Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday's Favorite French Things

It's booze again. "Sarlanoix" - a walnut aperatif from the Perigord (Sarlat in the Dordogne to be precise). It is delicious and a bottle never lasts long in our house. It is 16% alcohol by volume and drunk chilled.
The reverse translates:
In 1860 Emile Lapouge founded the Perigord Distillery. Legend has it the Emile Lapouge invented Sarlanoix in hommage to the women who shelled the walnuts. In the evening, close to the fire the gatering would start and under the dry blows of the mallet the nut shells would crack open liberating the kernels of the king of Perigord fruits. So that this image would stay forever in memories he created a recipe starting with a brew of walnuts by mashing the kernels and the skin of green walnuts in alcohol. Since then the Sarlanoix has become the legendary drink of the Perigord. Drink very chilled.

While trying to translate the word "ènoiseuses" (the women who shell the walnuts) I found this lovely picture:


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Heroes from History

We have been warned that Christianity knows no neutrality and history has verified the warning. It is incapable of co-existing permanently with a civilisation it does not inspire; and any such that came into contact with it has withered.

Who wrote those words? One of our modern atheist philosophers - a Dawkins or a Hitchens? Perhaps an anti-colonialist - Gandhi or Garvey?

It was Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury three times Prime Minister of Great Britain after Disraeli in the Victorian era.
Ironically the British Empire was at her height, Victoria had just celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and Salisbury wrote those words to his daughter explainiing why he was not inclined to support the work of missionaries in Asia and Africa.
He was an enigma - while the British Empire controlled one fifth of the globe he persued a foreign policy of "splendid isolation" trying to maintain a balance of power by not entering into permanent alliances or commitments. While his contemporaries like Rhodes "I would annexe the planets if I could" dreamed of further expansion, Salisbury had said "Seizing a coloured man's land and giving to a white man is an operation now generally known as the progress of colonisation."

I was born in the city named after Salisbury, in the country that Rhodes named after himself. So I am a product of British colonialism. (And very grateful for it - a more priviliged and luxurious childhood could not be wished for) And so it comes as a great surprise to find that Lord Salisbury is the author of these quotes and thoughts.
I leave you with three quotes of his on liberty, morality and common sense:

By a free country, I mean a country where people are allowed, so long as they do not hurt their neighbours, to do as they like. I do not mean a country where six men may make five men do exactly as they like.
Speech to the Kingston and District Working Men's Conservative Association (June 1883)

On general grounds I object to Parliament trying to regulate private morality in matters which only affects the person who commits the offence.
Letter to Sir Henry Peek (1888)

No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts. If you believe doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of insipid common sense.
Letter to Lord Lytton (15 June 1877)

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Love knows no age

An ex-chef in the merchant navy aged 96 married an 88 year old retired pastry chef on Saturday in Clermont-Ferrand in central France.

"Louise, Marguerite, Emilie Janin, do you agree to take Maurice Lecoq as your husband?" asked the Deputy Mayor, Yves Leycuras, and the woman in her eighties agreed and murmured "Yes". Mr Lecoq replied to the question with a loud and clear "yes" to the applause of their friends. The couple, who have lived in Clermont-Ferrand for thirty five years were legally married in 2002.

Marguerite, nicknamed "Guite" is a widow and mother with a son aged 64. Mr Lecoq had always been unmarried. "I'm doing this now for her. I should have done it long ago. I hope it will make her happy" said the groom, wearing a blue suit. "I am very happy" said the glowing bride, her white hair cut in a bob and wearing a black-and-white houndstooth jacket and black trousers. The newlyweds took their friends to a meal in a retaurant. They received as presents pannier of flowers and crystallised fruits.

Un ancien chef cuisinier dans la marine marchande, âgé de 96 ans, a épousé samedi à Clermont-Ferrand, dans le centre de la France une ancienne pâtissière de 88 ans.

"Louise, Marguerite, Emilie Janin, consentez-vous à prendre pour époux Maurice Lecoq?", a demandé l'adjoint au maire, Yves Leycuras, à l'octogénaire qui a acquiescé et murmuré "oui". M. Lecoq a répondu à l'édile par un "oui" haut et clair, sous les applaudissements de leurs amis. Le couple, qui vit à Clermont-Ferrand depuis trente-cinq ans, avait conclu une union civile en 2002.

Marguerite, surnommée "Guite", est veuve et mère d'un fils de 64 ans. M. Lecoq avait toujours été célibataire. "Je le fais maintenant pour elle. Il y a longtemps que j'aurais dû le faire. Ça lui fait plaisir, j'espère", a dit le marié, en costume bleu. "Je suis très contente", dit, rayonnante, la mariée, cheveux blancs coupés au carré, veste pied-de-coq, noire et blanche, sur un pantalon noir. Les mariés ont emmené leurs amis déjeuner dans un restaurant. Ils ont reçu en cadeau une corbeille de fleurs et des pâtes de fruit.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Christian Nutters

Ok, so we know about Landover Baptist. It is a parody so close to the truth that it confuses people when they first see it, and offends many fundies because the truth hurts.
I've just found the web site of a group that are for real. And they are so twisted, so mental, it is mind boggling.
They call themselves Bible Believers

I would like to post some exerpts from their pages, such as their "Our Principles" page but the language is so packed with churchy jargon that I can't make head or tail of it.

In their page of Christian ABC's we have the usual nonsense but here it's more intense. The language is apocalyptic.
Christians are those of Adam's race who have been born the second time... Spiritually. The fact we require a second birth indicates something was not right with our physical first birth. It points to how procreation began and to the original sin between Eve and the Serpent, a man-like creature before God changed his form and put him on his belly.
Eve disbelieved God. Adam took her back forfeiting our birthright: dominion over earth, to Satan. God's penalty is death upon all who come under Satan's dominion. As a consequence we are all formed in iniquity, conceived in sin, born into a world ruled by Satan, and separated from the Presence of God.

"those of Adam's race" What does that mean? Humans? It turns out they are very big on geneology and race. They have articles blethering on about how modern Jews are not real Jews. They reckon jesus was not Jewish but "Judean" ie. from Judah and it has been a "jewish" conspiracy (by the fake jews that is) to mistranslate the scriptures and pass themselves of as real jews. See their article "The Blasphemy of them Which say they are Jews, and are Not"
They have a sin I've never heard of before: "hybreeding" but they don't explain exactly what it is

I challenge you to find me a nuttier bunch of christians than this lot. No, not even Westboro Baptist. They may be poisonous and low-down, but their theology is actually pretty logical, by biblical standards. I reckon I've hit the motherlode of christian whackjobs with the Bible Believers
Did you know the original sin resulted in adultery? And when God saw the descendants of Adam interbreeding with the descendants of Cain, it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth. It so grieved Him that He destroyed the world with a flood. God hates hybreeding, yet we mix our creeds with the Word and expect Him to receive our worship. I said the same spirit in natural fornication is manifest in impure worship

Barking mad, the lot of them.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Earliest Blasphemy Challenge?

Crucifiction was a punishment the Romans reserved for people of servile status, and as such, might be invoked for trivial misdemeaners such as tasting the master's soup, or failing to untangle the matron's hair. (Dr Nigel Spivey - Christ and the Art of Agony - History Today August 1999.)
Crusifiction as a punitive device was intended to carry the maximum of negative exemplarity.
Although there had been other examples of dying gods - Dionysos and Osiris for example, their deaths, although violent had been quick, ephemeral, involuntary and essentially free of shame.
It was one thing for god to assume a mantle of humanity, but why walk to a death as squalid as it was unnecessary? Why stoop to the deserts of a rogue slave?
This new theology of kenosis "self emptying" or voluntary humiliation was so alien to Roman thought that many Christians refused to accept it. Thus the Gnostics in the 2nd Century maintained that Christ only seemed to be crucified.
Matthew's Gospel 27:42 might be recording a authentic reaction to crucifiction - mocking and hoots of derision.
This then is the context of the earliest image of the crucifiction of Jesus. Created sometime in the third century, it is a graffito from the Palatine in Rome. The Palatine is the central of the seven hills of Rome and is also where the Lupercal is located. See my earlier post.

It portrays a figure praying and is labelled in Greek - "Alexamenos worships his god".
The figure before him has its arms outstretched as if crucifed, and has an asses head.

From "Christ and the Art of Agony" by Nigel Spivey in History Today Volume 49(8) August 1999


Friday, November 23, 2007

Friday's Favorite French Things


A bright yellow aperatif that is made from gentiane root. When I first saw someone drinking it in the cafe it was its acid colour that attracted my attention.
"C'est quoi comme boisson ca?"
So I did. At first taste it is sweet and aromatic, but as you swallow the taste changes to give the most bitter, face-puckering aftertaste. "Merde! C'n'est pas un apero, c'est un medicament!"
It really was awful. So awful, that I had to keep trying it every few weeks just to make sure I wasn't mistaken. I wasn't. It was still as ever the most nasty bitter thing I'd ever paid money for.
But the odd thing was, it started to grow on me. And then I bought a bottle for home, and much to my surprise it disappeared quite quickly. This photo shows the last glass of my second bottle.
The reverse label says:
Suze - 1889. For more than a century the production of Suze has preserved the know-how inherited from its founders. The traditional distillation of aromatic extracts of plants gives it its unique personality.
My wife is appalled that I didn't clear the crap off the table before taking the photo.
I drink it straight, with ice, but the label also recommends drinking it with tonic, orange juice or grapefruit juice at 1/3 Suze, 2/3 mixer or with a dash of cassis,


Thursday, November 22, 2007

It's nerd time

Moebius Transformations Revealed
They look complicated on a flat plane, but projected through a sphere and all becomes clear.
I wish we had computers when I was struggling with maths in high school

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Babies born with morals

Well, this should get the atheist blogosphere a-talkin'
Babies 'can tell friend from foe'

Social animals, including humans, need to be able to rapidly distinguish whom they can trust from those they cannot in order to cooperate, thrive and survive.
Indeed, it could be that it is part of our nature to know the difference between right and wrong, rather than a product of nurture. Today's research shows that this instinct is so fundamental to our survival that we are able to spot a good Samaritan, even before we are able to talk

A great study where they entertained babies with coloful wooden shapes that helped or hindered each other in climbing a hill. When the babies were offered the toys to play with they "strongly preferred" the helper toy to the hinderer.
I presume that the helper toy wasn't soft and cuddly while the hinderer was made of barbed wire! There would have to be a way of eliminating babies' preference for certain shapes and colours.
The fact that babies may have a sense of right and wrong far earlier than previously thought could be a biological adaptation that may also serve as the foundation for moral thought and action later in life, they speculate.

commenting on the story, a reader called Matt Charwood says
It raises questions as to the origin of morality. If
it is inherent, rather than learned, then it sheds
new light on what Dawkins describes as the
'selfish gene.' Perhaps there are areas of the
genome which convey a moral sense. It could be
assumed that morality needs an origin if it is
inherent, and the conventional theories of
evolution do not allow for it. Instead the premise
there is kill or be killed, survival of the fittest
rather than a moral sense. This new research
provides support for the Christian viewpoint that
morality comes from God, and is therefore
evidence of a created order.


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This mythological cave is the real deal.

A while back in February there was a big hoo-ha over the possible finding of Jesus tomb. No not the rolled stone angels one, another tomb where he was buried after living a nice long life with Mary Magdalene.
Turned out to be some sarcophagi of folk with names vaguely similar.

But this hole in the ground is a different kettle of fish.
The chamber, which is seven-and-a-half metres high and six metres wide, is studded with seashells and mosaics. Part of the grotto appears natural, while part of it has been built.
It was decorated by Augustus, who wanted to establish a religious cult that celebrated the she-wolf. In the middle of the cave is a marble mosaic of a white eagle, the imperial motif.

The cave, known as the Lupercale - Luper is Latin for wolf - was discovered facing the Circus Maximus underneath the palace of the first emperor, Augustus.

Follow the link for a great pic of the mosaic work inside the cave. I look forward to more pics appearing in the news.

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The New Chez Nous

Join the Bloggers in France blogroll

The Bloggers in France blogroll is a means of linking the various people in France who (amongst other topics) blog about their experiences in France. Membership is limited to active bloggers who spend time in France. It is not limited by nationality or language.

Minimum Requirements:
You live in France or you spend time in France regularly. Your experiences give insight into the cultural differences between the French and other nations. You may love the country or detest it. You might write in French or your native language.

There is no requirement that your blog be exclusively French experiences. At "A night on the Tiles" I write about many topics, atheism, skepticism and current affairs among them. The learning experience of life in France is just one of the things that interests me.
if possible, could you display the Bloggers in France blogroll and its graphic on your blog.
Your blog must be active. Post at least once every two months to maintain your membership.
Photoblogs are welcome as long as some written content is provided.
No pornography please.

To Join:If you would like to join the blogroll, simply send me an email Put "Join the Bloggers in France Blogroll" in the subject line. In the body of the email, give me some info about you or your blog to use as short intro. I will add your blog after I have verified that your blog meets the minimum requirements. Also - send me any site you find worthy of joining. The goal is to collect as many fellow French bloggers as possible.

To include the blogroll on your blog:
When you email me requesting that your blog be added to the blogroll, I will send the code by return email.

My apologies to mojoey at Deep Thoughts for lifting most of this text from his intro to the Atheist Bloggroll

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Darwin fish wars

Look, I'm always way behind the trends and fashions, but I've only just seen this one and I think it's the pick of the bunch.

Im in ur X Yin(g) ur Z

So, I was working a nightshift recently, and while I was stacking tiles on the balencelles I was whiling away the time thinking stupid thoughts. As I often do. My mind took me wandering and I ended up thinking about this deal where Eskimos have so many words for snow.

My first thoughts were "what's the big deal?" Off the top of my head I could think of lots of words for snow, and if I extended the boundaries to include words for frozen water then there were dozens. And then to top that, unlike polysynthetic languages, English has adjectives, with which we can modify the noun. So even if we only had one word for snow, ie: "snow" we could still say bright snow, wet snow, crispy snow, crunchy snow, crunchy white dry snow etc etc. And that beats polysynthetic languages hands down.

Anyway, it turns out to be myth anyway, because a. There is no 1 Eskimo language because there are many Eskimo peoples, and b. because their languages tend to be polysynthetic, they make words up by adding words together so the number of snow words is as unlimited as the number of noun/adjective combinations we can use.

But, researching this stuff brought me to a fascinating thing. It seems that because the Eskimo words for snow thing is such a cliche, it gets used often by journalists. As in the example "If Eskimos have dozens of words for snow, Germans have as many for bureaucracy." So often has this sentence structure been used that the google search "if eskimos" will bring up hundreds of examples, but, at the top of the list of search results will be studies and language logs on this very phenomenon, which has been dubbed a "Snowclone"

A snowclone is a type of formula-based cliché that uses an old idiom in a new context.[1] It was originally defined as "a multi-use, customizable, instantly recognizable, time-worn, quoted or misquoted phrase or sentence that can be used in an entirely open array of different jokey variants by lazy journalists and writers

Examples given in the Snowclone database are:
A few X short of a Y as in A few cards short of a deck, A few fries short of a Happy Meal.
have X will travel
I am X, hear me Y

What warms my heart is not only is this linguistic phenomenon catalogued and studied, but studied with a geeky seriousness.

I also love the way things link, and how the internet is both a tool for studying those links as well as beeing the cause and mover of much of the phenomenon in the first place. hence the title of this entry. I am never up to date with trends and fashions. I only discover stuff after it has passed on and is no longer cool. I found "all your base are belong to us" and LOLcats way too late.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Crazy Eights

tagged by TBNIL
A list of things in eights . . .

Eight things I am passionate about
Now here's the problem. I'm not passionate about anything. So the best I can do is give you a list of things that make me tut or say "well really"
1. The situation in Zimbabwe
I was born and raised there, 28 years. I've got nothing against politicians feathering their nests. It's to be expected. But Mugabe has dragged the country into chaos and shambles. He has killed hundreds of thousands of his people, either directly thru genocide or indirectly thru starvation, lack of medical facilites etc. Women can't even buy sanitary products any more. Children don't go to school because there are no teachers, no books, no pencils, and the kids faint from hunger in class.

2. Language - I love etymology, I love the history of phrases. Devil & the deep blue sea. Batting on a sticky wicket. Throw in the towel. Cast the first stone. ROFL. LOLCats. No shit Shirlock

3. Grammar/Spelling. Look. There are rules. You can break the rules, that's fine, but you have to know the rules before you can break them. It's and its. Their, they're and their. Stationary/stationery. President/precident. I just hope to god I spell everything correctly in this post.

4. Science. It's going to save us.

5. Logic & Reason. Woolly thinking and touchy/feely New Age Alternate Holistic bullshit get me tutting and rolling my eyes like a good'un.

6. Bad Maths, abuse of statistics. Especially in TV adverts.

7. Old stuff. Antiques and traditions

8. Good engineering. I've sat and marvelled at the tolerances required for the tab mechanism of cans to function properly

Eight things to do before I die
1. PBP 2011

2. Run with bulls at Pamplona

3. See the Aurora Borealis

4. Go fossil hunting or help on an archeological dig

5. Make a pligrmage to Saint Jacques de Compostelle by horse.

6. See my children happily reach adulthood, and with a bit of luck see some grandchildren

7. Learn not to worry so much

8. Restore a Suzuki GS110 Katana

Eight things I say often
1. "Bloody dogs"

2. "Bloody kids"

3. "N'importe quoi"

4. "Fuck"

5. "Merde"

6. "Just calm down"

7. "move your fucking arse you doddering old cunt"

8. "no, don't bother to indicate, I'll just fucking guess what you're doing"

Eight books I have read or am still reading
1. Les Soerciers - Terry Pratchet (currently reading)
2. The Inheritors - William Golding
3. Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Rbert Pirsig (many times)
4. Cold Reading - Ian Rowland
5. Why People Believe Weird Things - Michael Shermer
6. A Brief History of Everything - Bill Bryson
7. Troblesome Words - Bill Bryson
8. Everything Steinbeck has written.

Eight songs to listen to over and over again
I consider these to be perfectly constructed songs. That's why there never tire
1. Juanez - La Camisa Negra
2. Zucchero - Baila Morena
3. Les Rita Mitsouko - Marcia Baila
4. Tom Waites - Jockey Full of Bourbon
5. Rolling Stones - Stray Cat Blues
6. Jethro Tull - Locomotive Breath
7. Neil Young - Ambulance Blues
8. The Band - The Weight

Eight things that attract me to friends
Ah, friends - I've heard of them . . .
1. Shared Interests
2. Intelligence
3. Make me laugh
4. Carbon-based
5. er . . that's it

Eight people I think should do crazy eight's
Jamon at Sans God
Blognor Regis
Michael Bains at SillyHumans
A Whore in the Temple of Reason
Chris Bradley at Deeply Blashemous

Friday, November 16, 2007

Friday's Favorite French Things

La Vosgienne
This week it's another french sweety. I love the tin. The colours are deep and the design and typography are excellent.
The sweet itself is a bit strange, but it grows on you. They are not mint flavoured, as you'd guess from the colours but have extract of pine.
The back of the tin says "It's n intense and pure flavour, a mixture of pine and honey which gives a deliciously soft sensation of freshness. To taste a La Vosgienne sweet is to rediscover the pleasures of an adventure in the forest"
Owned by Cadbury France, the only disappointment is that it says "made in Spain" on the side of the tin!


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Female Genital Cutting

I've just watched a news clip on tv about Female Genital Cutting, or Female Circumcision.
It was based around the story of a young Egyptian girl, Budour Ahmed Shaker who died in June 2007 after having the operation.
The thing that shocked me the most was the statistic, in Egypt 95% of women have endured this procedure. The show was innterviewing women who insisted that without the cutting, women will be out of control and lustful, and will also be unable to marry, as no man would marry a woman who has not been circumcised.
It is truly, truly appaling and barbaric. A tradition that predates Islam and Christianity, and is wholly supported by its victims.
"If a girl is not purified, she will just go hook up with men. This protects women's honor. Otherwise it will become just like America here and girls will go with guys," said Asma Said, a 16-year-old secondary school student.
"Those who say it doesn't happen are lying 100 percent. There is not one person here not circumcised, and it will continue."
She like many of the schoolgirls in Maghagha who spoke to Reuters said they supported the practice, even if they were frightened of having it done.
The only girl who spoke against the practice was shouted down by her classmates until she conceded that genital cutting was a necessity.
"No one can get married without it," said the girl.
Another classmate, 15-year-old Nesma Radi, chimed in: "Egypt lives in peace and security because there is circumcision."

Reuters 20 Aug 2007

Another news story tonight is of a french family that took their 4 year old adopted daughter to hospital. The doctors found a tale of abuse and torure, broken bones, missing teeth, burns, malnourishment, and a failure of neighbours and social services to pick it up.

Stuff like this makes me dispair

Fan(s) of Sylvia Browne

Oh my, I've just received a delicious copule of comments to my post on Sylvia Browne
Although they are both anonymous, I'm certain they were written by the same person. Same tone, same bullshit.

I don't know if you've seen the YouTube video of the androgyne Emo Chris Cocker wailing on about Britney Spears. If you haven't seen it, watch it, and then read these posts in support of Sylvia Browne. "SHE'S HUMAN!!!"

Sylvia Browne is human just like you and I and to put her down for every little thing she does is just plain wrong. Do you like to be pointed out everytime you mess up? You believe in what you believe in, I believe in what I believe in, and Sylvia has her own beliefs also. Every religion preaches what they believe in, so why can't Sylvia Browne do so also? People are afraid of what they don't know! Scientist are not always correct either. Humans and animals are not perfect! Grow up! We are all acting like children again. Sylvia is just trying to make a difference in the world and what are we doing? Putting each other down!

I believe that some people do receive great gifts from God, like pyschic abilities. You have no right to judge anyone. She is right about alot of things, like negitivity in this world. Its nice to hear that there is no such thing as a Devil and hell. I personally believe that we are all in hell now and everyone will go to a better place when we die. She gives hope and a sense of peace in many people's lives also. Everyone has their own beliefs, just like you, so why put her down? You all should be ashamed! Thats the negitivity she talks about in our world. You're all adding to it!


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Night riding - deserves a quiet night

When I can get my act together, I like cycling to work, it helps me keep fit, and saves money on petrol. It's not far from our house to the factory: 14 kilometres, a couple of big hills, but a great ride. If it was any longer I'd be too shagged to work a shift, and any shorter it wouldn't be doing me any good.
So why is it so hard to get my arse in the saddle?
The shift hours. Today was a morning shift. The shift starts at 4:00am. So to get to work with enough time to change and have a cup of coffee, I need to leave home at 3:00am. So I have to wake up at 2:45.
That's an infirnal time to wake up, and I'd much rather get in the car and drive to work with the heater on, listening to the radio.
The hard part is getting on the bike and getting started. Once I'm on the road it's very pleasant. So I get all the kit ready the evening before and have it all waiting by the bed. No excuses.
This morning wasn't as cold as it has been. We've had frost the last few days, but last night it rained, and the cloud cover stopped any autumn warmth from disappearing. I didn't know it had rained, because I was in bed by 7:00pm, exhausted from the previous morning shift. I didn't even have dinner, I was too knackered. It was only when I pushed the bike out of the gate and saw the wet road that I realised it had rained.
Fiona had put some of the fried chicken I'd missed in a tuppaware for me. My saddlebag had the tuppaware, wallet, & phone. It's a big canvas Carradice bag I used on the PBP ride back in 2003. It has a quick release attachment to the seat post, and also has permanently packed: a pump; a folding tyre; an innertube and tools.
It is very eerie cycling at 3:30 in the morning. It's dark, and very quiet. I take the back roads, past farms and hamlets and there is no traffic. Because it is autumn, the roads are covered in fallen leaves. The tyres going over the leaves make a distinctive noise that is difficult to describe. They are crisp, and yet wet and the noise is a gentle "shooshing" and crackling. The air was cold on my face, but I was warm because I have a good gortex jacket, heavy bibtights and cleat winter boots. As I sttod up on the pedals to climb the switchback hill past Genouillac I thought to myself that this was the kind of experience that no one else could share, I felt very solitary and alone, but it was OK, it wasn't a lonely feeling, just me and the bike, the noise of the tyres, the headlight throwing weird shadows on the road and the ditches, the sound of the wind in the trees, and sometimes the snort and snuffle of unseen cattle in the field.
I thought the ride back at midday would be warmer and I packed the jacket in the bag. In fact it was about the same temperature, but because I could see where I was going (unlike in the dark, in spite of my excellent dynamo hub and halogen light) I could ride faster, and thus get warmer. I was passed by a heavy transporter carrying a digger. It could only do 40kph so I sprinted up to its speed and coasted along, slipstreaming at 40kph hardly pedalling. Luxury.

In honour of the title - here's Michael Stipe and Mike Mills performing "NightSwimming" live on Jools Holland. mmm - nice

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Age of Empires

Hooray! France is looking to expand its territories.

Belgium has been without government since June 2007. Belgium is split between two language groups, the French speaking Wallonia region and Dutch speaking Flanders in the north. These two regions have been bucking for more political autonomy.
We are two different nations, an artificial state created as a buffer between big powers, and we have nothing in common except a king, chocolate and beer.

Filip Dewinter, the leader of Vlaams Belang, or Flemish Bloc, the extreme-right, xenophobic Flemish party.
Anyone who has spoken French in a Flemish city quickly gets a sense of the mutual hostility that is a part of daily life here. The current crisis dates from June 10, when the Flemish Christian Democrats, who demand greater autonomy for Flanders, came in first with one-fifth of the seats in Parliament.
Yves Leterme, the party leader, would have become prime minister if he had been able to put together a coalition government.
But he was rejected by French speakers because of his contempt for them — an oddity since his own father is a French speaker. He further alienated them, and even some moderate Flemish leaders, on Belgium’s national holiday, July 21, when he appeared unable — or unwilling — to sing Belgium’s national anthem.
Belgium’s mild-mannered, 73-year-old king, Albert II, has struggled to mediate, even though under the Constitution he has no power other than to appoint ministers and rubber-stamp laws passed by Parliament. He has welcomed a parade of politicians and elder statesmen to the Belvedere palace in Brussels, successively appointing four political leaders to resolve the crisis. All have failed.

NY Times 21 Sep 2007

Now it seems France might have a solution: Wallonia can become part of France! Hooray! Vive La France! Last time we tried to take belgium was when Napoleon got slapped down at Waterloo.

Flanders can keep Brussels tho. I don't like their sprouts.

Blog Readability Level
It seems my blog consists of one syllable words and poopie jokes.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

The scariest music ever.

Dr Who.
When I was a kid the sound of this theme coming out of the telly had me diving behind the couch.

Here's a guy from BBC Radiophonic Workshop explaining how it was created.

And another bit on the history behind the theme:

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Remembrance Sunday - L'Armistice

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th Month.

Except here in France the 11th hour isn't sacrosanct. But since the french make Armistice day a Public Holiday, I'll let them off.

Here's how it happened in Cherves Chatelars. The ceremony was scheduled for 11:30. The faithful gathered around the war memorial outside the mairie.

The ceremony itself started over the road. We all gathered behind The flagbearer (Marcel Rassat) and the wreath bearer.

At the appointed time we all crossed the road together.

Marcel dipped his flag 3 times in salute to the memorial, and a tinny recording of The Last Post was played from a tape deck in a Fiat Panda. No, I'm not making this up.
The flag outside the mairie was raised from its lowered psition and the wreath was laid at the foot of the monument.

Alyne, a neighbour and ex-colleague from the factory read a message from the veterans organisation

And then the mayor, Gerard Moran, read a message from the Secretary of State.

After that, two old gents read the list of names of the dead. One would say the name, and the other would then say "mort pour La France". There was about 30 names from the Great War, about 10 from the 1939-1945 war and one from IndoChina
Then there was a minute of silence.
The Marseillaise rang out tinnily from the Panda and we all went into the mairie for "un verre d'honneur" Pineau or Pastis.

There is a similar ceremony every year at the monument to the resistance, in the woods near Chatelars, on the 8th of May.

Lastly, although it has nothing to do with Armistice here is a picture of all our beasts in the same basket. To be fair, it was taken today, and anyway Jamon has a picture of his dog today, and I want to out-cute him. Plus the text "cute dogs and cats in a basket" will drive traffic my way.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Friday's Favorite French Things

OK, so it's Saturday. Give me a break.
These little breath fresheners have very cool packaging.
In 1880, a pharmacist called Leon Lajaunie concocted these little aniseed breath fresheners. They come in a great little tin that has a pivoting lid that opens a little hole in the side. You tap out a couple of the little brown sweets. They are really powerful and more than two is nasty.

There is nothing to indicte it on the packaging, but, according to the french Wikipédia article they are owned by Cadbury-Schweppes. Apparantly 10 million boxes are sold annually. One every 4 seconds.
Cachou is also slang for a booger, or nose-goblin. I presume this is named for the size and colour of the sweet, and not the other way round.


Friday, November 09, 2007

Dialogs with a Muslim

We have a lot of temporary labour at the factory. This is because french labour laws make it very expensive for companies to take on staff, and once you have employed someone full time it is near impossible to fire them.
So most companies operate a system of limited contracts - 1 month to 3 months usually. They then keep renewing the contract for as long as is necessary. This can carry on (ss it did in my case) for up to two years. After two years of short term contracts the company has to convert the contract to a permanent one, or stop renewing. And find another sap to string along for two years.
In the case of the tile factory, the short term contracts make a lot of sense. There are many people who coan't cope with the shifts. Others can't cope with the physical demands of the job, and still others can't deal with the mind-numbing monotony of the work. So a sensible hiring practice is to take people on contract until they've proved themselves. We also take workers on contract to cover for illness, vacations, ebb and flow in seasonal demand for the tiles. There are fewer roofers willing to up in mid winter!
So I've had a fair number of temps working with me on the press, some good, some hopeless, and some Muslim.

Abdel was a youngster, killing time between the end of school and the start of university. On his first week I had to give him a pep talk. It was the first night shift. He was in a foul mood, not keeping up with the tiles that were arriving on the conveyor, which was causing repeated stoppages. I had already been working with him four days and had spoken with him a few times.
I told him that he was obviously bright, and young and fit. Physically capable of the job. What was getting in his way was that he was too bright for this type of work, and he had to master his emotions. I told him he had to find a way to manage and control his boredom and frustration, take his mind elswhere, occupy his thoughts with plans and abstracts to get through the hard parts of the shifts, at 3am when you're tired and you're wondering what the hell you're doing in this cursed factory.

He took it well, and sorted himself out, and we had many discussions after that.

Abdel was eighteen years old, born and raised in a village jsut down the road. His mother is Moroccan, and his father is second generation french, but also of Moroccan parents. His parents are both lawyers, and well off because Abdel's car was a new hatchback, given to him by his parenst for university. The fact that he achieved a good baccalauriate spoke for his intelligence as well as being evidence of a supportive home life.
I got to see french racism first hand because to the french workers, Abdel was, and would always be Moroccan. The fact the he was born in France, went to school here, counted for nothing. His name and looks will always set him apart. This racism is not (always) malicious, but it is deeply entrenched.
One of the first discussions we had was about Coke. I was drinking a diet Coke and Abdel asked if I had heard that some people say that Coke put pig's blood in their drinks.
"Why on earth would they do that?"
He shrugged. "Well, it might be part of the secret recipe, you know, to make people like it without knowing why they like it"
"That's crazy! If that got found out Coke would be finished. It would be a disaster"
"Well, no-one knows what's in the recipe."

I thought about it while catching tiles. Why pig's blood? Where had he got this story from? It sounded like the kind of internet romour that would be mailed from person to person, like the pork chops and worms in coke thing. And pig's blood would be especially offensive to moslems. Combine that with the modern distrust of big coprporations and the fashion for disliking the USA and you've got a meme on your hands.
Pig's blood in Coke. Patently bullshit, but how to convince Abdel?
I gave him a few things to think about. First, it would be very easy to disprove. Anyone can take a sample of coke to a lab and ask for it to be analysed. forensics can find DNA and evidence of blood in the smallest of samples. It would be a piece of cake to find traces of blood in coke.
Coke is produced in the millions of litres per day. If pig's blood is part of the recipe, even in small quantities, that blood has to be supplied. How on earth are they going to keep a lid on the truck loads of blood coming into the plants?
Why would such a rumour be so appealing? Just because we would LIKE a story to be true doesn't make it so. Was he following his instincts or his reason when he heard and repeated the story. Like all good rumours, the story is based on part truth. Snopes - the home of urban legend on the web has a whole section dedicated to "Cokelore". Coke used to contain cocaine. Back in 1885 the product contained extract of coca leaves and kola nuts. Hence the name. By 1929 there was no cocaine in the product at all.
He didn't mention it again. He probably thought "Shit, I give the guy a little story about Coke and he goes on and on about conspiracy theory and logic. He's wrapped way too tight"
We had other discussions about religion. Abdel was a practicing muslim - Ramadan, no alcohol, the full schtick. He was looking forward to university in Poitiers because at least there was a mosque there. Here in backwoods france there are no mosques. Because of the seperation of church and state, there is no state funding for the building or maintenance of religious structures. Be they churches or mosques. Abdel pointed out that this was unfair because the churches had all been built before separation of church and state came about. Fair point.
He asked me how I could be an atheist when I was surrounded by evidence of God's creation. Deep philosophical and religious discussions are difficult in a second language, but I did my best with the usual stuff - Russell's Teapot, one less god etc. I don't know if it did any good.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

We don't do poppies . . .

We do bleuets.

11th November. Armistice Day. It's done a bit differently in France.
First, November 11th is a public holiday. And it should be in the UK too.
Second, no poppies. Or at least not in this region. I don't know why. The french know all about poppies and Flanders field and all that, but instead of getting a poppy for donations to veterans organistions, you get this little blue flower.
The mob that organises it is ONAC Office National des Anciens Combattants et Victimes de guerre.
And the bluets are only collected for on Armistice Day and May 8th - VE Day. No weeks of seeing politians and newsreaders with poppies in their buttonholes.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Every now and then, at the tile factory we make little tiles for export to China.

Amazing! China actually imports stuff. But What I can't figure out is why they would import little roof tiles made with expensive French labour. And there is a lot of manual intervention on these tiles. It takes a team of four, minimum, to make them. A team of five would be better. Because the tiles are little, they don't fit on the converyor belts that move tiles around the factory. So they have to be stacked in piles of 10 by someone, and then another labourer stacks the piles onto the overhead chain transport system. Meanwhile, a third person is taking the tiles from the spaghetti machine that is spewing them out at the rate of one every second. The fourth person is the chef d'equipe and quality control.
I thought that maybe, with the growth of Chinese middle class and super rich there may be a demand for "Made in France". The Chinese are francophile and are becoming an imotant factor for French tourism.
But then I remembered that the Chinese forge all manner of jeans, perfumes and other branded products so putting "made in France" on their tiles wouldn't slow them down.

I've now decided it must be some kind of political/economic trade deal thing. We'll let you export your cheap clothes if you'll take our tiles.

The final thought that depressed the hell out of me is that they probably use the tiles for roadfill!

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Bloody Religion . . .

A mother died hours after giving birth because her religious beliefs would not allow her to have a blood transfusion.

Which is just great for her and her entry to heaven, but a bit tougher on her twins, now being cared for by their father.

Terry Lovejoy, spokesman for Jehovah's Witnesses in Telford, said: "We share the family's very real grief."
Mr Lovejoy said: "We follow the Bible and abstain from blood and I've no reason to believe Emma felt any differently."

Does that mean that Emma wasn't given the choice?

And why does Mr Lovejoy, as a representative for the JWs not know that the Church of JC & Latter Day Saints no longer holds to these rules?
Leaders of the Jehovah's Witnesses movement have revoked a strict ruling that their members automatically face ex-communication if they accept blood transfusions.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

For the Healing of Little Pigs

Many of the little villages and towns have fountains and natural springs. There is usually a Saint associated with the spring, and a little shrine. The various springs, thanks to the intercession of their associated Saints are supposed to have healing properties.
Here in Cherves Chatelars, the spring of St Vivien is supposed to heal Epilepsy.
I've made a list of the towns/villages in the Charente and their healing springs at the end of this post. Some of the illnesses I haven't been able to translate. For example, at Loubert you can be healed of "Flying Fire". And I don't know what "Dartres" or "Panaris" is.

This is a little picture of the Font at Mouzon (just down the road from here: Fontaine St Martin: Rhumatism.

This PDF article (In French) describes how these little devotional fountains came about.

It seems that since the time of the Druids and before, there was a lot of nature worship. The Gauls worshiped trees and rocks, and natural springs were especially sanctified. With the Roman conquest, these springs were dedicated to the new Roman gods: Isis, Jupiter, Mithra, Minerva, Cybile. When Christanity triumphed in the Empire, these Roman gods were displaced, in turn, by church Saints. Rather than destroy the Roman practices, as directed by Council of Arles in the 6th Century, the church allowed devotions to take place at the springs, and nominated local Saints to sanitise the process. So the cult of the Springs became replaced by devotions to the church Saints at the Spring.

In the Charente there are more than 70 of these healing springs, and for those old fashioned or superticious enough, by asking the local "healer" the appropriate spring can be found. Some of the springs have become little known and secret.

The last pilgrimage to the spring at Aubin St-Mary took place on the 11th August 1947, when the citizens of Agris asked St Aubin to interced against the drought.
Since that day, though, intercesions of this type have not been so successful. Some say that the pilgrims should return to travelling by foot, rather than by car, and others say that there are too many skeptical visitors.

Look through this list and marvel at the mixture of church and pre-Christian superstition. At Montigné you can take the waters and the sain'ts blessing against the evil eye. At St-Germain-de-Confolens, St Antoine can protect you against bewitchment.





St. Sulpice

Alopecia Areata


? ?



La font des Pûtes



St Augustin


Aubain -St- Mary

St. Aubain



La font des Demoiselles



St Aquillie



La font Belette

Sore eyes


Ste Claire

Les panaris


La font Mélisse

Urinary Incontinence


St Martin



St. Claire

Nervous Disorders


St Pierre et St Médard

Les césouelles





St Antoine



La fontaine des Sorciers

Against spells


La font des Pûtes

Heals wounds


Font Malillac



St Vivien



St Martial



Ste Elalie



Font Guérison



Font Belleveau



St Etienne



St Etienne



Font Baumer

Mute Child


St Pierre



St Augustin



St Jean

Against worms


La Vierge



St Denis



Ste Suzanne

Le feu volant






Les panaris


St Cybard



Ste Claire



La font des Demoiselles

The evil eye


St Supent



Font Penelles

Point de côté


St Martin



La font des fièvres



St Pierre



St Aignan



St Jean



Ste Eutrope et St Martin

La ravenelle chez les enfants


St Martin


Ste Quitterie



St Gilles



Font bénite

Illness of the eyes


La font des Dames



St Jean

St- Bonnet



St- Claud

Ste Eutrope


St- Coutan



St- Germain -de- Confolens

St Antoine


St- Germain -de- Montbron

St Antoine


St- Quentin -de- Chalais


St- Laurent


St- Yrieix

Font des Fées

Le mal caduc




St Orient

Against Fear


Font des Dames




animals, esp. pigs


Ste Catherine

Against celibacy

Vitrac St Vincent

St Maixent



Font des Pûtes



St Martin



La font des Miracles


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