Friday, April 27, 2007


I read in the papers that England is having a spot of bother with their rubbish collection and that certain councils are being 'secretive' about the fact that the ratepayers will only get their rubbish collected once in every two weeks. I must say I find it amazing that England still has house to house collections.

House to house collections disappeared in France many years ago. Instead a large container is installed at stratigic intervals, you pop your refuse bag in and the dustbin men come once or twice a week, depending where you live, and empty it. The same system applies in Switzerland and in Spain, and probably in quite a few other countries.

Even when I lived in the middle of nowhere in the 'Grand Sud' of France the 'hameau' where I lived which consisted of two houses, mine and my neighbour, we had an enormous bin on wheels that was emptied every week and twice a week in the hot summer months. My neighbour and I used to take it in turns during the summer to give the bin a quick clean with a splash of Brobat and water, as although both of us recycled as much as possible the bin did tend to get smelly and maggoty during the summer.

Here in the village we have very posh log cabins for dumping the rubbish sacks! All they lack are windows to transform them into a charming little pied-à-terre! Next to the main logs cabins are bins for the recycling of glass, paper and plastic. In the supermarkets there are bins for recycling milk cartons. I have a wheelie bin in the garden into which I put my rubbish bags and twice a week I load up the car and drive to the cabins to dump and recycle - the nearest one is about 200m from my house.

I can hear people say 'Oh, well that's because it's Switzerland and they are terribly organised and their country is squeaky clean' ... not true, France and Spain manage it too!

I am amazed when I go back to England to see that on nights when people put out their bins, they are systemmatically ripped to pieces by mangy urban foxes; it's terrible to see and must be awful for the dustbin men to collect plus the waste of time shovelling up the split bags. If England is or has introduced fortnightly collections, it seems essential that these large wheelie bins are installed as quickly as possible to fight the vermin which must surely increase.

See the following BBC article

Monday, April 23, 2007


The coming weekend sees the end of the 06-07 ski season; not the best as far as the snow was concerned, although the resort is high up and the snow cannons paid their way this year. To me it would seem that there were less people in the resort this year, probably because of the dollar exchange rate and the great snow in the States.

The finale is the 'Ultime Session' on the pistes - a weekend of fooling around skiing, mountain biking and dressing up in silly disguises. As the theme is Mexico this year, I imagine a vast quantity of beer with slices of limes stuck in the bottle neck will be consumed! Some of the clubs had their last weekend yesterday and going through the village on Saturday afternoon the bars seemed to be filled with those on a Happy Hour, before starting the serious stuff later on...

Relief! In one week, the resort will revert to a small mountain village of about 3,000 residents, the free buses that go round the village (and past my door) from 8.00 a.m. to 8.00 p.m. will cease, no queues in the supermarket and general peace and quiet! It's marvellous and until the middle of June, when the summer season starts, the resort is a lovely place to live. My little black friend and I can now walk in the mountains and often not meet another soul apart from the occasional deer and the marmots with their piercing warning whistle as we approach. Angus is of course fascinated with the marmots - his basic Terrier instinct tells him this is the nearest thing to a badger although fortunately he has never seen one! It is their enormous terriers that attract him but being slightly weedy, he stands at the entrance and sniffs but totally lacks the courage to go in and investigate, thank goodness!

The summer season is however a more sedate affair - firstly, far less people and none of the skiing frenzy. Many mountain walkers and each year more and more mountain bikers. The ski lifts reopen from mid June to mid September and the 'baskets' for holding skis on the outside of the cabins are replaced with hooks for the bikes. I admit to preferring the bikers to the skiiers - when you are walking in the mountains, they go to great lengths to avoid hitting you as they hurtle downwards by calling out or slowing down, whereas the skiiers invariably are not in control of their skis or their speed and tend to hurl insults as they careen by - even though they are on a 'sentier pedestre' and shouldn't be there in the first place...

And of course, at the end of July is the Verbier Festival (if you click on my Verbier link which takes you to the Verbier homepage you will find all the information). The Festival lasts three weeks with concerts every day in the village - some of which are free. The main concerts are every evening at 7 p.m. at the top of the village, and as there is no car access, it is lovely to see people strolling up to the venue in their evening clothes to assist - a far cry from the clumping of ski boots and the potentially lethal skis being carried on skiers' shoulders. There are also concerts in the church and many of the bars have musical afternoons or evenings with a string quartet. The Festival is also an Academy and invests a lot of time and money in young and upcoming talent, who have the chance to play with some of the most important conductors and musicians currently around.

The wild flowers are starting to appear timidly and before too long the cows with their enormous clunking bells will be moved up to the high alpine pastures to feed on the grass, herbs and wild flowers that seem to be three times taller than I knew in France or in England. Angus will no longer speed around in Scotty fashion but will start doing rabbit impersonations trying to get his bearings in the long grass and I shall pick bunches of wild lupins to bring home.

Monday afternoon : I have just added three photos of wild flowers but have no idea of their names as I don't have a book on alpine wild flowers. They are all minute - none of them more than 5cm high.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


To the vegetarians among you, I apologise for the photo - to the meat lovers of the world, this must be the equivalent of Kobé beef (which I have never tried).

Enjoy the photo, as your chances of finding this meat are virtually non-existent! This is 'le Fin gras de Mézenc', one of France's best-kept secrets. The Mézenc recently received an AOC for their meat which comes from an area covering 20 communes in the Haute Loire and the Ardèche. The cows are fed on hay from these communes throughout the winter and it is the hay that gives the meat a very distinctive flavour as it contains numerous aromatic plants, including 'cistre' (alpine fennel). The animals must be over two years of age when slaughtered so, like this côte de boeuf, it is from a fully grown animal and is consistant. The meat is delicately marbled throughout and honestly I have never tasted a piece of meat with such complex flavours - we were rather like wine bores when eating it as our taste buds discovered the different flavours.

Apart from the Mézenc being a small AOC, another particularity is that one can only find it from the beginning of March to the beginning of June, when the animals go out to pasture for the summer. If you happen to be in the area during the season, the next problem is to find a butcher that sells le Fin gras de Mézenc! The only butcher that sells it (as far as I know) in Clermont Ferrand is la Maison Gauthier, and it has to be ordered well in advance! Or for a few dollars more, you could take yourself to what is probably the best restaurant in France, the 3* Michelin of Regis Marcon in St. Bonnet le Froid, where it is served during the spring. Marcon, apart from his great talent, must be the most charming and unpretentious of the great French chefs and his new restaurant is stunning. He also has the admirable policy of offering jobs to local people first and foremost which has been a blessing in area which is 'au milieu de nul parts'. (

My one regret? That my son wasn't there to enjoy this fabulous piece of meat. On the other hand, he would have eaten the côte de boeuf by himself!

Monday, April 16, 2007


I love the Auvergne region of France, where I was staying last week. Perhaps because when I first moved to France it was the area where I lived and so holds many memories. Quite a few members of my ex-family live there, although they are not originally auvergnat. I was staying in the Haute Loire, a département which reminds me of western Scotland - the countryside is lovely although in winter the 'plateaux' can be bleak and windswept. The villages are not beautiful and the houses are practical, solid and frugal, in keeping with the auvergnat mentality of economy and prudence. Despite its rather poor image, do not be fooled - the Auvergne is a rich region in every sense of the word. Although isolated for many years the region has benefited from heavy investments that have come their way from various Presidents and ministers, the roads are good, the viaduct de Millau has speeded up access to the coast and the villages and towns have invested heavily in schools, sports centres, libraries etc. in order to stabalise the population.

On our way to one of the sports centres the other day, we drove through the village of Vorey ... having dropped off the swimmers at the pool which was heaving with screaming children on their Easter holidays, I drove back to Voray to photograph the church, as for once I had actually thought to take my camera. There are some wonderful churches in the Auvergne and it is on the chemin de St. Jacques de Compostelle. The church in Voray is not particularly interesting architecturally, but it is painted this deep terracotta colour on the outside. What do you think? Personally I think it is very effective. The church of course was locked, bolted and barred and not even a notice to saw that someone held the key, so I couldn't go inside to visit and probably find out why it had been painted. And no-one around apart from a few barking dogs (and a few twitching curtains!).

So from the painted church, onto the painted Monument aux Morts fifty yards away. Normally rather depressing things, put up rapidly after the War and lacking in any artistic charm...but this one is glorious!

The only other people around were a couple of pilgrims on their way to St. Jacques and they too had their camera out; neither they nor I knew of other painted monuments, but they probably exist. The rooster on the top is a very fine chap, who apparently got knocked off his perch a few years ago during repainting by the local cantonier and being in fonte was extremely difficult to solder together again, so a very attractive young man with the most gorgeous blue eyes (Vorey is decidedly colourful!) stopped to tell me as I was clicking away with my camera.

So, while the others were packed like sardines in the swimming pool, I spent a lovely afternoon going from village to village, visiting the churches.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


Thought I would just wish you all a Happy Easter, and hopefully, a warm and sunny one.

I am off to the Auvergne tomorrow to spend Easter with my ex in-laws, the car filled with loads of Swiss Easter Eggs, Bunnies and suchlike. Hopefully they will all arrive intact and Gus won't be tempted to chew off a bunny ear...

I am staying in a house that doesn't have an Internet connection (yes, they still exist!) but in case I get withdrawal symptoms, my sister-in-law runs the local médiathèque so I shall be able to get a fix there!

If you don't get to Mass on Sunday, at least watch the Pope on television for the traditional Urbi et Orbi, as I'm sure we all have many sins that need to be forgiven!


Wednesday, April 04, 2007


My plans have been thawrted. Yesterday was a lovely spring day, so before going to France for a week of R&R from the mind-numbing mornings starting at 5.30, I decided that it was time for the car to have its twice yearly interior clean. First of all the ski rack came off - no mean feat as although deceptively simple to look at, you need a PhD in engineering to dismantle it. Then all the doors were opened and I set about emptying the contents before getting out the Dyson. Out came the bath mats (brilliant for absorbing melting snow), the rubber mats that hold the melted water and a very smelly old sheet that Angus is meant to use after a wet/muddy/rolling in cow pat walk.

I then set about clearing the litter and this is what I discovered! Six bottles of mineral water in various stages of consumption, three Coke bottles, about 30 sweet wrappers, the tripod for my camera (wondered where that had got to), various scrapers, de-icers etc., Angus's passport, assorted maps, my 'zapper' to fast track through the motorway tolls in France, a load of cables for assorted mobile 'phones and iPods, 2 dog leads, an amazingly awful collection of CDs and I think that it about all!

And then of course, I was waylaid doing something else, so cleaning the car came to a halt for the day. So I had decided to hoover the car this morning and treat the seats which are in leather and desperately need de-Angusing. But of course that has been stopped as yet again it is snowing! The car is now covered in a good 6 inches of snow, and no sign of a let-up at the moment. I know I live high up in the mountains, I know it is only the beginning of April and we shall have snow on and off for another month, but this year I am totally fed up with the snow. One day in T-Shirts, the following day in a ski jacket and if I have to wear my snow boots for much longer, I think I shall scream.

However, when I go off to France on Friday as the car will be junk free, I should save a few drops of petrol.

And of course the rubber mats have disappeared somewhere in the snow...

Sunday, April 01, 2007




The firm of J (Jervis) Collinson has always been a small family concern with only a few workers, mostly family members, and has remained in the city of Liverpool. The name Jervis is part of the family tradition handed down from father to son, hence the continuance of the name of the firm, J. Collinson. From 1836 to 1850 their horses were painted in different colours however in 1851 Queen Victoria visited the Collinson's workshop and rode a dapple-grey horse. Since then, in honour of the royal visit they have only made dapple grey horses.

Sometime during the 1890s Jervis Drinkall Collinson Senior started work in the factory where he carried on business until his death in 1945. Circa 1912 Jervis Drinkall Junior was born and by the late 1920s he was working alongside his father in the factory at Richmond Terrace, Liverpool. Both men produced the glass-eyed, hand-dappled horses with attention to carved detail along the lines of the 'extra carved' finish of other manufacturers of quality rocking horses. Glass eyes were replaced by wooden balls after the Second World War. Despite the general acceptance of riding astride for women by the 1920s, larger Collinson horses continued to be made with sidesaddle equipage until as late as the early 1950s.

The present proprietor of the firm, Jervis James, was born in 1935, the year the factory workshop was relocated at Great Georges Road and the period from the mid 1930s to the mid 1940s was perhaps the most difficult for the firm, For the most part Jervis James father was occupied in the British Aircraft Services leaving grandfather Jervis to manage on his own until production ceased entirely for a few years during the Second World War. Production began again in the late 1940s under Jervis James' father and Jervis joined him in the factory in 1950 at the age of 15. His younger brother Leonard joined the firm in the late 1950s.

Earlier this century Collinson's supplied the London stores, Harrods and Hamleys and sometime later an agent, Johnson, handled distribution of the horses from Nottingham. They became misleadingly known as 'Johnson rocking horses'. The factory workshop was until 1993 located at Smithdown Road where thousands of Collinson rocking horses were produced since 1965. The horses were never marked until about 1981 when the maker's name on a gold plate was first applied to the front of the stand base. The factory finally closed their doors in the latter part of 1993 due to lack of demand for these toys.

Here are a couple of photos of my fine old horse! He and I were born the same year. He was a Christmas present for my first Christmas at the ripe old age of 6 months, when I could barely sit, let alone ride a horse! He came from Horrids and cost £100! What a vast amount of money - goodness knows how much that would be in today's money.

He was given to me by an 'aunt' who was in fact a friend of my parents - an ageing spinster, very '40s in her way of dressing, make-up and hairstyle and had a passion for Pekinese dogs (which I love to this day!).

Although he cost a lot, he is still very much 'part of the family' - apart from myself who 'rode' thousands of miles on him, my daughter and my son also went off on many adventure astride this animal with his flaring nostrils, and even now they, and I, still go off on a gentle trot!

He is getting rather old and tatty, like his owner! The reins and stirrups have long gone, the mane and tail have been trimmed over the years and his dapple grey colour has become a dapple yellow. The paint is now flaking fast but I am loathe to have him restored as I fear he might end up looking too new. Looking for some information on him, it would appear that he was made by a company called Collinson who still make rocking horses and do restore 'antique' beasts. Below is a photo of a horse similar to mine who has been restored.

The old boy had a number of names but none ever stuck - the name he kept the longest was Santa as he came at Christmas and also because the same year as I was offered my rocking horse, my father gave my mother a real dapple grey for Christmas called ... Santa!

My 'aunt' would be delighted to see that her present of so many years ago, is still alive and well and living in Switzerland.