Monday, August 26, 2013

Life after Facebook

I pulled out of Facebook a few years ago. Since then, I've never experienced any nasty withdrawal symptoms and my existence has remained very much the same as when I had an operational Facebook account. In that last phrase, the adjective "operational" is a slight exaggeration, because I never went to the trouble of building a so-called "wall", so nobody ever "liked" me, just as I refrained from ever "liking" any other addicts in the Facebook universe.

The celebrated French cartoonist Charb has kindly authorized me to reproduce one of his marvelous drawings:

— from an article by Patrick Pelloux in Charlie Hebdo (France)

So, life after Facebook is a reality. Maybe, since abandoning Facebook, I've been missing out on all kinds of communication pleasures. But, since I'm not aware of what I'm letting slip by, it doesn't seem to hurt me. Some people might say that my Antipodes blog is "worse" than a Facebook account, since I'm constantly exposing myself on all kinds of subjects, and I know that Google drops in regularly on my latest blog posts, to see what I've been talking about. The big difference is that I never set out to write stuff that will make me "liked". In fact, as you can see from certain comments, there are readers who hate my guts... but that's normal, and I don't get upset by run-of-the-mill criticism (which often says more about the individual writing the criticism than about me). In any case, I've nothing to hide, and I'm happy to be known publicly as the sort of fellow who might write a blog such as Antipodes. I'm not at all like Groucho Marx when he said: "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member." Above all, I'm pleased to learn (through my Site Meter account) that dozens of my old blog posts get read every day... mainly by readers in the USA, the UK and Australia.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Retirement village

As far as I'm concerned, this title—retirement village—doesn't mean much, for the obvious reason that I don't actually reside in a village: neither Choranche nor Pont-en-Royans. To be quite truthful, I think I would go mad if I had to reside within the narrow precincts of old-fashioned villages such as Choranche or Pont-en-Royans. That was one of the first things that Christine, Emmanuelle and François noticed when they discovered Gamone. Thankfully, our marvelous place named Gamone, looking outward upon the valley, has nothing in common with the spirit of constricted territories such as the two above-mentioned villages. On a sunny winter's day, when I drive down into the chilly whiteness of Pont-en-Royans, I have the impression that I've changed continents. As for the tiny village of Choranche (le bourg, where I hardly ever set foot), it reminds me sadly of a place that has no particular desire to welcome individuals from the outside world (such as myself), so I lose no time there.

Gamone, on the other hand, is my kingdom. But the mind of the monarch (me) has often been pierced by melancholy thoughts about what might have been the case if only I had hesitated for a moment before settling down at Gamone. A crowd of onlookers down in the Antipodes is crying out (as if they were watching a rugby final): "Yeah, Billy, you should have decided to come back here to your native land, maybe even to South Grafton." It's a fact that this kind of vague idea reoccurred often in my imagination back in the days when my mother Kath had just inherited the agricultural property of my father. If only she had said to me "Billy, come back to Deep Creek and Nymboida, to look after your father's properties", I would have probably done so. But Kath, without ever sending me a word on such matters, squandered stupidly and rapidly all of Bill Skyvington's agricultural assets. In any case, it would have been a huge mistake for me to return to my birthplace.

On the other hand, there's a fascinating spot in the Mediterranean world that I would have dearly loved to embrace as my adopted home. I'm talking of Tinos, in the Cyclades, in Greece. I was young.

In those hot mind-filling days, I was a minor poet:
     Dead wood from a windmill in Tinos
    The wobbly weathercock of Grecian winters
    will no longer indicate the pale blue meridian
    from Asia to Africa.
    It lies on the arid ground between rocks and snakes.
    Alongside, three aged teeth in black oak
    will never more bite the Etesian winds, full of salt,
    during their long seasons of wild wheat
    on the burning slopes of archaic Tinos.
    This sacred soil once offered water and bread
    to Poseidon and Amphitrite.
    The Cyclades filled the sails of Ulysses and made
    the warm bread rise, covered in seeds of sesame.
    Old toothless windmill, memory of the Aegean.
These days, the various idiots who send nasty comments to my blog posts about Lawrence Durrell and his daughter Sappho know little, surely, about the Mediterranean and Durrell's environment. In particular, they've probably never known Greece, let alone Provence. So, I ignore them.

I often thought that it would be so easy to purchase a property on the island of Tinos, maybe in the Roman Catholic region of the island, and I imagined living there. Today, retrospectively, I realize that it would have been a mistake for me to think about a retirement village in Greece, notably on the island of Tinos. Three obvious problems:

— The problem of water on the Greek islands renders life uncomfortable.

— It would be difficult, for an individual such as myself, to tolerate the pious and antiquated religiousness of Greeks.

— Sadly, the current economic problems of Greece mean that the entire nation is at a standstill.

So, I'm better off here at Gamone. But I still dream about Tinos...

Good citizen William

Normally, nobody's going to know the bare facts (unless I get struck down dead in the near future... which is not one of my current intentions). So I'm obliged to write this blog post. I've just ordered (through the Internet) no less than four items of relatively expensive black underwear, of the celebrated Eminence brand, made in France.

Before ordering, I even went to the trouble of phoning up the factory down in the Gard department to find out the identity of distributors who sell their genuine made-in-France production... and they gave me immediately a single famous name: Galeries Lafayette.

Now, if you think that the tone of my underwear story is somewhat overkill, that simply means that you've never had an opportunity of seeing me wandering around the house at Gamone, of an early morning, dressed in nothing more than cheap underwear purchased at the local Leclerc supermarket. Normally, I'm not an exhibitionist, but wearers of cheap supermarket underwear are obliged to become exhibitionists, unwittingly, through what the French refer to as la force des choses (literally, the force of things)... which means, in the present case, the force of hefty male genitalia striving constantly to fray their way through flimsy fabrics manufactured in places like Bangladesh.

Once upon a time, when I was a young fellow, we could buy clothes that lasted for ages. I remember, for example, having once tossed out, with iron in my soul, an archaic pair of moleskin trousers that I had brought with me from Sydney in 1962, because they had ceased to fit my bulky form several decades ago. They were manufactured by a legendary Australian firm named Fletcher Jones. This manufacturer still exists, but I have no idea whether they've adhered (probably not) to the fabulous fabrics of my youth. During my trip to Sydney in 2006, I asked the staff in a Fletcher Jones shop whether they still sold moleskin trousers, and they looked at me as if I were a Martian. These days, it's such a temptation to make money by using shitty fabrics from Bangladesh.

When I speak of being a "good citizen", I merely mean that I intend to purchase systematically, as far as possible, products that are made in France.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Nuclear submarines for Australia

Several years ago, I brought up the important subject of Australia's antiquated submarine fleet, and the question of an ideal replacement model:

— 26 December 2007, Australia's submarines [display]

— 2 January 2008, Australian arithmetic [display]

I evoked the idea that Australia might examine the feasibility of a French nuclear-powered vessel such as the Barracuda.

This interesting question of nuclear-powered vessels has given rise to a recent report entitled Nuclear submarines for Australia [display]. A link to the original green paper on this subject written by specialists at UCL [University College London] can be found here.

Camping site in Châtelus

My old friend Daniel Berger (an experienced wild-boar hunter) and his wife Michèle operate a delightful camping site across the other side of the Bourne, in Châtelus. Here's a photo of Daniel with his dog Milou.

I've just created a new version of their website, which can be accessed here.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

French commercial property for sale

My friends Tineke and Serge spoke to me recently about a couple up near Lyon, named Bruno Richard and his wife Marie-Paul, whom they've known for ages, who would like to sell their charming rural hotel/restaurant, named La Jocondière, located in beautiful backwoods to the south of Lyon, near the village of Pélussin.

After analyzing the situation, and concluding that the affair appeared to be totally positive, I suggested that a good marketing strategy would consist of building a small website dedicated to the property in question. So, click here to visit my website (almost completed today)... whose address will get picked up rapidly, I hope, by Google.

If ever an Australian investor were interested in this interesting but out-of-the-way affair, it goes without saying that I would be happy to operate as an intermediary...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Tricked by a donkey

Yesterday afternoon, when giving my donkeys a bunch of fresh thistles (their caviar), I was suddenly alarmed by the physical appearance of Fanette. Alongside the sleek silvery hide of Moshé, the 3-year-old female was terribly shaggy, and I had the impression that the forms of  bones were protruding in the region of her rump, as if she were becoming dangerously skeletal. The following photos, taken this morning, prove that Fanette is indeed shaggy, but they don't quite reflect the vision of my donkey that shocked me yesterday afternoon.

I jumped into the car and set off to St-Jean-en-Royans to ask the veterinarian for advice. When I explained that Fanette had not yet eliminated all her winter fur, the veterinarian told me that this has something to with the exceptional weather conditions over the last few months. Apparently he encounters a steady stream of owners of all kinds of animals—dogs, cats, horses, etc—who have observed the same phenomenon. In any case, the shaggy appearance of an animal that has retained a lot of its winter fur must not be interpreted as a symptom of any kind of health problem.

Have you seen any traces of diarrhea? No.

Are the donkey's rib bones visible? No, not at all, merely something that looks like rump bones.

Does the donkey appear to be eating well? Yes. Fanette gulped down the bunch of thistles so quickly that Moshé couldn't get in for a nibble.

Are you sure that your vision of "protruding rump bones" is not simply an illusion brought about by the presence of patches of thick fur alongside areas of bare hide? When I think about it, maybe you're right...

After leaving the veterinarian, I nevertheless dropped in at the local agricultural store to buy a bag of oats, on the off-chance that Fanette might be needing some kind of a boost in her summer diet. This morning, I had the impression that the donkeys looked at me as if they wondered whether I had gone crazy, serving them up fresh thistles and oats in the middle of their season of plenty, when they're surrounded by acres of luxurious grass and tasty weeds of all kinds.

In the following photo, you can distinguish the ridges of thick fur around Fanette's rump that looked to me like protruding bones, particularly when she was standing on sloping ground, and I was looking at her from behind.

You can also see the excessively fat bellies of both animals. The veterinarian told me that, ideally, I should be able to run my fingers over the sides of a donkey and feel the rib bones. For the moment, the main thing I feel on Fanette is fur. But how can you persuade a donkey to go on a diet?

OK, I was tricked by Fanette's fur. Now, when you've stopped laughing at me, let me ask you a simple question. Why do animals grow fur in winter, and then lose it in summer? Many of you probably said: To keep themselves warm in the winter cold. No, that's not a good answer. Keeping themselves warm in winter is indeed a favorable outcome of growing fur... but what I want to know is: What is the mechanism that makes the animal grow fur at exactly the time it's needed? You might have answered: Animals are designed that way. Fair enough... so long as you don't intend to say that God made them that way. Some of you might have added: Animals that happened to grow winter fur had a greater chance of survival (in the Darwinian sense) than animals without fur. That's true, too. But the answer I was looking for is the presence of genes, inside the donkey, that might be designated as a biological clock. A biological alarm clock, that rings a bell when the animal's fur-growing genes need to be triggered, in preparation for the forthcoming winter.

Geneticists have now identified precisely such biological clocks inside humans, and they are capable of studying the ways in which the operation of such devices can be upset by various external factors. We all know, for example, that some of our biological clocks become quite dysfunctional when we step onto a plane and fly to the Antipodes. And it takes a few days for the clocks to get back into a perfect operational state.

Getting back to Fanette, it appears that the internal mechanisms of her gene for shedding old fur have got screwed up by the weird weather. One day, donkey specialists with advanced training in genetic engineering will surely invent a technique for repairing biological clocks that have become temporarily unphased. Meanwhile, Fanette appears to be less upset than me about her shaggy appearance. And her old fur will inevitably be replaced by new fur by the start of the cold season.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Base-jumping, for and against

I've just heard that another base-jumper was killed this morning to the south of Grenoble, but I don't know yet whether it was at or near Choranche. At the end of last year, there was a mortal base-jumping accident at Choranche. The ensuing discussions, for and against base-jumping at Choranche, starred my friends Georges Pontvianne, of the Jorjane hotel-restaurant, and Bernard Bourne, dairy farmer and mayor of Choranche. They can be seen, in French (with good views of our cliffs), here and here.

Within our tiny village, it's a conflict of two cultures. There are only about 250 daredevils in France who practice this extreme sport (whose statistics indicate that it is only moderately dangerous), but our cliffs in Choranche (just above the Rochemuse floral park of Tineke and Serge) happen to be a world-famous address for base-jumping. Ever since settling down in Choranche, I've become accustomed to the idea that base-jumping is a permanent element of our local outdoor culture... but I must admit that I've never been tempted to get involved in this activity at a practical level. I love to look up at cliffs, and take photos. Before arriving in Choranche, however, I never imagined for an instant that there might be individuals who got a kick out of jumping off cliffs.

BREAKING NEWS: No, yesterday morning's accident occurred in the Obiou range, 70 km to the south of Grenoble, at an altitude of 2,400 metres. For reasons that remain unknown, a base-jumper failed to open his parachute. For the moment, apparently, weather conditions have prevented searchers from reaching the scene of the accident.

Photographer wins gold at Moscow

Here's a portrait of the real winner of the 100 m sprint at Moscow:

He's a photographer named Olivier Morin, who works for AFP. Even Usain Bolt himself tweeted his congratulations to the photographer.

Click here to see the famous photo. Click here to see the story of this amazing photo in Mail Online. And click here to access Olivier's Morin's portfolio.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Born in the USA

It's nice of Barack Obama to tell his fellow-citizens that their nation has no intention of preying upon their private lives.

It's fine that he should reflect upon the concept of American patriotism, and that he might refuse to label a certain US citizen as a patriot. But we in the world outside ObamaLand don't give a fuck about American patriotism. The courageous whistle-blower Edward Snowden is now being hunted by ugly Uncle Sam as if he were an escaping cotton-farm slave. If Obama could call upon a military drone to target Snowden and blow his arse off, I fear that this whole affair would be instantly terminated. But Obama (thank God, or whatever) doesn't possess such a drone, and so the US president is obliged to air his fury by the cowardly act of cancelling a meeting with Vladimir Poutine.

Living outside ObamaLand, we in the Old World simply don't like to learn that America is spying upon us. So, we're on the side of the allegedly-unpatriotic running slave, and praying that he won't get caught.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Dumber and dumber

In certain fields (and not only in sport), outstanding individuals from my native land can do just as well as celebrated Americans, if not better. Our latest specimen in the dumbness domain, Queensland political candidate Stephanie Banister, has just stepped into the limelight of international celebrity, where she's competing remarkably well against a famous US champion of stupidity, Sarah Palin.

Here are extracts from a TV video in which Stephanie evoked a nation named Islam:

Personally, I reckon that Banister makes Palin look like a boring intellectual. But my father was born in Queensland, so maybe I'm chauvinistic. Click here for an Aussie article on our champion.

PS Recently, when Kevin Rudd succeeded in kicking out Julia Gillard, the affair was hardly mentioned in French media. Today, on the contrary, the story of Stephanie Banister is repeated on every French media website. I would advise her to abandon politics and set up some kind of an international business—maybe in communications or tourism—enabling her to cash in on her sudden notoriety. For example, she could organize holiday trips for tourists who would like to visit various interesting places in Islam, and dine on delicious haram food.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

La Cabane Bambou

On the road from my place up to Grenoble, there's a marvelous spot where the road turns around the tip of the Vercors range before the final straight stretch of highway down towards the city. For several minutes, you're still dominated by the cliffs of the Vercors, on the right-hand side of the road, while the first summits of the Chartreuse start to emerge to the left.

Click to enlarge

Local drivers refer to this spot as La Cabane Bambou (bamboo hut) because of the derelict vestiges of a once-popular bar-restaurant, located by the roadside against a splendid background of limestone cliffs.

Old postcards show this place at the height of its glory.

Local drivers moving away from Grenoble are aware that this spot is particularly dangerous, because you have the impression that you've just broken free from the Alpine metropolis, and that the open road to the south lies ahead of you. Here's a Google image, looking to the south, of the short stretch of road that rises up to the blind curve where La Cabane Bambou is located (where the red truck is parked on the roadside).

Many mortal accidents have taken place in this vicinity, where certain drivers are capable of forgetting stupidly that fast traffic in the opposite direction can hurtle around the curve in front of La Cabane Bambou. Even if you slow down deliberately when reaching this spot (as I always do), that in itself can be an encouragement for reckless drivers to hit the accelerator and overtake you, which makes the situation more dangerous than ever.

This morning, therefore, I was saddened but not unduly surprised to learn through the Internet news that yet another terrible accident had just taken place at this spot.

Three vehicles came into frontal collision: a German camping car (whose driver died), a truck and a local automobile.

Over the 20 years during which I've been living in this magnificent region, I've heard so much about the dangers of the road between Grenoble and La Cabane Bambou that I've become almost terrorized by this spot, in spite of (or maybe because of) its rough beauty. A few years ago, imaginative road-safety technocrats felt that it would be a good idea to put up a red-and-black signpost at every spot where a mortal accident had occurred. Their scheme was frighteningly morbid. There were so many wooden "tombstones" alongside the road that you had the impression that you were driving through a cemetery. But the outcome was not necessarily effective from a road-safety viewpoint, because drivers were so distracted by the roadside views that they probably paid less heed than otherwise to behaving correctly. Frankly, I don't know what might be done here to reduce the steady stream of fatalities...

PS My blog post has used information from the website of our prestigious and excellent regional media organization, Le Dauphiné Libéré [display]. I hasten to add, too, that the actual building known as La Cabane Bambou (displayed in the above Google Maps images) no longer exists, as it was demolished a few months ago. That section of the road now houses a battery of electronic radar detectors, powered by solar energy, designed to flash warning signs as soon as wild boars from the slopes of the Vercors start to cross the road, during the night, on their way to the River Isère, to quench their thirst.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Before and after the storm

This afternoon, I took two photos from the same spot: my bathroom window. In both cases, my Nikon was pointed in more-or-less the same direction: out onto the valley of the Bourne and the Cournouze mountain. The first photo was taken in the middle of the afternoon, when a storm was brewing. In the space of ten minutes, the sky had suddenly turned black.

Click to enlarge

Then the rain fell. Finally, the sun reappeared, and the second photo was taken twenty minutes ago.

Meanwhile, the week-old heat wave had come to a spectacular end.

PS Both photos were obtained with the automatic settings on my Nikon D70s (that's to say, in both cases, I simply pointed and pushed the button), and the published images are totally-untouched screen dumps.

Monday, August 5, 2013

All the food that's fit to eat

We were confronted simultaneously, the morning, with two front-page news items about food, one of which was disastrously negative, and the other, amazingly positive.

First, the bad news. The presence of a dangerous bacterium, capable of inducing botulism, has been detected in products from the New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra, obliging China to reject powdered milk supplied by the French Danone company, which processes Fonterra raw milk.

Meanwhile, in London, the world's first artificial hamburger—created by the team of Professor Mark Post—was served up to two privileged tasters who had financed this astronomically expensive research project.

For the moment, I don't think it's all that important to know whether this prototype stuff was edible, and whether it did in fact taste like real beef. The thing that counts above all is that researchers have indeed imagined and started to test a process for transforming stem cells into laboratory meat. Even if it takes years before artificial hamburgers can compete effectively with the real stuff, the project is so fabulous that the time and effort will be justified in the foreseeable future.

Over the last fortnight, at Gamone, I've been experimenting with a Greek recipe for moussaka comprising ground lamb cooked with red wine and spices, grilled eggplants and zucchini, and a thick white sauce incorporating lots of shredded goat's cheese. Back in the old days, before people got around to serving up shit food, I used to appreciate this dish greatly, but I wouldn't feel comfortable about purchasing it these days, neither as a pfrepared dish in a supermarket, nor in a restaurant... because you can no longer have confidence in what you might be eating. So, the ideal solution is to learn how to prepare it myself. And I must say that the first results are totally convincing. On the other hand, in the case of a dish such as moussaka (or lasagna) in which the meat is present in the form of a thick sauce, I can imagine that a successfully-engineered variety of artificial meat would be perfectly acceptable.

I've already pointed out in my blog that I consume a large quantity of pizzas, which I prepare and bake here at home. There again, I would no longer think of purchasing any kind of commercially-available pizza, except maybe in a reputed Italian restaurant. A recent TV program explained all the cheap and nasty shortcuts that the pizza industry employs in order to minimize the cost price of this product, including the use of some kind of fake "cheese". When I make a delicious pizza at home, I'm aware that the price of my raw ingredients (without attempting to evaluate the costs of my cooking operations) is already at least twice as much as what I would pay for a take-away pizza. So, there's a mystery somewhere along the line...

Friday, August 2, 2013

Britain being Islamized outrageously?

Poor Stacey Dooley! Poor Luton! I feel sorry for the people and the nation I once knew.

If Brits were to think of themselves as tolerant promoters of liberty, equality and fraternity (which they may or may not, I don't know), then I would say that they're getting screwed. Maybe it's too late to do anything about it. It would appear at times that they're already well and truly screwed. Meanwhile, praise the Royals, and celebrate the birth of George...

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Butterflies at Gamone

There's no doubt about the preferred flowers of butterflies at Gamone. Disregarding my roses, they spend all their time on the lavender bushes. Here's a lone specimen of Euplagia quadripunctaria, nicknamed the Jersey Tiger (Ecaille chinée in French), which is rather rare here.

Iphiclides podalirius, nicknamed Swallowtail (Flambé in French), is quite common here at Gamone, where I found a couple flitting around the lavender this morning.

Click to enlarge, enabling you to see a visiting honey bee.

Media reports speak of an alarming diminution in the quantity of butterflies in rural France, due to the use of pesticides. So, their abundance here is what might be termed (metaphorically) a blessing. At the level of their wonderful park, Tineke and Serge have found, like me, that the butterfly population at Choranche seems to be intact. In an adjacent domain, Serge was happy to inform me that his hive of honey bees appears to be, not only healthy, but in a prolific state of honey production.

I say to myself constantly that we have the privilege of living in a lovely corner of France.