Thursday, July 31, 2014

Mr Therm: the supreme being...

Charlotte with Clyde

All the hilarious nonsense over on TMP (I just keep going back there - it's like my long ago ex-girlfriend C who I couldn't give up even after she poured a kettle of boiling water on my leg) has had me pondering on the nature of God, given much of the friction there is driven by religion, if only obliquely.  Well, not really on the nature of God ( I had a recent discussion on this subject with a particle physicist which was way above my intellectual level - I wish my daughter had been there as a technical advisor) but the appearance of God.   And it was this picture of my daughter that brought back my strange memories of what I thought God looked like when I was small.  I didn't think of him in the Michelangelo sense of a wise looking man with a beard (Gandalf. Discuss) because I had already got another image into my head at about the age of five.

Charlotte,  I have to say, seems to have forgotten which Scottish city she lives in and seems to be spending all of her time in Glasgow.  Yesterday, it was some BBC at the Quay dance event where she was doing Irish dancing.  Anyway, she had her picture taken with this topiary version of Clyde, the Commonwealth Games mascot, outside the splendid Kelvington Art Gallery and Museum.  I've always wanted to go there, not just because of its superb collection of armour but also because it is the home, apropos of this post, of one of my favourite pictures when I was small, Dali's Christ of St John of the Cross.

"What do you think of Clyde," she asked in her email.  "Topiary Clyde or real Clyde?" I replied, as she had sent a picture of her dance troupe with the, er, real Clyde.  "Topiary Clyde," she answered.  Now when the children were very young they had a computer game called Putt-Putt saves the Zoo, which was really rather sweet.   The opening song of this game was called The Topiary Creatures and featured, well, singing topiary creatures outside the zoo.  The only problem with this song was that I found it one of the catchiest songs I had ever heard.  It insinuated itself into my head worse than something by the Vengaboys (I said Vengaboys).  Someone only has to mention the word "topiary" to me and off I go:

"We are the topiary creatures,
we're very pleased to meet ya,
Senors and senoritas too..."

This is not always appropriate, however, if you do this when, for example, waiting to see the Lord Mayor in the Mansion House, as I did.  We have a splendid Lord Mayor of London this year, who lives not far from me in Esher.  Her very amusing husband attended my school and we had a discussion a few years ago in a very splendid restaurant in Taipei about how only the second woman Lord Mayor was not going to be called the Lady Mayoress (the term used for the Lord Mayor's wife) but would be just the Lord Mayor.  He wouldn't, he assured me, be the Lady Mayoress, though (no gender confusion in the Mansion House, at least).

"Why is he standing like Mr Therm?" I asked Charlotte.  "Who on earth," she asked, inevitably, "is Mr Therm?"  "When I was small I thought that Mr Therm was God.  Or, rather, that God looked like Mr Therm."   

Designed by illustrator Eric Fraser in 1932, Mr Therm, in the form of a light up sign, adorned our local gas board showroom in Staines when I was small.  This was, coincidentally, almost opposite where Games Workshop is now.  Gazing up at him, as an impressionable five year old, as he floated above the ground, with his strange, flame-like limbs and apparent halo could only mean one thing; this was what God really looked like.  If you were God and could look like anyone you wanted to why would you want to look like an old man, reasoned the small Legatus.  No you would look like a benevolent (admittedly not a word I would have used at the time) spirit.  A holy spirit.  So, actually, this creature (I didn't know he had a name at the time) was actually a representation of the Holy Spirit.  

All my suspicions would have been confirmed if I had seen this picture at the time.  The Holy Spirit helps out Mary with Baby Jesus who is already displaying the water repelling anti-gravity talent that would later enable him to walk across the surface of the Sea of Galilee.

So, just as anyone mentioning topiary sets my mind off on that cursed song so anyone mentioning the words Holy Spirit has the supposedly friendly but frankly alien and slightly sinister image of Mr Therm floating into my head.

Reading this back, this does seem to be a strange post, even for me, but I have had a long and stressful day with a four hour conference call with a bunch of Colombian ladies who I had some difficulty following when they all spoke at once.  Next time I will go back to wargaming and write, belatedly, about my excellent visit to Eric the Shed's this week.  Yes, readers, I actually participated in another wargame!  Oddly, as it was a Very British Civil War one you could conceivably have a truck decorated with Mr Therm involved.  But which side would God be on?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Another TMP crisis!

Oh dear!  I don't look at TMP very often any more because I really only use if for news articles and now I find Wargame News and Terrain much better and more up to date for that.  However, over the weekend I was scanning through it and it seemed that they were in the middle of one of their regular crises with members being expelled and others resigning (well, not many).  They were all getting in a tizz over a story on Frothers Unite; a site I don't look at all because it is almost completely useless as a wargames resource and seems to be populated by people who speak as if they were thirteen year olds who have just discovered swearing (which I find tedious, unimaginative and slightly tragic).  The whole story (you can research it yourself) is hilarious and reminds me of a Carry On film more than anything else.  Both sites have people sniping at each other in a quite ridiculous way.  I'm just waiting for it to get picked up by The Sun.  

Most of the problem, I think, has to do with a clash of cultures between the largely American TMP and the largely British Frothers.  Nothing will sort that out; we just have to get along and agree to be different.  As I have said before, there is much that is annoying about TMP and certain people really wind me up on it.  I just ignore them.  This is what British people do.  I remember an incident at college when a really annoying graduate joined in the second year.  He desperately wanted to make friends but because he was Canadian, five feet tall and spoke exactly like Mickey Mouse we just ignored him in that callous way that British people have.  One day he came up to a group of us in the College law library and said: "Why do you all ignore me, not speak to me and not sit with me at mealtimes?"  We looked at him in silence and turned away, his outburst having confirmed all the things that we thought about him.  Cruel, but you don't conquer one sixth of the planet by being nice. British people (at least of my generation) aren't nice (unless to other British people and then only if from the right part of Britain).  We are, however, very good at pretending to be nice.  Some of this not nice behaviour looks more aggressive than it is meant to be to outsiders but equally sometimes it is meant to be aggressive and is disguised by the appearance of reserve.  You can't win, Johnny Foreigner!  

Anyway, if it was a forum I was running (and there is an argument for a better wargames forum) the main thing I would do is not permit any postings unless they were about wargaming or military history.  None.  If they were posted they would be deleted.  This would go a long way to getting rid of all the egostistical, irrelevant verbiage that clogs it up like literary cholesterol.  Remove all the boards that talk about sports, TV, politics and TMP itself.  If you want to write self-indulgent nonsense about your life that is what blogs are for (as I continually demonstrate!)  Oh, and while they are about it add a search function to the news boards!

Without going into sordid details what really makes me laugh is remembering the simpering, slightly creepy comments from some of the members when the first Filipina (er...) sub-editor was appointed.  Had these people never met a woman before, I wondered at the time?  I imagined them rubbing their thighs in excitement, like Vic Reeves.  Maybe some of them will have a Some like it Hot moment, although somehow I doubt it!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Paint Table Saturday...but where is Sofie?

Paint Table Saturday has transformed my painting this year to the extent that I have painted as many figures in six months as I did for the whole of last year.

I am concerned, however, that Sofie, the originator of the idea, hasn't posted for two months.  Does anyone know if she is alright?

Anyway, some more work on my Afghans this weekend.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Some lost opportunities and a dancing daughter...

Amidst all the Tour de France frenzy I did actually get an hour's painting on my Afghans done yesterday.  I don't usually paint as many as eighteen figures at a time but they are going slowly but surely.  There is some urgency as I have ordered all the new British and Sikh figures too!  I missed Paint Table Saturday last weekend ,due to stuff we had to do on the extension, so this picture is what I might have posted.  The Old Bat is painting the walls but I get called in to do all the fiddly bits, high bits and edges.  

The Tour is messing up sorting out some of my boxes of figures, which I had planned to do, as I have stuck my stage map over some of them.  So I can't get at the right box to put my newly painted Darkest Africa figures away.  At least I am not sad enough to have filled in all the results.  When I was younger I was a great wall-chart sort of fellow, so anything which had bits you could fill in yourself was always a must for me!

Actor John Barrowman and Charlotte yesterday evening

I had to finish painting early yesterday evening as my daughter Charlotte was dancing at the opening of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.  Charlotte was very excited to meet John Barrowman, as she is a big Dr Who fan!

A couple of lost opportunities on the wargames front this week.  Games Workshop have launched some 40K scenery tile equivalents of their Warhammer battleboards.  For someone like me, who has no craft or DIY skills (or tools!)  whatsoever, I was really excited about wargames scenery in a box which you just clipped together but the reality was that GW blew it by including lots of skull pits and other nonsense.  They could have produced something with real crossover appeal for historical wargamers (or even Lord of the Rings players) but didn't.  The promised extra terrain boards for things like rivers never appeared, either. 

This time they have produced an urban board for 40K but this has been bodged too.  Firstly, there are only two individual tile designs in the set of six (unlike six individual ones in the earlier set) but even worse each has a very distinctive element (a Warhammer logo and some sort of fallen stained glass window/church floor thing) which means that both will make it obvious that there are only two boards repeated.  Why not make something more anonymous looking that could be used for other games too (I know, I know, there are no other games).  I have quite a lot of 40K stuff which I might have considered painting up and using on a ready made landscape like this, but not when it looks so silly.  It's like producing a generic urban street board for WW2 and placing a huge swastika and eagle on the surface.  It doesn't add anything to the product but it does diminish it. 

The next disappointing product was Osprey's new Battle Plan American Civil War computer game.  Osprey is all about excellent visuals but this looks like something produced 20 years ago.  I first played Shogun: Total War at a friend's house fifteen years ago and liked it because it looked like a wargame with lots of little figures running about (alright, they don't really run about in an actual wargame, unless you have had too much absinthe) .  This is a step back from that and even though I can see that producing moving figures would be expensive  (this looks like a very low budget production) but the blocks representing troops aren't even 3D and the maps are very dull.  Can't see them shifting many of these.  If you can't do it properly don't do it at all!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tour Food and Drink: Stages thirteen to fifteen

Over half way there now but this year's route continues to be a culinary challenge.  One dish I had to make was the very first thing I learnt to cook: Coq au Vin.  Perhaps more typically associated with the Burgundy region, in fact it is pretty ubiquitous in France, where you just bung in the local wine and call it Coq au whatever the locals drink.  This was an ideal solution for Stage 13 which cut just south of the Beaujolais region and clipped the top of the Rhone.  

I first cooked this delicious concoction of chicken, bacon, onions, wine and mushrooms about forty five years ago, under the supervision of my father and it has been a regular ever since.  Although it is not exactly a delicate dish it has always been a hit with young ladies, although nowm inexplicably, increasing numbers of them, such as my daughter, are vegetarians.  I'm afraid I really don't understand vegetarianism.  Not eating meat is like going around the world wearing glasses that only enable you to see in black and white.  I don't like killing animals and don't really approve of people who kill creatures for fun (and that includes fishing) but, bad luck animals (not fish, you taste horrid),  you shouldn't be so tasty and that is why we have less squeamish people do all the nasty bits for us in a civilised world.  I saw a TV programme a while back when they took a group of people into an abbatoir and killed and gutted a cow in front of them to show how their meat reached the table.  While this was quite nasty, interestingly, very few said they would give up meat afterwards.  

Stage 13

Anyway, the French have little time for vegetarians and finding a veggie option in a French regional restaurant will be tricky.  Some veggie friends of mine were offered a vegetarian soup in a restaurant there a few years ago.  When they pointed out it had bacon in it they received a typically Gallic shrug and a look of complete bafflement.  Why on earth would you do anything that restricted your choices in food?  At least, that was the French restaurateur's view. Both my friends eventually gave up on being vegetarians as it was "too difficult".  As they are both extreme foodies, who get their fruit and vegetables FedExed from Italy every week, they just found the diet too restricting for people who really like food.  I have a theory that the less interesting the national cuisine is the more likely you are to find a high proportion of vegetarians (religion, something else I don't understand, aside).  My mother in law (who is an otherwise estimable woman) has said to me that she would quite happily take a pill every day with all the nutrients necessary in it so she could avoid "wasting time on meals".  The Old Bat lives on Complan and Slim Fast shakes so she doesn't have to cook or waste time eating.  I scored a minor victory, therefore, last week in that she ate my coq au vin and really enjoyed it.   

I had to use the recipe I learnt from originally, from one of my other favourite cookbooks Great Dishes of the World that I used.  Not that I really need to refer to the recipe.  This is not my original copy which disintegrated a few years ago.  Fortunately, I managed to get a pristine copy in the RNLI charity shop in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight two years ago.  I always pop into the RNLI shop there and try to buy something to support them.  The orange enamel casserole I cooked it in was the original one I first used in 1969, which my father had bought in a shop in Perigueux for the then staggering price of £5.  Worth every penny, of course!

Anyway, the accompanying wine really had to come from the Northern Rhone.  The closest wine town to the route was Condrieu but as a very aromatic white this wouldn't really have gone with a dish cooked in red wine so I went just a little way south of the route for a St Joseph, which worked perfectly.  Coincidentally, it was my girlfriend V, who featured in the last post, who introduced me to northern Rhones.  She was one of the few girls I knew in those days (early eighties) who drank red wine.  In fact it became a bit of a test for me on new potential women.  Does she like art, does she like Rachmaninov and does she drink red wine?  The next girlfriend I had (briefly) did as well, although she was, even more unusually, a claret drinker.  Sadly, stinky C the paratroopers daughter had to go because although she was built like Kelly Brook she smelled like the worst sort of wargamer.  I was her boss at the time and had to have the embarrassing conversation, as her colleagues complained about her to me.  I tried to wash her as often as possible after that but in the end she moved to Canada, I think.  Canadians wouldn't be so reticent but would, very politely, point out the problem straight away.

Stage 14 saw us in the only full day in the Alps, in a sadly wine free region.  I looked about 25 miles north, however, and alighted on the town of Chambéry, which is the headquarters of one of the three battalions (the 13th) of the Chasseurs Alpins.  The town is also the home of my favourite vermouth, as I find the French one more delicate than the Italian versions.  They are also, these days, made in a rather less industrial way than their Italian cousins, using real herbs from the mountains rather than just flavourings.  Nice just with ice, it's also my preferred vermouth for Martinis.  In France you can also get Chamberryzette, a version deliciously infused with strawberries.  Girls like it.

Stage 14

After a heavy dinner the night before I just had some light Abondance cheese from Haut-Savoie which is actually closer to Stage 11 than Stage 14.  Another find from Tesco, which is just as well as the road blockage is making getting to Sainsbury or Waitrose a bit of an epic trip.  This was the nicest cheese of the Tour so far.  Sweet and nutty; just like my daughter, in fact, who performs in the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony tonight!

Stage 15 was a quick whiz through Northern Provence with plenty of wine options on the way.  However, as the stage finished in the splendid Roman city (Nemausus) of Nimes (home of denim too, of course) then it had to be a Costières de Nîmes.  The vineyards here have been producing wine here for over two thousand years and the region was settled by many veterans of Caesar's campaigns in Egypt, which explains the symbol of a crocodile chained to a palm tree on  the local coat of arms.

Time for another lighter meal so just some typical Provencal tapenade and some picholine olives (no more cornichons for a while!).  Olive and anchovy tapenade was, appropriately, recorded in Roman times as olivarum conditurae.  Some nice crunchy picholine olives added another local touch.  These are, also, particularly good as the olive in a Martini.

Next time it's another big casserole!

Monday, July 21, 2014

I've been Tangoed!

I was scanning through the recent postings on TMP and saw a heading "Wasimba musketmen".  What a coincidence, I thought, as I have just finished painting some myself!  When I clicked on the post I was shocked to discover that Tango01's posting was of my figures, plus some more from my Darkest Africa project.  It must be a slow day in Argentina! 

I was shocked.  And stunned.  I also wish I had spent more time on them instead of just slapping on the paint in my new "impressionistic" style.  

Tour Food and Drink: Stages eight to twelve...and pickled in the Loire

Thumbs up for the Tour so far

It's something of an odd Tour de France route this year: No Brittany, no Normandy and no Loire.  In fact western France has been pretty comprehensively ignored this year, apart from a couple of stages in the south west.  So, the Legatus' culinary Tour goes into Alsace and the Vosges for the next three stages which is about the only area of France I have never been to, in over fifty years of travelling there.  

Stages 8 and 9

My lack of knowledge also applies to the wine and food of the region which is, not surprisingly given it's history, rather Germanic.  I struggle with understanding Alsatian and German wines especially as regards how they are classified and organised regionally.  Neither seem very popular in a Britain now largely focussed on new World wines and, in fact, my local Tesco didn't stock any Alsatian wines.  This may also have something to do with the fact that these areas are less popular with British wine-loving tourists (unlike the Loire, for example, as we shall see later).  Anyway, this is a long-winded way of saying that when I bought the wines to accompany this part of the Tour I had no idea what I was buying.

Stages 9 and 10

These were the first table wines of my vinous Tour, having left the beer and fizz behind in the first seven stages and I spread the two bottles I bought over three stages.  Both, at £9.99 and £10.49, were rather more than I usually pay for everyday drinking but, as ever, at this price range, the extra was worth it.  The Pinot Blanc from Calvet was quite floral but, oddly, also musky. I had low expectations of it but it was very good.  Sainsbury have just dropped it to £6.99 (annoyingly) and it's a bargain at that.  The Pinot Gris from Cave de Beblenheim had a lovely straw colour with an unusual smoky taste and rather oily texture. Both were very good but the Pinot Gris just edged it.  Splendid!

Now what food could I have to match these wines?  Well, it obviously had to be something regional, so we went for that prototypical Alsatian dish choucroute garni.  Not having been to the region and had it in situ, I just turned to one of the greatest cookbooks ever written, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961) by Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholle and Julia Child.  I think I'll have to do a post on my favourite cookbooks!  Child used the success of this book to launch her popular TV series in the US.  This absolute masterwork is the only French cookbook you will ever need and the Legatus' copy is very well thumbed indeed.  It was a present from an ex-girlfriend, V, who we will encounter later in the post.  The Legatus was taught to cook by his father, from about the age of eight.  My mother was not much of a cook and struggled to cook toast, let alone anything else.  So if we were ever going to get anything decent to eat, it was cooked by my father.  By the time I was fourteen I was handling a lot of the family cooking duties, particularly at the weekends.  It was either that, live on my mothers key recipes (fish fingers, Bejam burgers (she never did get the hang of defrosting), Fray Bentos pies, spam fritters and Vesta curry) or starve.  My father had, coincidentally, learnt  a a lot of his cooking technique from one of his friends, a TV chef.

Stages 8 to 10

Anyway, here is my version of the dish.  Not ever having had it before it was hard to tell if my approximation of it approached the real thing but it included most of the key ingredients: wine, pork, fat bacon, Frankfurters, smoked sausage, potato, apple, juniper berries and, of course sauerkraut.  The fact that it worked perfectly with both wines was probably the best way of telling that it was a success, I think.   Served with a good French, wholegrain mustard, of course, I made so much of it that it easily lasted three days!

Stage 11

So, leaving Alsace, the Tour took one of it's transfers (my daughter thinks this is cheating and that they should cycle the whole way) for a stage from Besançon to Oyannax through the Jura.  I'm never going to find a wine from the Jura in  a local supermarket, I thought, and I was right.  Fortunately, in nearby Cobham we have an excellent shop called The Wine Reserve, which tends to concentrate on the £20 and up price band (which you can do in Cobham).  Blow me down they had a wine from the Jura, although this now takes the record as the most expensive wine I have had to buy for the Tour at about £23.  This was a direct hit though, as the Tour rote passed through Arbois, which is about 25 miles south-west of Besançon.  I can't say I have had a wine made from the poulsard grape before and it reminded me of some of the red Swiss wines I used to have in Zurich, which were not that distinctive and equally overpriced.  Still, you have to suffer for authenticity, sometimes!

Stage 11

To go with this I had some of the local cheese of the Jura, Comté, which was a typical semi-hard cows milk cheese from the region.  Frankly, I needed something a bit lighter after all that Choucroute and sausage and this, which came from Tesco's surprisingly good regional cheese selection, was nicely nutty.

Stage 12

Stage 12 started in the Beaujolais region and I managed another direct hit on the route for this stage as the peloton went over Mont Brouilly, on the slopes of which are grown the grapes for my favourite of the Beaujolais crus.  Duboeuf's Beaujolais Nouveau, a brilliant way to sell a usually horrible wine, was always one of the better ones so I thought this was worth a go.  It was definitely Beaujolais, without taking the enamel off your teeth.  Back in the eighties my friends and I would always drink Beaujolais Nouveau on the third Thursday of November and all the City wine bars would offer it.  This seems to be a habit that has almost died out now.

The race finished in Saint-Étienne, from which comes the rather extraordinarily named and interestingly shaped Jesus a l'ancienne sausage, one of the very best cured sausages I have ever had from anywhere (Waitrose delicatessen counter has it, sometimes).  It was perfectly set off by a good helping of cornichons.

Cornichons are not the same as the similarly sized gherkins sold in Britain.  The key difference is the vinegar they are in. Cornichons have a very light vinegar flavoured with tarragon and mustard seed.  You also usually get a few tiny silverskin onions in the jar too.  There are UK firms, such as Opies, who purport to sell "cornichons" but you really need to get the ones produced in France to get the correct taste as the UK made vinegar is not right.  They are neither as sweet nor as sour as some of the equivalents you get in Britain and the US.  They really set off sliced cooked meats and pate perfectly.

In fact it was with pate that I first had them on a French holiday just after finishing law school.  I, and three of my friends from college, had arranged to take a driving holiday in the Lore Valley.  Well it wasn't a driving holiday so much as an eating and drinking holiday which engendered a life long interest in the red wines of the Loire (a restaurant near Waterloo station called RSJ has the best Loire wine list I have seen in Britain).  It all got a bit complicated in the months leading up to our planned trip, however.  I had known B for several years at college as we used to go to the student common room to watch Doctor Who every week.  He was the first person to buy me any metal wargames figures.  I was painting a lot of Airfix plastics and he saw some of the Games Workshop dwarves and bought me a dwarf flame cannon for my birthday.  Through this I discovered a whole new world of metal figure painting, as I left the 20mm plastics behind never to return to them.  J, a lovely redhead, had the room next door to B in our final year at college.  Unlike me, who lived out, these two had snagged rooms in college for the third year.  Rather than trudge all the way back to North Oxford when I fancied a cup of tea I used to pop up to B's room.  As soon as he flicked on the kettle switch at the wall (students don't seem to be allowed kettles in their rooms these days due to the dreaded health and safety) J would hear the noise and pop in too, so although we had been at college for two years that was the first time I got to know her, as she was a physicist.  Also on the same floor was another girl V, who had a tedious boyfriend when we were at college.  The tedious boyfriend played hockey (field hockey, for you North Americans) which I always thought a bit suspect as even though I know it can be  rough, tough game I always thought of it as a rough tough girls' game.

The Legatus, his girlfriend V, his best friend B and his ex-girlfriend J in Normandy, July 1983

Anyway, immediately after we left university J and I started going out, much to B's annoyance as he had been pursuing her for the whole time we were at college.  However at this point she was living back home in Cheshire which wasn't too handy.  She then moved to Somerset, which was equally inconvenient.  So although we had quite a few passionate weekends she decided to tell me the day before B's birthday party in May that she thought we should give up on it, due to the distance.  That's annoying, I thought, as she was a lovely girl with a fantastically perky body. I had to see  her at B's party where we were going to plan the final details of our holiday in the Loire. In fact, the party turned out to be just B, J, V and me for dinner.  V picked me up to give me  a lift to B's and we got on like a house on fire during the car journey over, and  she told me she was feeling fed up as she had just broken up with the tedious hockey playing boyfriend.  Anyway, both feeling unloved V and I got totally hammered on the remainder of B's cooking Marsala and the other two retired (separately) in embarrassment at our increasingly friendly antics, leaving V and I to it.

This left me in the slightly delicate situation, six weeks later, of travelling to France for two weeks in a car with my immediate ex-girlfriend J, my new girlfriend V who was J's best friend and B who had been trying to win over both, unsuccessfully, for four years.  Fortunately, everything seemed to go well on the ferry over to France and the initial drive through Normandy.  It was only when we stopped at the first of the many excellent little French hotels we stayed in (thanks to a hotel guide produced by a man called Arthur Eperon, whose choices were infallible) that we had a problem.  Both V and I thought that we would be sleeping in the same room but J flat out refused to share with B (much to his disappointment as he thought his time had come).  Sadly, we were too impecunious to have a double and two singles so I had to stay with B while the two girls shared.  B and I amused ourselves by imagining what the two girls were up to (usually involving the ewers and basins that were a feature of many of these hotel rooms) but I realised that this was going to be a very long two weeks indeed.

My somewhat grumpy mood was lifted at dinner by a truly excellent meal.  The restaurant was so good we stayed an extra day and stayed there on the way back too.  I had local pate for my first course and they came with a little terracotta pot of cornichons.  I've always liked pickles but these were something else.  They became a key feature of our meals and V and I started to buy jars of them for our picnics (we only ate dinner in restaurants).   Anyway, J being a sensitive girl and knowing what I was like, took it upon herself to go for a walk with Bill every night after dinner for at least an hour and a half.  B was happy because he was with J, J was happy because she didn't have to look at V and I and V and I were very happy indeed; often several times an evening.

Pain tortue!

By the second week, however, V's levels of passion had increased considerably.  It couldn't have been the wine as we were drinking the same amount.  It couldn't have been the increased sunshine as we got further south as it was sunny and hot throughout.  The only think I can think of was her enormously increased appetite for cornichons.  We were now buying a jar a day in the little supermarkets where we got our lunches of bread, cheese and ham.  V was polishing off cornichons at an amazing rate. I wondered whether they were raising her heart rate, or something, and increasing the blood flow to her sensitive regions.  Well, we were very discrete with each other the first week, as we didn't want to upset the others but she was getting more and more touchy-feely by the second week.

The island in the Loire at Gennes in July 1983

This all came to a head when we arrived in a little town called Gennes, on the Loire.  We arrived there just before lunch, checked into our hotel, picked up a picnic and then wandered down to a large island in the river which was just trees and grass with shady beaches by the river.  It was wilder than it is now and there were more trees.  It is now more like a formal park.  We found a quiet spot, bunged some bottles in the river to cool and had another nice picnic.  It was very hot indeed and after lunch I was resistant to V's suggestion we go for a walk. Especially as the others were dozing off, which seemed like an excellent post-prandial activity to me.  V, however had other post-prandial activities in mind and tugged me off to a secluded spot in the bushes.  She wanted to take the picnic blanket but couldn't because J was fast asleep on it.  She did, however, take the jar of cornichons, on the rather curious basis that if we were missed we could claim we had gone to have something else to eat.  Anyway, some time later after we had got very hot indeed, she started to munch her way through the rest of the jar of cornichons and I wondered whether they were actually addictive (and also whether she might be pregnant - I had already had one scare earlier in the year with a girl at law school)

Anyway, we returned to our picnic site to find that the others were now awake.  J raised an eyebrow in a way that would have made Mr Spock proud.  V decided that she wanted some apricot tarte for pudding and tried to get me to go back to the village to get some (I think she was planning that we could go up to the hotel room).  I refused as it was too hot to trek all the way back across the bridge. I told her to get some Coteaux du Layon to go with the tarte.  Sweet Loire wines were another discovery of the trip.  This was enough to get B to accompany V as it gave him an excuse to walk with her and visit a wine shop.

Our hotel in Gennes, La Hostellerie de la Loire in 1983

The hotel today. Sadly closed

On my own with J ,she started a "I didn't want to stop seeing you because I didn't like you" speech.  Oh dear!  Now she was getting all touchy-feely. Then she was saying that it was really too hot for clothes and did I think that anyone would be able to see us from the far bank.  Fortunately, it didn't all end in tears but that was due to clever time management, good acting and, eventually, a confession from J to V that was received (thank goodness) with some amusement.  V eventually went off with a ghastly South African and I haven't seen her for ten years.  B became my best man, lives three miles away in Cobham (where the good wine shop is) and we still meet every week for dinner and lots of wine.  J and I kept casually interacting for a number of years despite us both moving on to other partners.  She eventually married my other best friend from college which is not too awkward (mostly) and B and I regularly go down to see them in the West Country.

The gherkin last week

Ironically, B now actually works in 30 St Mary Axe, the erotic gherkin itself, as it was dubbed back in 2000. But cornichons are, for the Legatus, the real erotic gherkins, not just, of course, an excellent accompaniment to cooked meats.

The bridge from the Ile de Gennes to Rosiers before the French destroyed it in 1940,  This is the bridge ,replaced in 1948, just visible in the shot of the island above

There is a World War 2 story about the Ile de Gennes where all this cornichons-fuelled passion took place more than thirty years ago.  In 1940, 10,000 troops of the German 1st cavalry division were held up for several days at Gennes and Saumur by 800 cadets, armed with their training rifles and some light artillery, of the Saumur Cavalry School, as they tried to cross the Loire.  The cadets kept fighting despite the fact Pétain had called for a ceasefire and essentially surrendered France to the Germans,  The cadets are, therefore, now remembered as one of the earliest examples of the French resistance.  At Gennes the French had blown the bridge but on the evening of June 19th (two days after Pétain's call for a cease fire) 500 German assault troops in rubber boats stormed the island only to be seen off by the cadets.  Eventually the Germans gave up on trying to get across the Loire in the area and had to go around the cadets.  The German commander, General Kurt Feldt, was so impressed by the actions of the cadets he mentioned them favourably in his report and released the 200 captured cadets rather than imprisoning them.  The hotel we stayed in in Gennes was actually on the Avenue des Cadets du Saumur.

Make love, not war

I didn't know, at the time of what now seems like a dreamily bucolic episode, that the quiet island we had frolicked upon had been the site of such a bitter battle.  The British and French have an engaging distrust of each other, not to say nearly 800 years of conflict, but thanks to George Bush and his "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" slur the French have an undeserved poor military image for many younger people today.  The actions of the Cadets of Saumur, I would venture, are more typical of France's proud military history .

I'm sure its down to the cornichons.

Friday, July 18, 2014

An annoying blockage, dealing with the heat, back on the bike and something for the weekend.

You shall not pass!

A busy second half of the week in London for the Legatus.  Technically, I work from home but in reality I end up going to London quite a bit (always nice to get away from the Old Bat's constant wittering about what colour to paint the extension walls).  However, I'm going to try to avoid it as much as possible for the next seven weeks as they have closed the main road to the station.

Now, the Legatus lives in a quiet cul-de-sac (well it was quiet until the man down the road bought a yellow Ferrari last week - might this be something to do with the much younger woman who now seems to reside there? - he has been growling up and down the road for days now) but we are just off an A road.  They are digging this up to put in a new gas main (oddly the pipes are the same shade of yellow as the man's Ferrari).  Now it's about a mile and a half walk to the station but there are two quite steep hills to negotiate, so usually the Old Bat drops me off and picks me up.  However, now the mile and a half drive has been turned into a seven mile diversion as we have to circumnavigate the area of woods and fields behind our house that has no roads through it.  So we have to drive down the main road for a couple of miles away from the station round past the Chelsea Football Club training ground (watch out - more Ferraris -John Terry's is black, by the way) and all the way back up the road to arrive the other side of the closed section.  "I'm not wasting all that time and petrol,"  says the Old Bat, "you can walk to the station!"

Enviably cool in Trafalgar Square on Wednesday

Unfortunately, the first day I had to do this was Wednesday when it was pushing 28 degrees.  It really is unfair when you have to trek up to London in a wool suit and shirt and tie to find all the women floating around in flimsy clothes (lots of denim shorts around this year, not that I've really noticed).  They should be made to suffer like us!

Having travelled on the Central Line (38 degrees in the summer is not unknown and no air conditioning) on Wednesday I was feeling a bit ennervated.  Time to stop at one of my favourite places for a light lunch - the National Cafe at the National Gallery.  Nice and cool inside, the situation was helped by a very cold bottle of Rueda.  This is also very conveniently sited not far from Orc's Nest, the Cinema Store (one of the few places you can still get Playboy in London -July's Playmate, Emily Agnes, is from Surrey and utterly gorgeous she is too - see our appreciated lady at right) and Charing Cross Station for the short hop back to Waterloo.

A nice plate of crab linguine soon had me feeling much better and I got chatting to a table of three very fine ladies of a certain age on the adjoining table, who helped me out with the Rueda (and, indeed, the next bottle).  There was a depressing piece in the paper last week which said men become sexually invisible to women at the age of thirty nine.  I intend to test this theory and disprove it!  One way to beat it, of course, is to work on older ladies, unlike my friend B who is still chasing after 24 year olds, even though he is the same age as me.  He never gets any, of course, mainly because he is very tight with money (as his mother once memorably said to me) and he wouldn't share his Rueda with anyone unless they were paying their share (he is an actuary).  When I sent this piece to Sophie she just replied "good job I met you when you were thirty four then!"   Anyway, I'm meeting one of the ladies again next week.  A small victory.

Mr Zeffy (left) and Guy half war around the Isle of Wight a couple of years ago

One effect of watching all the Tour de France coverage has been a great desire to get out and do some cycling again.  So far I have resisted this urge and just poured myself another glass of Pinot Gris but yesterday, because of the closed road I actually took my mountain bike, Mr Zeffy, out for a spin (don't ask why it's called Mr Zeffy, it's all too tedious to explain).  Mr Zeffy was a present from the Old Bat in 1994 although there isn't much of the original bike left except the frame.  It's rather like HMS Victory; I've replaced nearly everything on it over the years.  It's done four London to Brighton bike rides (60 miles), one South Downs Way off-road route (100 miles), the Round the Island route of the Isle of Wight (70 miles), and had a week in Haut-Savoie in France, where I cycled it down from my parents in law's house in a ski resort to Cluses to watch the Tour de France arrive.  This was a 30km descent but not so much fun on the way back up, so I was very grateful to the ONCE cycling team car which stuck Mr Zeffy on their rack next to Alex Zülle's bike and gave me a lift back up to Flaine.  Mr Zeffy went a lot faster after that, I am sure!

The road through the village in 2012

So yesterday I whizzed up and down the now very quiet A road for a bit before setting off into the woods.  I had intended to do about ten minutes but was out for an hour and surprised myself how well I went.  My legs are really stiff today (I haven't been on the bike for nearly a year) but will get out and do some more on Saturday.  The road that's been closed was part of the Olympic cycle route so that will break up the rhythm of the pelotons of cyclists we have coming through the village at the weekends.  I'm sure that this sudden new found enthusiasm for exercise has nothing to do with having dinner with a lady...

Anyway, talking of ladies, we thought we would pick up on a post from a couple of weeks ago by Mr Edwin King from his excellent Depressive Diplomatist blog.  This featured one of the most famous images in Britain from the last forty years and our post on it can be found on our Wargames Ladies blog.