26th December 2010

So, it's Boxing Day. Some say it dates back to medieval times when the poor used earthenware boxes to save up all through the year. At Xmas they would break open the heavy boxes and share the money around to fund Xmas festivities. I'm all in favour of DIY saving, much preferring the old box under the mattress to being ripped off by today's financial institutions. At least then you know that the amount of notes and coins hasn't alarmingly reduced or the wicked taxman hasn't suddenly grabbed it all away after all your careful planning and patience.
It seems that the custom wasn't just English either. Back in the 17C, the French called those boxes tirelire, having a cleft on the lid or the side through which you put spare cash. Apparently in France it was used by begging friars. I don't like the sound of that, but I suppose it does give a link to the tradition of giving 'Xmas boxes' to tradespeople who had served you well all year.
But today, glancing at all the papers, Boxing Day has come to symbolise sport. Whether it's English football or French rugby, that's all that dominates today's news.
Him indoors, who's not interested in sport, says what happened to the ancient custom of rewarding long-suffering husbands......

19th December 2010

My mother would have been 100 today. Certainly in her lifetime she would have enjoyed futuristic comics and those early TV black and whites showing flying cars and aliens in our midst. Somehow nothing was as frightening as those early Quatermass stories and aliens who could only be identified by a bent little finger.
But, no-one could have predicted the deadly advance of the PC, something that has altered all our lives. Now, with one click of that same little finger, we have the whole world at our fingertips. I remember my mother's confusion in '71 with the advent of the UK's decimal currency. How would she have coped with or even comprehended today's confusing techno world?
However, the older I get and the more different people I encounter, some things never change. It matters not a jot what you wear on your head, nor what faith you espouse, nor how technology has changed your life. It's what's in your heart that matters. The essential things remain the same, wherever you live: treat others as you would yourself and always do the 'right thing'. What was it Mill, the philosopher said? Do whatever it takes to make yourself happy, as long as it doesn't hurt others.
That's what my mother would have said back in 1910. Plus ca change, plus la meme chose. Bon anniversaire, Mom.

12th December 2010

What has the recent ridiculous vehicle conflab between Prince Charles and the public got to do with the French? Not much you would think. And, it's not often the French copy anything English. In fact, ever since Chirac, English as a language is almost banned. It's common to buy goods here in France and search in vain for instructions in English - one of the most widely-spoken languages in the world. Regularly included on product ads are words in Portuguese and Dutch - hardly international tongues.
So it came as a surprise to find that Paris is soon to buy a product that is a byword in London: the humble black cab. Paris taxi drivers have been eying up the TX4, the latest version, with a 2.5L diesel engine that emits 212g of CO2/km. What the French like is the classic 5-seat passenger configuration. A lady called Elisabeth Young, from importers EMG, said that the French were particularly interested in the ramps for wheelchairs and the security partition between cab and passenger area. Well yes.
So, Prince Charles, if you're listening, perhaps now is the time to order one (a snip at 334,000 euros) via www.london-taxis.fr.

5th December 2010

It's icy. Even our visiting Canadian friends say it's warmer back home. Only one thing to do. Eat! So, the four of us went to a famous truffle market in the nearby pretty village of Limogne in Quercy. Despite the cold, there were trestle tables laid out under the oak trees in the square, and the farmers set down their wicker baskets before carefully removing the checked cloths. But, the contents are worth a fortune. Last year, some went for as much as 4,000 euros per kilo! They're found under oak trees at this time of year, especially in SW France. Farmers used to use pigs to root them out, but now generally use trained dogs with good noses. The truffles are a kind of fungi about 7 cm in diameter and have their highest perfume in Dec and Jan. Some say it's the perfume rather than the taste that makes them so delicious.
Him indoors? He says he prefers that other delicacy in this region, especially this weather: Armagnac. Here's a recipe just for him: Soak some raisins in the alcohol, then drain. Mix in some ricotta, 2 whole eggs and pepper. Whip 2 egg whites and stir into the ricotta mix, adding some cubes of some local Roquefort cheese. Bake in buttered ramekins at 200C for 20 mins. Ah, le bien manger!