Sunday, 25 December 2011


This beautiful carol, imagining the Nativity in a snowy Northern landscape, was originally written by Christina Rossetti as a Christmas poem in 1872.
Few carols express the quiet heart of Christmas more movingly. It was set to music by Gustav Holst in 1906, the poignant and simple tune is known as ‘Cranham’. I'm not religious but this is my favourite carol.

Another equally lovely tune was composed by the organist Harold Darke in 1909. It has the unusual distinction of varying the melody from verse to verse. You can find this version here.

Wherever you are 
I wish you all a very
peaceful Christmas.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

A different kind of Christmas ...

Christmas will be a bit different this year, as for the first time in nearly 26 years we will not see either Rhiannon or Tom on Christmas Day.

One of the few recent photographs we have of Rhiannon and Tom together, taken at the Chateau Impney on my 50th birthday. They both look very different now!

It’s not like we have a set routine at Christmas. In the early days Christmas was spent Wales with my parents, or they travelled up to Staffordshire. Tim’s parents would always come on Boxing Day. As the children got older we spent Christmas in Chatel, Haute Savoie skiing with our great friends Anne, Steve and their children.

One memorable Christmas there was a hurricane on Christmas day. All of the ski lifts closed and we marvelled at the roof being blown off a nearby chalet, until we looked down and saw the ski box blow off the roof of our car, never to be seen again!! Christmas lunch was often a baguette or bolognaise on the mountain, and we had our special meal in the evening. Those were wonderful times …

As the children got even older they didn’t want to go away at Christmas as the pull of their friends became stronger. My parents and Tim’s parents died (three of them within a year) and we spent some quieter times at home. I come from a small family, and only my brother and an uncle are left.  

In all of the years when we had our own apartment in Thollon, we didn’t ever visit at Christmas.

The view over Thollon and Lac Leman from the top of the telecabine.

Rhiannon will be spending Christmas with her partner Ben, and his parents visiting his grandparents and family in Southport. They will, I know, have a wonderful time celebrating together as a family. Sally, Ben’s mum, is particularly looking forward to having her three children and their partners all together. I know there are plans to take their dogs Maisie and Lucy for a long walk on the beach.

Tom will be spending Christmas travelling with his girlfriend Meg and international students from the University of Colorado. They will ski at Brekenridge and Copper Mountain, party in Florida, visit a friend in North Carolina, and do what young people do in Washington, New York, Boston and Chicago.

My brother will be spending Christmas with his wife Caireen with her brother and parents in Montreal, and my uncle (who’s wife died earlier this year) is visiting Australia and New Zealand.

So what are we doing this Christmas? We are renting an apartment just down the road from the one we sold almost exactly two years ago!! I’m looking forward to visiting Thollon again as I really miss the mountain environment. I’m told that the snow is a bit late this year, but there is nothing better than fresh powder snow! I haven't quite mastered the technique of skiing through powder but Tim loves it.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

A universal thank you ...

10,000 page views … who’da thought it! I've been so busy lately that I've hardly had time to read blogs, let alone think about writing a post.

A little something for you from my virtual jukebox.  Very apt for the time of year from the Annie Lennox album 'A Christmas Cornucopia'


Sunday, 11 December 2011

Not in my name ....

I would normally stay away from political debate via La Petite-Presse because I know that by stating beliefs too vehemently one runs the risk of losing friends. For me the time has come to take this risk ...

 David Cameron has stood up and walked away from the European summit in order to appease his paymasters in the City and the growing band of all powerful Eurosceptics in his party. He had hyped up his position before the meetings, and was then left with nowhere to go except back to the UK. He called in the heavies like Bill Cash (unfortunately my M.P.) to line up behind him to tell him, and us, all what a wonderful job he had done in standing up for our interests.

As a result we are left friendless and powerless within Europe, but with little influence elsewhere in the world either.

I don’t pretend to understand all of the issues involved, but can’t help to feeling diminished by all of this. I believe it is not good for Britain, not good for jobs and not good for business. I'm not sure I trust Sarkhozy, but better to stay in the debate with him than to allow him to proceed unchecked!

I read an interesting article in the Guardian/Observer, but no doubt I would have read something very different in the Mail or the Express!

Mr Cameron, I want you to know that your views are NOT my views, and that this has not been done in my name!

I'd rather be in the tent with everyone else and peeing out, than in the tent on my own with everyone else peeing in!!

I do respect the views of friends who disagree, but as usual we shall have to agree to differ ...

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Remember these?

I’m up early today, and hear on the news that in the past forty years 25% of the glacier area in the French Alps has disappeared (melted to be more precise) and the glaciers are in retreat. This mirrors the picture found in other Alpine regions across several nations, in particular Switzerland, Austria and Italy.

It seems an apt time to post some photographs from our archive taken about 10 years ago.

This ariel photograph was taken by Nasa's Landsat spacecraft looking down on Mt Blanc and the Mer de Glace, the biggest French glacier, snaking towards the north west.

Monday, 28 November 2011

A tale of two villages ...

Well, it's more about the squirrels in each village!

In our garden in Staffordshire we have a family of grey squirrels living in the large oak tree. We regularly see them and this afternoon Tim, who works largely from home, took some pics whilst making his afternoon cup of tea.

By contrast the squirrels that have the run of our garden in France, are red and much more petite. They do, after all, live at La Petite-Presse!!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Washday blues, whites and colours - all piled up .........

I don’t mind admitting that I have a ‘bit of a thing’ about washing in general, and dirty washing in particular. I think it stems from childhood when Monday was washing day and for the next couple of days we would be overrun with clean washing drying, whilst at the same time dirty washing was stacking up ready for the next Monday to come round!

If it was bad then, in the days when you wore clothes more than once, just imagine what the past two and a half weeks have been like Chez Brotherhood. My trusty old Hotpoint finally gave up the ghost. I got round to ordering a new machine and John (never knowingly undersold) Lewis finally got round (nearly 2 weeks later) to delivering said machine.

But what a machine it is; it does everything short of strip the beds, and therein lies the rub ……. I am finding it too difficult to understand! This machine must have been developed at Cern as an offshoot of their work on the particle accelerator. With my old machine everything was done on the 'F' programme, just changing the water temperature for different sorts of washing.  We aren't generally instruction reading people, as Tim has the kind of techy brain that can look at something and immediately figure out how it works ............ but not this time!

However, last night Tim and I went through the instructions for the new machine together as we put in the first of about 10 waiting loads. We couldn’t find a programme of less than 90 minutes and the ones we really wanted to do were over 2 hours! Even my Friday evening brain fade calculates that at 15 hours …….

Thank goodness my nest is empty at the moment. With Rhiannon and Tom still living at home I’d be looking spending at the next couple of days washing - just in time to turn up for the day job again on Monday morning.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Do you ever wish that you were young again?

Some of you have been enquiring as to how Tom is getting on in Boulder, Colorado.

Well...... he is having an absolutely amazing time if his Facebook page is anything to go by! Tom is just managing to fit his study in around his social engagements (or so he assures us) which is no mean feat! He is also enjoying all that his little bit of the USA has to offer. The first snows came at the end of October, so getting a ski pass organised has been a priority.

A few weeks ago he flew to San Francisco for the weekend and posted this photograph. He tells me that he has shaved since - and skype confirms it!

Thanksgiving takes him on a road trip to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Death Valley and California again. For Christmas he plans to travel to Florida, North Carolina, New York, Boston and Chicago!

Do you ever wish that you were young again? With everything that going on in the world I'm not all that sure that I do .................
I needed some music for my virtual jukebox which I've narrowed down to a choice of five :–

  • Californication Red Hot Chilli Peppers
  • California Joni Mitchell
  • California Dreamin Mammas and Papas and
  • San Francisco Scott McKenzie
  • Or this .........

Which would you pick?

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The National Memorial Arboretum .........

Today, Remembrance Sunday, seems an appropriate day to publish this post which has been in draft for a couple of weeks.

Apologies for the inconsistent font and photographs and text which seem to be in the wrong place. In the draft and post editing everything is fine but somehow (and I have spent the last hour trying to rectify it) everything jumps about! Not only does it jump about, it jumps to different places everytime I preview or publish. If I didn't know better I'd think it was April 1st ...... Is anyone else experiencing this problem?

The National Memorial Arboretum is on the edge of the National Forest at Alrewas near Lichfield. We’ve been meaning to visit for a while and a couple of weeks ago took advantage of a beautiful autumn day. We were surprised when we arrived to see that the car park was almost full so other people obviously had the same idea! We really didn’t know what to expect, although the large Armed Forces Memorial had been fairly well publicised when it was dedicated (I think there is a better word for this but it has escaped me!).

Entry is free, although donations towards the upkeep are welcomed. There is shop and a very nice café/restaurant which serves everything from carvery lunches to tea and scones.

We were amazed by the size and scale of the place. Besides the large Memorial there are over two hundred and fifty other memorial areas spread out over the 150 acre site with over 50,000 trees planted. You can find a link to the website here.

The Memorial is a stunning piece of architecture designed by Liam O'Connor. It consists of a large high earth mound with a spiralling walkway up the grassy, tree-planted slopes making it accessible to people of all ages and mobility.

At the top of the mound stands a forty three metre diameter stone structure with two curved walls and two straight walls, constructed of over two hundred thousand bricks faced with Portland stone panels. The panels have engraved on them over sixteen thousand names.

The centrepiece of the Memorial is two large bronze sculptures, representing loss and sacrifice, on either side of a central bronze laurel wreath. Created by Ian Rank-Broadley, the sculptures bear silent witness to the cost of armed conflict. The figure before the double doors points to a world beyond, where the warrior will rest as another figure chisels the name on the memorial.

The Memorial was constructed to provide recognition of the men and women of our Armed Services who have lost their lives in conflict or as a result of terrorist action or on training exercises since the end of the Second World War. Unlike the World War memorials in towns and villages across the country, there is nowhere that records the names of those who have been killed on duty since 1945, in over fifty conflicts throughout the world.

These actions have ranged from war to peacekeeping; from humanitarian assistance to fighting terrorism; from the jungles of Malaysia to the storms of the South Atlantic; from the streets of Aden to the streets of Northern Ireland.

As the information states, “it is not just Service men and women who have made sacrifices. Behind every name on the Memorial there are the wives, husbands, partners, parents, children, friends and colleagues who loved them and who live with the pain and consequences of their loss every day”.

A couple of the memorials with particular significance to us were for the RAF and Bevin Boys. My brother is a serving officer in the RAF and has completed four tours of duty to Iraq and Afghanistan, and Tim's parents met whilst serving in WW2.

The Bevin Boys were recruited to work in the mines from 1943. My father was one such recruit to the pits of South Wales in 1940, aged just 14, before the term had even been thought about......

Another poignant memorial was in memory of soldiers who had been shot as deserters in WW1. Many of these would have been very young, terrified and experienced the most awful happenings. Their response was to run ...... 

Many of the visitors were ex-service people, immaculately dressed and proudly wearing their medals paying their respects to lost comrades.

Surprisingly we found our visit to be uplifting rather than morbid or mawkish. We will visit again in a few years to see how the trees grow and site develops, and when I retire it is somewhere I could envisage doing some voluntary work.

Friday, 11 November 2011

A sign of Remembrance in an unlikely place ......

Today is the eleventh of November and at eleven o’clock  we will have two minutes of silence, at school, to remember those lost in conflict throughout the world. A member of the British Legion came to speak to us all in our assembly on Monday, and most of our pupils listened respectfully to what he had to say.

Today, as I wear my poppy, I am reminded of a poppy wreath that Tim and I came across as we reached the summit of the Col de Chésery between Chatel and Avoriaz in France, and Morgins in Switzerland. This was a route for the French Resistance and also for escapees from the Nazi regime.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Barneque and the owl came too .......

Last week we popped in to a barneque that George, Annie and friends were having to celebrate Halloween. It was meant to be a BBQ, but some rain in the afternoon caused a last minute change of plans.

If this happens again they really should seek permission from the sitting tenant!

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Going, going, gone ......

As ever, our half term holiday was a busy one, and  we find ourselves returning to work in dire need of a rest! Some hope of achieving that ……

We knew that we needed to do some gardening so were prepared for hard work. Martin and Denise keep everything tidy and under control when we are in the UK, but we love to work on the garden when we can.

We have a number of large specimen trees in the garden which would have been planted around forty years ago. How do we know this? Well, here's one reason .....

The trees are, in places, rather overcrowded and for a while we have planned to remove some of the trees in order to give others the space they need to flourish. We suppose that the first owner of our house planted lots of trees, then failed to thin them out as they grew larger and needed more space. One of the trees we decided to remove was struggling; very straggly on one side with many brown patches. 

Tim and Ben with the large bow saw which they soon realised wasn't up to the job of cutting down the tree and sawing it into small logs. Or did they mean that they weren't up to the job ........

I was then dispatched to Monteboeuf for reinforcements!

With the right top, a rustic garden table perhaps?

This old lilac suffered the same fate ……..

The larger pieces of wood have been stacked to dry out for a couple of years, and the remainder of the trees taken to the dechetteries at Le Grand-Pressigny and Charnizay.