Sunday, 26 June 2016

Time Travellers...

We found ourselves going way back in time today when we took a stroll to a nearby menhir.  Nestled in a patch of pleasant woodland, just off one of the local footpaths, it stands 2.5 metres high and is said to date, rather inaccurately, from between 2 & 5 thousand BC.  Our Neolithic ancestors were very fond of standing up stones.  The word 'menhir' comes from old Breton, derived from 'maen' meaning stone and 'hir' meaning long.
Mystery surrounds what their true purpose was, this one is thought to be some kind of territorial marker, maybe for the nearby spring.

Whatever their purpose, it was strange that Skip the Dog was none too keen on the 'long stone' and started a-whimpering.  He is sometimes scared of tall people so maybe he doesn’t like tall stones either!  Maybe he could sense those ancient spirits?  Most likely, he just has no interest at all in ancient history and wanted to get on with the walk.  OK Skippy, on y va!

PS.  The Asterix character, Obelix owns the quarry where he chisels menhirs. It is never directly stated what the menhirs are used for, though it is hinted that they are just oversized knick-knacks! 

Sunday, 3 April 2016


Yes, today's mystery tool is a Spoon Auger, and it is used for boring holes in solid wood...

These tools were also used in the production of Sabots which is the French word for clog (which probably derives from Savate from the Arabic Sabbat for shoe and bot, for boots).   These 'shoe-boots' or sabots were the footwear of (no) choice for working people as pre-industrialisation leather shoes would have been prohibitively expensive.  They were traditionally made of birch, willow or poplar, light woods that are easy to work.   They would be made a size bigger than required so that straw, and in later times slippers, could be stuffed in to cushion the foot). The style of a simple, slip-on shoe to wear in the garden or on the farm is still popular today in rubber/plastic/leather versions such as Crocs, but some 'round 'ere still choose to wear the wooden ones!  This stylish pair of sabots live at Poacher's Cabin and as you can see, they are much too big for Skip the Dog...

However, they are quite swanky with their embossed leather cover, seemingly featuring a harp design, and these horseshoe like rubber soles... 

The word 'sabotage' is said to derive from 19th century French workers, who opposed the mechanisation of their jobs by throwing their shoes into new industrial machinery to bugger things up, but there is little or no evidence that this actually happened, and was probably meant metaphorically.  Later, during a long period of industrial action in the early 20th century, French railway workers undertook a policy of non-cooperation, sending goods to the wrong place, mucking up timetables, and general intentional incompetence which came to be known as 'sabotage', clearly a trend that some railway workers persist with to this day!  

Here's an interesting lil' film of a Dutch clog maker using his auger (and amazingly, still appears to have all his own fingers!!) 

Friday, 5 February 2016

Just The Tonic!

We tend to think of Coca-Cola as the all-american drink but actually, in a roundabout way, the French may lay claim to having had a hand in its invention. It all started when, in around 1863, Corsican chemist Angelo Mariani invented his 'Vin Mariani, French Tonic Wine', a brilliant concoction of Bordeaux wine and coca leaves.  This alco/cocaine mash-up, cleverly marketed for its health-giving benefits, proved to be extremely popular, winning many endorsements from the great and the good of its day...

Due to its soar-away success, copycat products followed and one of these, produced by American chemist John Pemberton, eventually morphed into coca-cola, once cocaine and alcohol had become controlled substances.  Vin Mariani itself continued to be sold in France, in a less potent form, until the early 1960's.

But tonic wines, in other forms, are still going strong today.  One such is  'Byrhh Vin Tonique' (even though they don't seem update their sinage that often!)...

Byrhh is apparently wine mixed with quinine and other herbs and was originally sold in chemists as a 'health' drink to differentiate it from other aperitifs on sale. It was quite popular in the early 20th century, even being exported to the UK and US, despite, or perhaps because, its name sounds a bit like 'beer'. 

I vaguely remember my Nan keeping a dusty bottle of 'Sanatogen Tonic Wine' in the cupboard, presumably just in case she ever ran out of her brutally alcoholic home-made Mangle Wine. And of course, there's vin tonique's less savoury, anglicized cousin, Buckfast, known affectionately north of the border as 'Wreck the Hoose Juice'.  

And maybe we haven't seen the last of Vin Mariani, as during my non-extensive research I stumbled across this company who claim:

“Tea is not the only coca-based product Grupo Mariani will be producing”, says Martínez. We are only weeks away from the debut of our exceptional Vin Mariani red coca wine, which is being produced from grapes of the highly acclaimed Ica region in Peru. We also have plans on launching a line of hair products, soaps and even food products, such as cookies. with other products to come later.
As a benefit to the Peruvian people, especially the coca farmers, Grupo Mariani is forming strategic alliances with the current government of Peru to provide humanitarian projects for the indigenous people of that country.
John Martínez
VP - Sales and Marketing
Grupo Mariani S.A." 

I'm tempted to try a little glass of it, just the one, mind, for research purposes.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Flip! It's Fête des Chandelles...

Nah, let's not talk about croissants...let's talk about pancakes!

Here in France the 2nd of February is Fete des Chandelles, (candles).  It's Pancake Day, but not quite as we know it.  As is often the case, it's a religous festival with its roots buried deep in a pagan one. For pagans it was all about coming out of hibernation, the days getting longer, offering up goods to gods in the hope of a fine Spring and a good harvest.  The Church kinda hijacked it and mashed it up with some other festivals into some sort of purification ceremony, involving the lighting of candles and, more importantly, eating pancakes.  It's thought that this part of the tradition stems from a Pope who ordered pancakes to be cooked up for some visiting pilgrims in a time of hardship.  Lots of folklore surrounds the tradition.  I've read that if you hold a gold coin in your left hand and flip the pancake with your right hand you'll have good luck for a year (and a hell of a messy hob, probably).  And that you should keep the first pancake out of the pan in your cupboard to bring good luck for the year to come (and a rodent infestation, probably).

Whatever, I don't need much of an excuse to light some candles and drag out the pan and get flipping.  I like mine as nature intended with sugar and lemon, and none of that new-fangled Nutella stuff.  How do you like yours?

Saturday, 16 January 2016

In A Whirl...The Great Pain au Chocolat Debate.

See original image

My Mum, who was ordinarily quite liberal, had certain, inexplicable lines drawn in the sand that we could not cross, one of which was the strongly held belief in the unsuitability of chocolate as a breakfast staple.  No amount of wheedling from me would dissuade her of this notion, and thus, much like her irrational blanket ban on "HR Pufnstuf", it led me to wanting it all the more.

Chocolatine-3Our French cousins have no such qualms, but as a consequence of my childhood spent bereft of Coco Pops, I still, to this day, regard chocolate as a bit of a treat at breakfast time and all the more so if it's wrapped in flaky puff pastry. But when the lure proves too great, what should I ask for in the boulangerie? Well, that all depends on one's location... 

Here in the Dordogne we are firmly in Chocolatine territory, so don't go asking for any of yer fancy Pain au Chocolat around here.  The two names for essentially the same thing have caused national debate and much controversy, in a way that only the French know how.  It's nicely explained in this article here.

Whatever they're called though, they're going to taste v.good and with a boulangerie only 3.5km from the cabin (I've measured it) there's no excuse not to indulge. Whatever would my Mum say?

Next Week: (Maybe) Croissants!...not as French as you'd think.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Berry'd Treasure.

At this time of year, bright red berries are the stars of the hedgerow show.  Wild Honeysuckle, like a bejewelled necklace, is snaking, alluringly through the forest, (poisonous to us but the birdies can eat them).
Wild Honeysuckle Berries

We can use the bright and beady Hawthorn berries to make jellies and jams and can also be used to flavour brandy.  Folklore suggests they can cure a broken heart, but can also kill vampires, so just beware all you lovelorn vampires out there!  
Hawthorn Berries

Then, curiouser and curiouser, are these hairy balls growing on the dog-rose.  I must have been walking past these year in, year out never knowing what they are, but further investigation reveals them to be gall wasp nests!!  They are commonly known as 'Robin's Pincushions' after the woodland sprite 'Robin Goodfellow' (a.k.a 'Puck)' who may come and do a bit of sewing for you in the night if he feels like it, although he might just sour your milk instead. One just never knows with Robin, pesky sprite!  
Robin's Pincushions

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Les herbes de la Saint Jean

Today, a friend and I set off on a 'Sortie Botanique' which was led by a M. Everard, who is an ethnobotaniste. The purpose of the excursion was to discover 'Les herbes de la Saint Jean'.  These are seven or so herbs which are traditionally gathered on the morning of the Summer Solstice, before the dew has dried upon them, when they are supposedly at their most powerful. They are then made into poultices & potions etc; that are used to ward off illness in the year to come.  More plant-power is awarded if the gatherer is barefoot which presumably would leaves one's feet in need of at least one of the said potions to treat the inevitable bites/stings and prickles.  What's more, for optimum power, the gatherer is to approach the plants backwards and preferably use a golden knife which will undoubtedly result in a fall of some kind, and quite possibly a mugging, thus requiring more treatments.  There's a strange symbiosis in it all! Anyway, in spite of the mystical mumbo jumbo, we all know that a great many of our modern medicines are derived from plants and M. Everard said that 80% of the world's population rely on herbal medicines...

The weather has been really dry so we didn't find the full set but we come across St John's Wort (a natural 'prozac'), Wild Lettuce (said to have opiate-like properties) Yarrow, (antiseptic and good for intestinal parasite removal) Artemesia or Wormwood (for 'wimmen's disorders'?), Marguerite (for wound healing), as well as mint, verbena and plantains.  We talked of trees and this being France, we, of course, also discussed mushrooms and their role in maintaining a healthy humus in the forest.

A very pleasant way to spend the morning.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Flag Brag

I came across this website page all about old flags and suddenly became bewitched with the idea of making some covertcabin flags...I just could not understand why it hadn't occured to me before and immediately set about rectifying our flaglessness.

Stage 1:  I rummaged through my vast collection of fabric remnants and was suprised to find myself stocking almost no plain material.  Beggars can't be choosers though so I was forced to scrub whatever jolly colour combo's that had been forming in my mind and grabbed some old curtain lining and some scraps for the pennants and whizzed up the shapes in no time...

Stage 2:  The emblem for the main flag was to be our logo (brilliantly designed by The pennants were more tricky, we squabbled over different ideas for a bit until I caved in and left Bob to get on with them. It's for the best, he's good at stuff like that.  He printed his designs onto acetate and cut them out to make stencils, then I splodged on some fabric paint and we put in the eyelets.

Stage 3:  Bob was dispatched to the forest to get poles.  I went to get string and cleats etc;

Stage 4: We strung 'em up. Almost immediately, the breeze that had been blowing died and we were becalmed for days, waiting for our limp flags to flutter and spring to life...finally a little wind picked up and we were able to snap these pics...

Friday, 1 May 2015

Nuts in May?

The children's rhyme or song "Here We Go Gathering Nuts In May" has always slightly confused me as generally nuts are to be gathered later in the year.  That was until I realised that the nuts referred to in the song were (most probably) pignuts! These beauties pop up at this time of year, their delicate white flower is finer than that of their cowparsley cousins, and the root ball, or 'nut', is edible. They often team up with bluebells, which are poisonous, but it'll take more than that to deter me from trying free food.  I read up about how to harvest them and discovered that it's a tricky and time-consuming business, requiring some dexterity to tease a long stick down the stem until the 'nut' is located.  Thus, it was deemed suitable work, (along with chimney-sweeping and darting about under fast-moving textile machinery), for those 19th century urchins singing the song.

Even though I'd read that pignuts grow sparsely, there seems to be an abundance at Woodsman's Cabin and so off we went with our puggling sticks.  It wasn't easy though, and progress was slow until Bob tired of the foraging malarky and weighed in with his trusty spade, which brought faster results.  (WARNING! this method of harvesting is strictly not recommended).  They are quite tasty, a bit like a raw hazelnut but with slight celeryish undertones.  By this stage though, we were still quite hungry so abandoned further foraging in favour of bacon sandwiches, (feeling lucky to live in a land of choice and plenty).

Further research reveals that the nuts in the song may be a corruption of 'knots' referring to hawthorn (or 'May') blossom, I'm sticking with the pignut version though.
Pignuts at Woodsman's cabin.

Proper instructions on how to forage for pignuts can be found here

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

A Fishy Business...

CAUTION! Today is All Fools' Day... here in France, as well as the usual pranks that we associate with 1st April, kids cut out paper fish and try to stick them on unsuspecting people's backs.  If anyone is caught out they are called a 'poisson d'avril'!  Hilarity ensues...

So how did this fishy tradition come about?  Well, according to my non-extensive research, way back in the sixteenth century the new year was celebrated on April first, based on the Julian calendar. Then mad, bad, King Charles IX came along and decided that everybody should be following the Gregorian calendar, which starts the new year on January 1st. Not everyone welcomed this crazy, new-fangled system and some continued to celebrate April 1st as the first day of the year. Allegedly, those people were mocked and referred to as 'April fools'.  Quite how this then became a tradition of pasting a fish on unsuspecting people's backs and calling them April fish is unclear. Theories abound about the fishy origins, from new little fishes that appear in the rivers at this time that are witless and easily caught, to some Christian/ Easterish symbolism. Then there are these strange cards which were sent to nearest and dearest, often anonymously...  

And best of all, somewhere along the line, chocolate and pastry fish turned up too! 

Hurrah! A lovely shoal of chocolate poissons.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Iced Fancies

Here's fun to brighten up a dull February day.  Take some shallow containers of varying sizes and shapes and pour in about 1cm of water, leave outside overnight to freeze (or pop in the freezer if you are impatient, like me).  Gather up some pretty stuff, I used gorse flowers, some sort of dried seed heads, ivy, a pretty pink camellia...anything interesting-looking that takes your fancy.  When the water is frozen, tip it out, make your design in the bottom of the container, add some string for a handle, then replace your ice block and add a little more water.  Re-freeze and then, hey presto! You can hang your frozen pictures in the trees or on fences to enhance that elusive Winter sunshine.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Laundry Matters.

I love a good drying day, I do.  Not much pleases me more than seeing laundry flapping about in a soft Summer breeze, but then, (and Bob will beg to differ here) I am easily pleased. Especially by free things. Most villages around here still boast a communal 'laverie' by the river.  In the days before the excitement of twin tubs and mangles this was where the womenfolk would gather to do their washing and gossiping, literally washing their dirty linen in public.

Many moons ago, I found myself washed up on the shore in Antigua and somehow in charge of laundry for a busy charter yacht. We weren't allowed to hang out to dry though as that was thought to look messy so we had to use tumble dryers which always seemed so wasteful when that big ol' Caribbean sun was shinin'. One day, due to a breakdown, (mechanical, not nervous) I was obliged to engage the services of a local washerwoman called Maud.  She came sashaying down the quay with her assistant,  hoisted the enormous bundles of linen onto their heads and then mosied off. A few days later, the washing was returned, as clean and pristine as I have ever seen and brilliant white.  I asked Maud, a women of few words, how she had achieved such amazing results and she grudgingly disclosed that they did all the washing in the river. Maybe she was pulling my leg and was, in fact, the owner of Antigua's most prestigious hi tech laundry but somehow, I doubt it.  Rivers and elbow grease, that's the key.  I'll probably just stick with my front loader for now though.
A typical old laverie.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Saw Point.

Bob is teaching himself to play the saw. Each evening, he gets out his bow and strikes up. I'm fine with it....honestly..... his strangled practicings have an eerie but strangely comforting vibe, even if he has yet to play two notes in a recognisable order. He's getting better at it but says he needs a longer saw.  I think he probably just needs some musical aptitude. 

Sometimes though, his random scales sound preferable to our local radio station with its repetitive playlist of Soopahtromp, Feel Colleens and Ugh2, interspersed with some home grown nasally power ballads.  And then there are the accordions.  Every Saturday morning is given over to accordion music. The first couple of hours can be fine in a jolly, Pugwashy, so French kind of way, but all too soon a tipping point is reached whereby I feel I could quite happily stab the player just to MAKE IT STOP.  One evening, we were enjoying an apperitif and some unusual snacks with our neighbours, when an accordion was produced. The owner proudly squeezed out a few impressive riffs and we smiled and thought 'this is so charming'. But then, another guest took up the beast and we had to sit through his two centimes worth, only this time, played with a bit more panache and skill than the owner. Clearly this pissed off the first player and he hastily packed away his instrument.  Phew! I thought I was in for the night of duelling squeeze boxes. If music be the food of love....that'll be quite enough for now, thank you very much.

Fancy a jam down at Woodsman's cabin?  There's an old guitar -  it's been languishing, stringless for several years after they were requisitioned for some long-forgotten project, but has recently been refurbished, as well as a mouth organ and even some spoons 

And here's a man who can already play the saw.. 

Saturday, 7 December 2013

A Winter's Tale.

It's early December. I'm walking in the forest, resisting the urge to pick up yet more fir cones and trying not to think about the fast-dwindling amount of shopping days left 'til Christmas. The air is crisp, the sky is icy-blue and the remaining beech leaves are almost glowing with their strange luminosity. Their less fortunate, fallen compadres are satisfyingly crunchy underfoot. I really should be Christmas shopping....

Through the trees, I spy a little cabin, and can't resist making my way towards it.  There's smoke curling from the chimney but there doesn't seem to be anyone around. It looks so cosy, and I'm just about to step inside when I hear a voice... 
"Oi! What do you want?" 
"Oh sorry," I say and turning, am surprised to see that the voice is coming from a gnarly looking frog who appears to be wearing a tiny silver crown.
"Um...I was just out walking and saw this place....I was just curious.....actually, I'm trying to avoid going shopping for Christmas presents."
"Ha!" he snorted, "Look around are everywhere"
"I don't understand?"
"You got the beautiful sky and stars above, you got the trees in all their splendour, you got the calm reflections on the lake to feast upon...that's just for starters..."
"Oh I see, I was thinking more like....something from Dixons?"
"Well, think again!.... you get to take a deep draught of that cool, clean air, feel the energising breezes, you'd even get to see the amazin' sunrises if you weren't so lazy."
"How do you know that I'm lazy?"
"Listen love, I'm a talking frog! I just know."
"But, how can I get these gifts and share them with my loved ones?"
"That's simple, you go to and book 'em in. They'll even send you a gift voucher if you like."
"How wonderful! Thanks so much," I say, "I could kiss you..."

..But that's another story.....
Merry, Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Crabs, Concrete & Lager (three reasons to visit the Southern Seas).

A Guest Post By Our Special Atoll Correspondent.

Whilst trawling around on the internet recently, I chanced upon some photographs of the tiny atoll of Tematangi,  way down in the south Pacific ocean. The photos instantly reminded me that, way, way back, in another life,  I had lived there. Not for very long you understand, only a couple of months, but it now seems such a long way off (both in time & distance) that  now seems like a good time to share my strange and unique experience.

Tematangi (or Bligh's Lagoon) is "famous" for two reasons. The first is that it was discovered by Captain Bligh (of HMS Bounty fame) in 1792 whilst seeking out his mutinous crew who had holed-up somewhere amongst the Polynesian atolls & islands. The second is that it is the antipodes to Mecca, therefore the only place on earth that a Muslim could perform prayer in any direction and always be facing the holy city.
I was 22 at the time and (don't ask me how) found myself as part of a small working party of around a dozen, tasked with first digging, then laying concrete foundations and erecting various metallic buildings to be used as a weather station. To say that Tematangi is remote would be an understatement. It lies pretty much in the middle of the south Pacific ocean and it's highest point above sea level would be no more than 4 or 5 feet. As with all atolls it consists of a narrow band of sand and rock, probably no wider than a few hundred feet at it's widest, scattered with coconut palms with a deep lagoon in the middle and the wild open ocean all around you. Being close to the equator means that sun-up is around 6.00 am and sundown is around 6.00 pm, all year round. 

Tematangi shore

We arrived by ship, but there being no dock and the small issue of a treacherous coral reef surrounding the atoll, meant that we had to anchor quite a way off. We, our equipment and all of our stores had to be loaded into a large, wooden rowing boat, manned by two islanders who would, apparently,  row us over the reef in time with the ocean swell and hopefully not dash us all on the rocks. It was one of those moments in life when you have no choice other than to trust completely and implicitly the stranger your life has just been entrusted to. Needless to say, they knew exactly what they were doing and repeated the exercise many times until we and all our kit was safely ashore. I should mention though at this point that several weeks after our unforgettable arrival, whilst walking along the shore in the 40 degree heat, I chanced upon an un-opened bottle of Kronenbourg lying in the sand. This was very welcome, believe me, even if it was a bit warm. Over the following couple of days about half a crate of them had been washed ashore in total. My very own "Whiskey Galore" moment!  The beer had obviously gone over the side on some earlier arrival and was only now being given up by the ocean. How alarming that must have been for those poor workers, seeing their valuable ration of lager being swallowed up by the seas.

There was nothing really on the atoll besides some abandoned buildings and a small weather station. Once a week, the islander who ran the weather station would release one of those enormous helium balloons which would soar off on it's one way journey to the upper atmosphere. We had no electricity, we slept in a large open-ended tent, the cold showers used stored rainwater and the toilet was a shack on the beach under which we had dug a deep hole. This was also where about a million flies lived. The atoll was uninhabited, or so I thought. One morning we had gone for a run and after covering about 8kms or so came across a primitive village of around 40 people, living under palm-leaf shelters, families with small children. I was amazed. How could all of these people be living on such a tiny strip of land with no fresh water? They had come from other islands and were there to harvest the coconuts that covered the atoll. The men would climb impossibly high palm trees to hack the coconuts down which would then have their green outer shell deftly removed with a couple of machete swings and laid in heaps to dry. The by-product of this work was the valuable milk that each coconut contains. This was what they drank in place of water. When they weren't harvesting coconuts, they were paddling out to sea in their outrigger canoes (pirogues) to catch fish. These people were not just surviving, they were positively thriving. You'd be hard pushed to find a healthier looking bunch of people. Whilst we were there a Japanese ship arrived to collect their cargo and for several days the dried husks were loaded into rowing boats and ferried the half mile or so, over the reef, to be loaded into the ship's hold.

Tematangi Atoll

BinLlovin' Coconut Crab

The only other occupants on the atoll were crabs. I'd never really seen many crabs at that point in my life, just the ones you find in rock pools as a kid. I'd heard of hermit crabs, but had never actually seen one. Every night on Tematangi the hermit crabs came out and appeared to be crossing the atoll like an invading army. You could hear them moving en masse in the dark and if you walked anywhere during the invasion you would literally have to crunch your way through them, such were the number and density of them. Quite extraordinary. It was also home  to the coconut crab. Now these I had never even heard of, crabs that live in trees!   Whatever next.  They are massive and have claws that can comfortably crush bones and they also only come out at night. The islanders would catch these formidable beasts and hang them out in the sun to dry, whereupon they would be given a couple of coats of varnish and flogged off to tourists in Tahiti and Bora Bora. One of the saddest sights I saw however was a huge turtle that a couple of the islanders had caught whilst out fishing. It was dragged back to the atoll and rolled onto it's back in the baking sun and left to a similar fate as the coconut crabs. It was about the size of two bath tubs and an animal that large takes more than a little while to die, even in those conditions. The poor creature was there for days, gasping in the heat. I sat with it for a while one day, it was really distressing to see it. I remember wanting to release it, but this was how these islanders survived and it wasn't my place to tell them how to live or what was right or wrong. There's no doubt it would have been a high value item and as such would have been very important income for them. Why, you ask would they not make their end more speedy?  In order to preserve the shell intact is the answer.

In any case, no one could accuse the islanders of pillaging, as various colonial powers had already seen to that. They only took what they needed from the seas, nothing more.

The work was hard, especially in the heat. We had only two pieces of mechanical equipment; a concrete mixer and a dump truck. We made endless trips to the beach to shovel sand and gravel first into the dumper, then into the mixer. I don't know how many tonnes we mixed and laid, a couple of hundred I should think. We erected a couple of metallic buildings, something none of us had done before, but we soon got the hang of it. One of my jobs was to spray paint the buildings, green I seem to remember. Since it was so hot, only shorts & boots would ever be worn whilst working, so at the end of each day I would have to have a total body wash with diesel fuel as I was green-gloss from head to toe. On one occasion one of the guys slipped from his ladder, he wasn't very high up, 7 or 8 feet, but as he fell he caught his forearm on the corner of a metal cladding sheet and it opened his arm up like a sardine tin. I can still picture him clutching his arm and letting out a loud wailing sound whilst running off in the direction of the first-aid box, for that was all there was. He was lucky looking back on it. If he'd severed anything important it probably would have been curtains for him.
I spent many hours walking the shoreline, beachcombing. Other than the lager that washed up, I don't recall finding anything man made. The seas were heaving with life down there, I wouldn't go as far as to say that they were shark infested, but sharks of all kinds were a very common sight, occasionally catching glimpses of them as they swam through the breaking waves. Flying fish were common too and yes, they do actually fly! I've never been a keen swimmer, so it was no hardship not to go in as I'm sure it would have ended in some kind of personal tragedy.
So now, here we are, years later in deepest Dordogne, offering our punters the chance to get-away-from-it-all and asking them not to expect too much in the way of a mobile phone signal and I wonder if my south-seas adventures all those years ago may have shaped or somehow influenced the way I do things now?   Possibly.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

We are the Champignons.

When we first came to live in these parts my French vocab was a bit limited. In addition to "pain" and "vin", another word I knew was "champignon" and I remember being amazed at how many times, when earwigging in the supermarket queue or in the bar, this one word would keep cropping up. It seemed to me that everyone was talking about mushrooms, pretty much all the time. Of course in those days, saying the word mushroom to me had me thinking 'small white buttony things in a blue barquette from Sainsbury's. I had flirted with chanterelles and shiitakes....but they were very much on the periforal edge of my culinary vision, I had no idea then that mushrooms were something of a regional, if not national, obsession, their arrival even making front page news in the local paper!

After a couple of years though, I started to think that there must be something in it and decided to go forth into the woods with my trusty guide book. Soon I became a convert and spent many happy hours fruitlessly foraging in the forest.

Now, the season is upon us once again and the woods are thronging with all kinds of fungi and foragers. In the normal way of things, seeing a man shuffling about on his own in the woods would activate my Weirdo Alert, but I'm now quite used to coming across them. For sure, he might give me a funny look, but that'll be because
A: I might be nicking mushrooms on his turf, or
B: He is nicking mushooms on my turf, or
C: He was just born looking funny.
Skip the Dog, who's Weirdo Alert is more finely tuned up than mine, will often spot someone ahead of me and he'll let off a warning salvo of his most fearsome barks. But the fungi hunters will barely raise their heads, such is their obsession.

Thursday, 8 August 2013


Bob and I are getting on a bit and remember a time before we were all constantly plugged in to cyberspace.
I'm only talking about the nineteen eighties, not the 1880's, but even so, travelling back then was a different world.
In some far flung places, I can remember having to book telephone calls back to the UK and waiting in a hot and dusty office for a slot to become available. The lines were scratchy and echoey and often overlaid by other people jabbering away in a strange tongues.

Phones, pads, & gps's have revolutionised the way we travel and I can see their advantages, especially for women travelling alone, but part of me hankers for that simpler time, when self reliance was what I relied upon and we had interesting maps to tangle up, turn upside down and ponder over and perhaps, a reason to stop and ask someone the way. I found that the people I encountered formed an important part of the journey and my experiences were certainly made richer (and sometimes a bit scarier!) by them.

Bob, on the other hand, has never, to my knowledge, asked anyone the way, ever. He once travelled the whole length of France with just the front cover torn from a map for guidance. But then, I don't suppose he was too fussed where he finally pitched up - so no problemo!

Here at the cabin in deepest Dordogneshire there's still a chance you won't get a mobile signal - we had a chap staying a while back who got a bit lost whilst out for a cycle ride - he stopped to ask a lady, who was working in her garden, the way and she and her husband then drove 50 yards or so down the road to show him ....turned out he was not that lost after all. Later, his saviours arrived at the cabin with bags of fresh garden vegetables and an invite for dinner the next day! That just doesn't happen when your head's down, staring at your device. Which just goes to show, good things may happen if you just let yourself switch off.

Are you in need of a digital detox?  Go to

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

In The Groove.

Here at covertcabin we like to keep abreast of modern technologies and so when the opportunity arose to purchase a "portable, lightweight music player with no need of batteries or charger, in its own faux leather carrying case" naturally we jumped at the chance and snapped one up on-line.  Admittedly, the parcel that duly arrived was slightly larger than we'd anticipated but we now find ourselves the proud owners of a state-of-the-art Decca 66...

Not entirely by coincidence we had recently acquired a collection of old 78's, which was lucky for us, as our device did not seem to have a docking station for our pods or any slots for sticks or cards.  We spent a rainy afternoon washing the dusty old discs and marvelling at the wondrous titles: "While I Was Holding My Coconut", "He Played His Ukelele As The Ship Went Down", and the sexist classic " Why Did I Marry My Wife?" and whilst we did so Bob, whose depths of obscure knowledge are unfathomable, explained all about 78's, 45's, rpm's and why the modern day single is invariably a maximum of 3 minutes long. My mind wandered a little as he continued on about groove widths, rotational speeds and fidelity, those of a techy/nerdy disposition can read more about that stuff here Not now though, later.....lest you become forever lost in Linkland. 

Next day was the first truly hot day of Summer and even though I have been slightly moany about the sun's poor show so far, by mid afternoon I was, contrarily, too hot and slunk off to the shade.  Under the trees with a couple of cool beers we wound up the Decca 66 and listened to some strains from old refrains - a very pleasant interlude indeed...

Fancy spinning some discs yourself?  The Decca 66 and a wide selection of 78's are recently installed down at Woodsman's cabin.

Hear what you like - when you like

Thursday, 9 May 2013



Fancy a sundowner? at
Having lived here in France for a number of years I have undoubtedly picked up a few French habits.  My consumption of garlic and goat's cheese are up, for sure and my Mum once reprimanded me over an irritating Gallic style shrug that I had unknowingly developed.  Some things remain mysterious though.  I've never enjoyed playing Pétanque or felt the urge to hurl my duvet out of the window on a fine day... or even overtake on a blind bend. When it comes to speaking French I happily babble away, using perhaps only three of the many possible tenses available to me.  I'll never be mistaken for a native, or at least, so I thought
One day, in a local supermarket I was waylaid by a chap who was selling wine.  He made it himself, locally and had somehow managed to wangle a pitch in the store.  We chatted for a bit about the wine and stuff.  He made his wine from the Gamay grape which always tastes sharp, with a hint of worn socks to me.  In a bid to avoid the imminent tasting I was going to have to endure I told him I much preferred beer and then he said... 
" You have an accent particulier, Madam?"
"Yes, I'm English."
"Oh I thought you must be from Brittany" 
This, I now realise, was French code for "I thought you must be from Mars" as Brittany is the furthest place away imaginable to a lot of locals who are not well travelled but I was secretly chuffed about his comment and bought two bottles, even though, I have to say, the wine was quite ghastly.  Only on the way home did I begin to suspect that perhaps he had flattered to deceive!

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

A Tale of Two Tails - Guest Post by Pops the Cat....

"Mutual understanding is at the heart of any good relationship.  Often, we misread the signs others give out and misinterpret their intentions and that's when problems can arise".  This was how my 'Mistress' explained it to me when I had to have yet another swipe at that damn dawg.  But when I sees 'im gaily wagging his great black brush of a tail I don't see it as sign of friendliness at all, but more like the angry switch that I am quite fond of doin'.  And when Skip hears the audible thump of my tabby tail on the rug he dimly perceives a happy-go-lucky little friend who'll be delighted to see 'im, when in fact, nothing could be farther from the truth.  She's only tryin' to help us get along better, but I think the best thing would be to cut 'is tail orf.  Snip, snip.  Voila! Problem solved.