In Sapa, Vietnam

In Sapa, Vietnam

About Me

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Currently a full-time bricoleur working on the renovation of our house and barn in Bretagne (Brittany). Formerly an Operations Manager with NEC Technologies (UK) Ltd.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

A good year for ...... the Butterflies

.The Spring this year was mainly cool and damp, it wasn't until June that we really got any warm Summer weather. Not good weather for Butterflies to hatch, grow as caterpillars, pupate and hatch.

Since mid June we've had hardly any rain and it's been warm and frequently hot, the garden flowers have been spectacular (at least where we have managed to irrigate with water from the well). Perfect weather and conditions for Butterflies. And we've been rewarded with a spectacular show beautifully recorded in Barbara's photographs.

Not usually found in the British Isles this is a Map, second brood. An interesting insect as the first brood has completely different colours and markings. (On Dahlia)

A perfect Red Admiral (on Dahlia)

The Peacock has been seen frequently but is a difficult subject to capture (On Aster)

My favourite, the Comma. I love the beautifully sculpted wings. (On Lavender)

A stunning picture of a newly hatched second brood Swallowtail. (On Verbena)

A slightly damaged Swallowtail was around the garden for a week and a half - missing an eye! (on Verbena)

New sighting this year - a Painted Lady. This remarkable butterfly migrates to Africa in the Autumn covering 150km a day and overwinters in Morocco and Mali. (On Lavender)

A Holly Blue (on Aster)

Friday, 10 June 2016

The car knows better ....

There are, I once read somewhere, 89 (or maybe it was 106, I forget now) computers on our eight year old Honda. One of them runs a piece of software called TSA and for eight years and 112,000 miles it's done ...... absolutely nothing at all apart from monitor and check and keep an electronic eye on things.

Then, as I gingerly pulled the caravan past a lorry on the A10 Autoroute heading towards Bordeaux a combination of crosswinds and an unstable air flow around the front of the truck caused the caravan to begin to snake alarmingly behind us. It was the most extreme snaking I'd ever experienced and as I reacted in the standard way (foot off the accelerator, damp out the swings with gentle steering) TSA checked whether the car or the caravan was causing the swaying, analysed if it was getting worse, decided it was dangerous, concluded my driving wasn't up to it and something much more significant needed to be done. It engaged the four-wheel drive and began dramatically applying the brakes individually to counteract the snaking, in a couple of seconds things were back to normal. The truck driver spotted the problem and slowed down to let me back across and onto the safety of the hard shoulder (at the noise of the brakes coming on and off we said "Tyre's blown out" to each other at exactly the same time). It hadn't and so after 30 seconds to collect ourselves we headed on again.

TSA has gone back to monitoring, watching and doing nothing until it's needed (hopefully it won't ever get to that again). 

It's a rather strange feeling when your car decides it's a better driver than you are and takes control away from you. In fact distinctly unsettling in hindsight but maybe another reason to buy Honda again ..... 

Aiming to get the CRV past 200,000 miles first before that time comes though.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

View From the Trees

I reported last summer when a fully leafed big bough came down from our big oak right on an area we had been working in the previous week. "Sudden Oak Drop" is the British name for this, in French it's "Une Rupture Estivale" - which sounds both painful and threatening. The fall left a big jagged tear where the branch broke and highlighted the amount of dead wood in the tree canopy so we added this to our mental list of winter tree work. At Claudette's fête last year we had met Aymeric who had recently qualified and set up his own business as a élagueur - a tree surgeon.

There are lots of trees, mostly oaks, on the field boundaries here and late December and January are the times that the farmers maintain them. Tree maintenance French style is rather brutal, the farmers work from a platform mounted on the forks of their tractor and the trees are, if they are lucky, pollarded or, if unlucky, shaved back to a single stem with a comical small bunch of leaf growth left at the top (colloquially known as a sap puller). As with many things in France it makes sense if you know the background to how wood rights worked 200 years ago. The land owner had the rights to the trees and the major branches, the tenants to the forest of thin epicormic growth that the trees sent out in desperation believing that their last days had come (these were cut, bundled together into faggots (fagots in French)).

Real tree surgeons who climb in France are rather rare and often prohibitively expensive - both times previously we had used ex-pats working over here - and so we jumped at the chance to engage someone who lived 500m away from us. I had undertaken to handle the wood once it was cut down so Aymeric could concentrate on the aerial work but, as always, underestimated the mass of timber that comes out of a tree that is being pruned, repaired and crown-lifted. We soon found our élagueur  was a fast worker and quick climber - here he is working in the tall oak that had suffered its rupture estivale: 

And, in this picture, the size and scale of the tree are apparent as Aymeric works at the top.

Our tree surgeon also took some pictures of our property from his lofty perch:

Photo credit Aymeric MARTIN, EURL Les Jardins Suspendus

Back on the ground we took eight days to process the timber that came down in a day and a half of our fast working élagueur.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Not another Sunset

No, it's not.

This time it's a sunrise taken over the Potager:

One of the great things about walking or cycling at the same time every day as we do is that the seasons unfold around you. So in December and January it's dark when we go out and still dark when we get back; February means dark out, light by the time we get back (and a spectacular sunrise over the ridge if we are lucky) but by March it's light when we go out and by the end of the month the sun is up before we go out.

Took this picture on Wednesday as we were leaving.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

A fitting tribute after 80 years

On the end wall of our barn hang three watercolour impressions of French scenes, two are of Caen in Normandy and the other is the Place d'Armes in Calais. They are accurate, well-rendered and warm pictures. Not outstanding art perhaps but very competently painted.

The 1931 painting of Caen Cathedral (which was entirely destroyed during Operation Overlord after the D-Day landings) was bought by a young Barbara at a jumble sale for 2s 6d, the other two I purchased at auction in 2008 for Barbara's birthday.

They were painted by a British artist from North Shields near Newcastle called Victor Noble Rainbird and I've been interested in his life and work since I first came across his pictures. He was a prolific artist and lots of people in his local area seem to have a "Rainbird" on the wall.

Impression Caen 1931 - Victor Noble Rainbird
Hanging at La Basse Cour

Rainbird was talented artist before the Great War and joined up and served in the Northumberland Fusiliers, there's an excellent article about his war service produced by Tyne and Wear Museums at this link.

After the war Rainbird picked up his artistic career and his pictures were exhibited at the Laing Museum in Newcastle, the Walker in Liverpool and the RA in London. He visited Holland and, several times, France and our trio are from his French trips.

It appears that Rainbird used his paintings to pay his way through life and often seems to have produced paintings to settle bar bills or pay for his supper. He died in 1936 at the age of 49 and was buried in an unmarked grave, his estate having insufficient money for a memorial. And there his story rested for 77 years.

Impression of Caen Normandy undated - Victor Noble Rainbird
Hanging at La Basse Cour

Inspired by Rainbird's work a small group led by Dave Young set up the Friends of Victor Noble Rainbird to attempt to provide a permanent memorial to the artist at his burial place in Preston Cemetery. I made a small donation early on to this group but the breakthrough came in 2015 with a popular and successful exhibition of Rainbird's paintings at the Old Low Light Heritage centre in North Shields, donations and profits from sales of prints took the fund past the £5000 target. So, on a cold but sunny day on 8th March, 2016 - eighty years to the day after his death - the permanent memorial to Victor Noble Rainbird was unveiled with appropriate military pomp including the playing of The Last Post.

The Last Post

Chapeau Mr Young! - A good job well done.

All photos credited to Linda M. Kay

Read more here:

The Friends of Victor Noble Rainbird: 
Victor Noble Rainbird Wiki page:
From Dark to Light, VNR exhibition at the Old Low Light:
More about the production of the memorial on Alison Spedding Photography's page:

Friday, 4 March 2016

New York - 15 of the best

..... pictures from our visit:

Ground Zero - The base of one of the Twin Towers is now a perpetual waterfall

Snow on the walkway by the Hudson River

Hot pretzels in the snow in Central Park

The entrance hall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

View from the Empire State Building - Hudson River and the West Midtown area of Manhattan

Night view from the Empire State Building looking south to Manhattan

Cable tracery on the Brooklyn Bridge

Central Park and North Manhattan from the Rockefellar Plaza Building

Adam and Charlotte at the top of the Rockefeller Plaza

Walking the HighLine path in Greenwich Village

No caption needed!

The Manhattan skyline from the water

Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges on the East River

The atrium at Grand Central Station

Central Park Zoo

Sunday, 28 February 2016

In a New York State of Mind

I'm not really one for in-flight films, the poor sound quality, small screen and uncomfortable environment don't add to the enjoyment for me. I do like to read the paper, preferably it's a weekend flight as the volume of readable print is much bigger. The Saturday Daily Telegraph used to be good for about 6 hours on the flight to Tokyo (now with it's advertising pull-outs and shrinking news content I doubt it would get past a trip to Athens .....).

So newspapers and music work best for me.

On a recent trip to New York - on a Sunday - I thought it would be a good idea to put together a New York playlist of songs and so as the BA 747-400 rolled down the runway on takeoff I had the opening jazz chords of Billy Joel's New York State of Mind for company.

Other songs on the playlist included:

An Englishman in New York - Sting
First we take Manhattan - Leonard Cohen
Bleeker Street - Simon and Garfunkel
New York, New York - Gerard Kenney
Fairytale of New York - Pogues/ Kirsty McColl
Downtown - Petula Clark
Ellis Island - Mary Black
Honky Tonk Women - Rolling Stones
Leaving New York -REM

Now, here's the strange thing. During the week I repeatedly found myself somewhere in a song title or lyric from my youth. Plenty of Simon and Garfunkel of course (they came from Queens - just over the Brooklyn River) but other stuff as well. In no particular order:

Bleecker Street (Passing through Bleecker Street on the subway)
59th Street Bridge Song (walking along 59th Street at the bottom of Central Park)
At the Zoo (taking the subway to the Zoo in Central Park)
The Boxer (walking up 7th Avenue - listen to the Lyrics)

Image result for simon and garfunkel

It was also a pleasure to mentally re-acquaint myself with the music of Steve Forbert whilst standing in the amazing architectural space of Grand Central Station: Steve Forbert - "Grand Central Station, March 18, 1977

Image result for steve forbert grand central station

I could go on and on; during the week songs from Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Bernstein, The Ramones, Suzanne Vega, Lou Reid, George Gershwin all crossed my path.

Remarkable how one city has inspired so much creative energy.