brown – when I told him that we were totally Cluedoless. We didn’t even have a pack of cards, I explained when he came to stay this week, meaning we were condemned to making our own games up. Enter the world of famous actors, ageing gameshow hosts, fictional characters and dead singers.

The timeworn Rizla game where somebody writes a name on a cigarette paper (or normal paper now we’ve all quit smoking) and sticks it on your forehead. The rules being you have to guess the name by using only YES or NO questions. It was the best we could come up with given the limited resources of our imagination, but it worked well, whiling away those dead hours between the end of dinner and bedtime.

Last night’s game was hilarious though, taking almost a whole night of haplessly threading our way through the whole gamut of sixties, seventies, and eighties TV characters to find our names. Mine was Dracula, but I had to go through Mr. Blobby, Kermit the Frog, Father Christmas, Zorro, Sherlock Holmes, The Snowman, Postman Pat, Astérix, and Rod Hull’s Emu to arrive – two hours later – at the name.

Justin fared little better having to go through Jim Bowen, Hughie Green, Russ Abbott, Les Dawson, Leslie Crowther, Noel Edmonds, Jimmy Saville, Dusty Bin, Russell Harty, Jimmy Tarbuck, and Bruce Forsyth to get to the late 70s game show host Larry Grayson. (For non UK readers, this probably makes no sense, but you might get the picture if you substitute in all the dead, champagne slurping, sexually overactive TV presenters from your country).

Elizabeth to be fair was the best taking a mere fifteen minutes to arrive at James Brown, leaving me and my old band buddy, Justin Brown (from the band Jamshakcle I wrote about in Blogley 20), to obliterate the evening with our wild guesses on British TV’s bygone era.

It was a fun night fuelled by fine cheese and wine and strong Abbey beer. We did actually have a TV in the room with access to all English channels, but it was clearly more fun to reminisce about the old days when TV was intentionally naff rather than turn on today’s expensively produced turgid nonsense.

Justin’s visit did unfortunately coincide with a week of torrential rain and cold winds. A world away from sultry Barcelona and the previous two months here that were nothing but sun and spring like days. But I dragged him to a few desolate deserted French hilltop villages where we stood and wondered what it was like in summer when it wasn’t so cold and miserable.

The town of Cahors was good though. The sun came out for an hour which gave Justin time to shoot the famous Pont Valentré that crosses the Lot to the west of the city. The rest of the time we wandered the streets looking at the chilled faces, bought a few postcards and headed back to the Chateau at Auty.

And that was the visit of Justin P Brown. Opened, set free for a week in rural France, wrapped up again and sent back to Barcelona with memories of Mr Blobby, Postman Pat and Larry Grayson etched on his mind forever. Au revoir mon ami.

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Blogley somewhere in Cahors. (Justin P Brown Photography)

 

236 – A Four Day Walk Along The Avon Kennet Canal For Absolutely No Reason Whatsoever

There is a gap in my summer posts. In July I went for a walk along the Avon Kennet canal. I was going to write about it after I got back but forgot. Only to be reminded of it a few days ago when I found the shaky film footage of the trip on my camera. Prising the half rusted memory card out of it, I ruthlessly edited it down in a vain attempt to make it look exciting. Which was hard, as nothing happened during the entire four days. Except for a brief run in with a canal boat owner over a dog, sheltering under a bridge from the rain for two hours, and visiting a Long Barrow. The rest of the time I walked, ate, drank a few beers, and slept. Below is a short film of this epic trip.

216 – MockVert

If you read my last post, it was about not feeling guilty. Not being harangued by Mister Guilt every time I try and do something different or creative.

If you remember, ‘I was wasting my time writing a story no one would ever read.’ So I made a video of me writing it and posted it on the internet along with the blog.

So how did it go? Well, it made me feel pretty damn good actually. I felt proud and powerful. ‘Who gives a monkeys what I do,’ I thought. ‘If someone wants to laugh at me and say, “Well, you’re a rather silly fellow, Oggers,” then good for them. Meanwhile, I’ll get on with my life.’

So what’s a MockVert?

It’s an unofficial advertisement for a product featuring real life people.

So who invented it?

I did. Today in fact as I was standing in my kitchen making a coffee wondering how I would advertise the particular brand I was using.

Who’s in it?

Me. As later in the day, I thought what would happen if I actually filmed myself promoting a product – say a beer – and put it on the internet? How silly would that be?

Is it legal?

I don’t know. The only way to find out is to try. The Orville brothers didn’t invent the aeroplane by sitting on their fat American asses wondering what would happen if they glued a couple of long flat pieces of wood together and attached it to a motor.

What’s the product?

Export 33. It’s not my regular brand, but they’d run out at the shop. This was all they had.

Will I get sued?

I hope so.

Where can I see?

Here:

211 – Is This Entertainment?

It was cold, wet and windy with only the occasional ray of sunshine to keep me company. Not a great day for standing around with a hard bristle brush scrubbing wooden decking.

Tedious backbreaking work: the handle of the brush was too short and I’m slightly too tall if that makes sense. Working half bent, half upright for the whole day. Reminding me of the kitchen in Exeter where I once worked in which all the work surfaces were a foot and a half too low. Walking back home doubled up after my 15 hour shift chopping veg aided by a walking frame and half a bottle of vodka to make the pain in my lower back go somewhere else.

Yesterday after three hours of scrubbing, I was bored stiff. Literally. It had started raining again and I was ready to jack it in. Never mind the huile de coude (elbow grease) I had promised my boss, I wanted a cold beer. Kick back. Read my book. Live a bit!

Then I had an idea.

Why not film it? Film my work? Could it work? Could it be entertainment?

Difficult and certainly a challenge. And if nothing else, it might inject a bit of purpose into the next three hours.

So I went inside. Cut a lens sized hole in an old plastic biscuit box, put my camera in it, put the lid on, checked it was watertight, and went to work.

Three hours later, I had two hours of film which I edited down to two minutes five.

So what do you think? Entertainment? Rubbish? Or just a boring job that no amount of jazzing up with film cameras will ever make interesting?

(Music: Mr and Mrs Smith – Dark Country Road. Used under CC licence)

210 – Sometimes You’ve Just Got To Let Go – A Short Film

Yesterday wasn’t a particularly good day weather wise – cold, windy, rainy. When the sun finally came out, I spent it larking around with my video camera that used to belong to my great friend Stan.

My plan was to film something of interest. Something mind blowing. ‘Who knows what lies on this part of the coast?’ I thought.

I found nothing. Winter in a bland seaside town in Western France. I may as well have been fishing for oysters on the moon.

I decided to look harder. ‘There must be something!’ I thought. ‘A bright red stuffed toy that’s been left by a distraught child after being told by the parents that Water World isn’t open in February. Nothing is open. Nothing!’

As I said in a post a few weeks ago. ‘Incredible what you can see when you want to.’ (Blogley 204.)

So by the end of my quiet and occasionally wet saunter up the coast, I had something to make my short film with.

(Music: Fog Lake – Little Black Balloon)

209 – Oggers Talks About The Pool – Live!

Since I turned 16 in 1990 I’ve worked as a dustbin man, warehouse picker, call centre operative, musician, charity collector, sound engineer, postman, teacher, chef, waiter, small-ads editor, barman, scientist, van driver, Christmas tree seller, data entry clerk, writer, bookseller, gardener, nacho stall manager, and now pool boy.

If I had made a video of all of them, it would never end. Luckily, I’ve only made one.

(Needs sound. Otherwise it makes no sense – if it does at all)

192 – Blogley in Paris

Since my last visit in 1989, a lot has changed. I’m not 15. I’m 40. Which means I can enjoy the finer points of a city. And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything!

For four days I hared around Paris with Elizabeth taking endless ‘rolls’ of film and drinking coarse wine. The results you can see in the video at the bottom of the page. Continue reading “192 – Blogley in Paris”

157 – The House in Queaux: A Retrospection.

The subject of this last post before I return to Blighty for a few weeks is: What has it been like here for the past eleven months?

Well. Apart from the flies. It’s been great. Better than expected in fact. We haven’t run out of money. We haven’t gone nuts. We’re fit and healthy. I’ve written my damn book. We’re alive. Continue reading “157 – The House in Queaux: A Retrospection.”

152 – Blogley in Bordeaux?

When I first started this blog back in 2011 it was called Blogley in Lyon. It’s aim if you recall was ‘to chart my progress in Lyon over the coming months.’

And for the next two years it did. Then I moved here to Queaux and renamed it Blogley: The Ridiculous Ramblings of a Man in France. Queaux with a population of 232 seemed too small at the time to give it a platform on my precious blog. Continue reading “152 – Blogley in Bordeaux?”

149 – Hay Bale Gymnastics and The Continuing Theme of Outdoor Living

The best thing about living in the countryside is that I don’t go to the countryside anymore. It comes to me.

Continue reading “149 – Hay Bale Gymnastics and The Continuing Theme of Outdoor Living”