Saturday, November 30, 2013

Anglican diocese of Grafton

In the mid-1950s, when I was a teenager in Grafton and an active member of the Anglican community attached to Christ Church Cathedral, I would never have imagined that, one day, from my home in the mountains of south-east France, I would be reading the following solemn statement published by an archdeacon of the Grafton diocese:

Click to enlarge

Click here to see a shocking page of their website, against a background of jacaranda blossoms, on which the diocese includes a link to a 31-page document, created in 2004, bearing the sad title: Protocol for Dealing with Complaints of Sexual Abuse.

I made allusions to Grafton’s unpleasant history in this domain in my blog post of 16 June 2013 entitled In the shadow of Grafton's cathedral [display].

Today, I have no desire to wade through the sordid tales and events that have been unfolding in Sydney’s ongoing Royal Commission into child abuse. But, for readers who might like to follow up these stories, I include here a list of links to relevant Australian media accounts.

Anglican Church official Pat Comben quizzed in Royal Commission over response to child sex abuse at North Coast Children's Home [link]

Cleric quits over abuse handling [link]

Abuse claim priest has quit [link]

Anglican directory of clergy a 'stud book' [link]

Brutal assaults at a NSW orphanage [link]

Church to audit child sex abuse settlement [link]

Church dissent over abuse approach [link]

Abuse diocese puts community first [link]

Smiling bishop Keith Slater failed victims of sex abuse in their hour of need [link]

I'm not sure I'm still a Christian, Anglican priest Pat Comben says [link]

Bishop ignored child sex charges [link]

One of the articles contains the following sentence:
The protestant community in Grafton seems close. One could well imagine the conversations at the "dinner parties with a bit of red wine" that Pat Comben, former diocesan registrar, touched on in his evidence to the commission.
That allusion annoys me in the sense that it gives the impression that Grafton Anglicans were in the habit, in a mildly inebriated state, of passing around fragments of sordid information at private dinner parties. That vision of events is far removed from my memories of Arthur Edward Warr, Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, dropping around for weekly chess evenings with my paternal grandfather, with tea and biscuits served up by my grandmother. But I have to admit that, as a boy in Grafton over half a century ago, I had no contacts whatsoever with what might have been thought of as the upper-crust Anglican community of the city.

These days, as a confirmed atheist who looks upon all present-day religions with the utmost disgust, I'm quite delighted to observe that an organization such as the Anglican Church appears to be coming apart at the seams... but I'm immensely sickened by the case of those countless kids who were handled as sexual objects by vile males who were supposed to be the children's guardians.

POST SCRIPTUM: Many former residents of Grafton are aware, I believe, that their “city” has been going slowly down the drain, in countless ways, over several decades. Today, as a symbol of that civic and economic decay, the local mayor and his councillors don’t even talk of Grafton any more. They ramble on stupidly as if they were living in a vague place known as “the Valley”. Be that as it may, I have the impression that the reputation of Grafton is likely to suffer indelibly as a consequence of the ongoing Royal Commission. We can no doubt think of those links in the above blog post as nails in Grafton’s coffin.

Rotten luck

Maybe God exists, and He cares for all of us, even those amongst us who happen to be sinners… and criminals. But there are times when everyday crooks are likely to be so dismayed by their amazing rotten luck that they might be forgiven for wondering whether the Creator is indeed making an effort to protect them. Worse still, these run-of-the-mill lawbreakers, whose only preoccupation consists of trying constantly to earn a dishonest penny, might even be led astray into atheism of the worst kind…

Consider, for example, this item of news from rural France. Etampes is an ancient and charming small town to the south of Paris, midway between Chartres and Fontainebleau, which has often been used as a setting for movies.

As an enthusiast of pumpkin scones [click here to see my blog post on this subject], I’m impressed by the beauty of a famous red pumpkin variety that bears the name of this town.

Surrounded by such celebrated places as Paris, Orléans and Chartres, Etampes has always found it hard to shine in the domain of historical celebrity. In other words, it’s a quiet town, where nothing much ever happens these days. There’s not even an autoroute or a high-speed train line in the vicinity of the town, whose residents must get fed up with constant allusions to Etampes as a “gateway” into the Ile-de-France region surrounding Paris.

All in all, it’s the kind of environment in which low-level robbers might hope to earn a modest living, without taking too many risks. In any case, that was the intention of two naive delinquents who used a pistol, late last Wednesday evening, to hold up a young couple who happened to strolling through the wintry streets of the sleepy town. What could be more straightforward, more normal?

Now, to understand the rest of this trivial story (which nevertheless made its way into all the French media), you have to know that the outskirts of Etampes were chosen as an ideal site to set up the training school of the National Gendarmerie Intervention Group [GIGN = Groupe d'intervention de la gendarmerie nationale], the elite special-operations squad of the French Armed Forces, trained to perform counter-terrorist and hostage-retrieval missions throughout the world.

And sometimes, of an evening, both male and female members of this army unit are likely to don civilian clothes and go for a walk through the deserted streets of Etampes. Well, the future robbery victims chosen by the above-mentioned delinquents happened to be a pair of GIGN trainees (a young guy and a girl)… who noticed instantly that the pistol pointed at them by one of the would-be robbers wasn’t equipped with a charger. Now, that was indeed a silly omission, particularly when you happen to be holding up two members of the GIGN, in the hope of getting hold of their cash. Things happened so quickly that the pistol-wielder didn’t know what had hit him. His unarmed mate escaped, but was rapidly cornered by local police.

Normally, when residents of Etampes happen to get a glimpse of these GIGN guys engaged in training activities, they’re easily recognized, because they look something like this:

But how can an unskilled everyday delinquent be expected to recognize GIGN personnel when the crime-fighters don’t even go to the trouble of wearing their distinctive gear? Indeed, if GIGN members are allowed to roam around the quiet streets of Etampes of an evening dressed in civilian clothes, they must be considered as a potentially grave danger for unwitting robbers and miscellaneous delinquents... and there should be a law against situations of this kind.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Vegetal ball

My maternal grandmother, Mary Jane Kennedy [1888-1966], used to tell me about her first doll, when she was a little girl up on her father’s bush property on the banks of the Clarence at Riverstone (Seelands), above Grafton. Her Irish mother, Mary Eliza Cranston [1858-1926], had used a short stout bone from a steer to fashion a doll for her daughter. It must have been a rather primitive creation, with a painted face and rag clothes, but my future grandmother was enchanted by her “little bone doll” (as she put it). Whenever my grandmother told us this story, she insisted above all on the idea that a loving mother, with a little bit of imagination, was capable of performing acts of magic in the eyes of her offspring.

My Fitzroy receives lots of bones every time I buy minced lamb at the supermarket, when the butcher supplies me with a big bag of tasty odds and ends for my dear dog. As for toys, he invented one for himself this morning: a round pumpkin or squash (I don’t know which) that he found in the weeds on the edge of my vegetable garden.

Click to enlarge

Fitzroy knows that his vegetal ball can roll. In a nutshell, my dog has reinvented the wheel. His ball seems to have a mind of its own.

So, he has to keep an eye on it, unless it suddenly decides to roll away and hide in the bushes.

Once it escapes, by rolling down onto the road, Fitzroy has to run to keep up with his vegetal ball.

Fortunately, because of its color, the vegetal ball is easy to see in the icy greyness of Gamone.

Furthermore, although you wouldn’t describe it as edible, the vegetal ball emits a subtle effusion when you happen to sink your teeth into its skin. All in all, it’s an excellent toy... invented by Fitzroy.

Helico visit

In the early hours of the morning, when your house is lost in autumnal mists, and everything around you is so quiet and motionless that the landscape and its creatures (including humans) seem to have gone into hibernation, there’s nothing better than the low-altitude flight of a helicopter over your roof to jolt you back into reality.

I recognized immediately the blue aircraft used by electricity engineers to verify that recent snow has not brought down branches over their landlines. They swooped down low over Gamone to get a close look at the various lines, then they disappeared up over the slopes on the other side of Gamone Creek. Their visit lasted no more than half a minute: a short lapse of time during which Fitzroy and I—and no doubt the donkeys too—wondered whether we might be under air attack by the forces of a hostile village. Thankfully, our visitors did not stay for long. Helico fuel is expensive, and this is not the right time of the year for sightseeing.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Construction of wood shed

In my previous blog post, entitled Wood shed finished [display], I stated proudly that the structure was “sturdily-built”. Prudent, I had preferred to wait until the entire construction process was terminated successfully before showing how I had gone about building the shed. It would have been so embarrassing to have described my building work, only to be followed by a dramatic image of a pile of wood and tiles beneath a mound of snow on the lower slopes beneath my house. But I really don't believe we're likely to be faced with such a situation.

In this blog post, I intend to present a few images, taken at the start of October, that highlight some of the more difficult phases of the construction process. As explained on 8 September 2013 in Getting ready for the cold season [display], I started out by bolting a metallic base onto each of the six hefty pieces of timber to be used as upright posts.

Click to enlarge

For each post, I then dug a hole 50cm x 50cm x 50cm and placed the post in the hole in such a way that its lower edge was more-or-less at ground level. To hold a post upright, I surrounded it by a couple of chestnut fencing stakes, and used struts of timber held in place by steel clamps to secure the post while I adjusted its verticality. Throughout the entire construction process, I made constant use of my precious collection of steel clamps (which have gathered rust through being left outside in all kinds of weather).

Once each of the six upright posts was surrounded by a block of concrete, my friend Serge Bellier used a simple hand-saw to level off the posts at the top. Then I was faced with the question of how to raise the heavy horizontal beams. The following photo shows you the makeshift system I invented for this task:

Placing a beam on the foreground posts was a slightly more difficult operation, since these post are considerably taller than the posts on the valley side. The following photo shows my enhancement of the block-and-tackle solution to deal with this increased height:

As you can see, the main difference is that the ladder had to be held in place by chains to prevent it from toppling over. The next photo shows the last of the four big beams being raised to the top of its supporting posts:

Here’s a closeup view of the block-and-tackle system at the top of the ladder:

It goes without saying that, when carrying out such operations, I was wearing a hard hat at all times, and never positioned at any moment beneath the beam being raised. Once the beams were resting on top of the posts, I used an assortment of nails to fix them in place.

The remaining phases of the construction process were quite straightforward: installing rafters, corner stays, and finally the tiles. I didn’t bother to take photos of these activities, because they weren’t particularly photogenic. Concerning the final result, I’m particularly pleased with the system of corner stays (there are probably more technical terms for these various pieces of timber) that keeps the structure perfectly rigid.

It was a matter of creating a set of triangles covering every point at which the global structure might be capable of shifting under the weight of the tiles and snow.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wood shed finished

Except for a few details (such as screwing on the final side tiles, aligning and protecting the protruding rafters, and paintwork), my wood shed is finished and operational.

Click to enlarge

The piles at the rear are composed mainly of wood that Gérard Magnat delivered in September [click here for my blog post with a photo of that pile of firewood], whereas the front pile is some of the extremely dry wood that the Barraquand firm in St-Laurent-en-Royans delivered a few weeks ago.

The structure is sturdily-built, and unlikely to collapse under the weight of snow. As you can see in the following photo, there’s an appropriate system of braces beneath the roof. Besides, I’ve systematically used timber of dimensions somewhat larger than what you could get away with.

The position of the wood shed is ideal in that firewood can be delivered just alongside it, and it’s not too far away from my front door. Meanwhile, there’s also a large stock of dry firewood inside my cellar: enough to keep the house heated until well after Xmas.

For the moment, I haven't yet got around to lighting up my new wood stove, because it hasn't really been cold enough, and the fireplace is perfect for watching TV of an evening (often with Fitzroy dozing on my knees).

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Say cheese... with an echo

For several years, my favorite cheese has been Ossau-Iraty, produced from unpasteurized ewe’s milk in the Béarn and Pays basque region of south-west France. In 2011, at an international cheese fair in England, a cheese of this variety was awarded the prize of the World’s Best Unpasteurized Cheese.

Even in France, this product is not nearly as well-known as celebrated cheeses such as Roquefort, Brie, Cantal, St-Marcellin, Comté, Gruyère, etc. Maybe the double-barrelled name is a minor stumbling-block, in that it’s slightly complicated, and many French people wouldn’t feel comfortable trying to pronounce it. At the supermarket, I’ve got into the habit of simply asking for Ossau… and the cheese lady knows immediately what I mean.

Well, that’s going to have to change, because the producers of this cheese have launched a TV campaign designed to demonstrate how the name of their product should be pronounced. And the least that can be said is that this is likely to give rise to a lot of decibels in French supermarkets. In fact, the next time I intend to request a slice of Ossau-Iraty, I should probably think about taking along a megaphone, combined with an electronic echo box.

I’ve noticed, too, that the various demonstrations of cries of “Ossau-Iraty” in the valleys are all performed by young women. I believe that this reflects the fact that barefoot nymphs used to work as shepherdesses in the valleys where this cheese is produced.

Meanwhile, the males of the villages were busy making cheese… and playing Basque pelota.

Friday, November 22, 2013

My November 22, 1963

Like countless people throughout the world, I remember distinctly the moment when I learned that John F Kennedy had been assassinated.

On 25 October 1963, in the port of Rotterdam, I had signed off as a sailor on the British Glory petroleum tanker, after a three-week voyage from Kuwait. Then, on Monday 4 November 1963, I started work as an assistant English teacher at the splendid Lycée Henri IV in the Latin Quarter of Paris (where I would end up working for three years).

On 21 November 1963, I attended a reception for new foreign teachers (such as me) at the Hôtel de Ville.

I could hardly imagine that, in the course of the following decades, I would stroll almost daily across that magnificent square (when I was living in the nearby Rue Rambuteau). Meanwhile, I had moved into a room in a flat rented out by a sleazy South American fellow. It was located on the second floor of a building in the Rue Montorgueil, near the great Halles markets (which were still functioning at that time).

                                             — photo by Robert Doisneau

Today, it is a smart little street with boutiques and bistrots.

But in 1963, it was a gloomy and sinister address. That’s where I happened to be located, on 22 November 1963, when the South American fellow informed me that Kennedy had been shot. Needless to say, I was stunned, for many reasons. My maternal grandmother was an Irish Kennedy, and I had always felt a vague kind of kinship (totally unjustified) with the US president. As for my South American landlord, he seemed to quite like the idea that the USA could get rid of one of their leaders in such a spectacular fashion.

Not long afterwards, I was pleased to find accommodation at the Collège Franco-Britannique at the Cité Universitaire, to the south of Paris.

It was a far more pleasant atmosphere than my room in the Rue Montorgueil. Later on, when I was living in the Rue Rambuteau, I would often find myself walking past the southern extremity of the Rue Montorgueil, near the church of Saint-Eustache.

And this corner of Paris brings to mind invariably an image of Jackie Kennedy, in her pink Chanel outfit, on the rear seat of a big black automobile, leaning down over the body of the dying president.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Great weather for dogs and donkeys

This morning, Choranche received the first autumn snow. (Winter won’t start, of course, before a month’s time.)

And the view from my bathroom window proves that I’m unlikely to be dining outside on the front lawn in the near future.

Like last winter, I’ll soon be receiving a visit from Australian relatives who choose this time of the year to drop in on Europe. Inside the house, it’s not at all cold… and I haven’t even got around to lighting up my new wood stove that I’ve been installing over the last year. Outside, my dog Fitzroy adores this kind of weather, and he races around madly, burrowing into the snow whenever he halts. The donkeys, too, don’t seem to be troubled by the snow. Jackie and I had a look at them this morning, and put a small block of hay in one of my old animal shelters. But some of them preferred to stay outside, burrowing into weeds beneath the walnut trees.

The only way in which this kind of weather affects my daily existence is that it would be crazy to go out driving… supposing that I were able to get the car safely to the bottom of Gamone Road without sliding off into the creek. Between now and the arrival of my sister’s family (just before Xmas), I intend to get a set of four snow tyres installed on my car, to maximize the possibility that I’ll be able to collect them at the train station in Valence.

BREAKING NEWS: I've just received an e-mail with a warning for "level 2 snow" in our region.

Level 2 is an orange warning, one step below the red warning.

Click to enlarge

The weather folk explain that residents of an orange zone must be "very careful, because dangerous phenomena are likely". Do you find that clear? Me neither. So, I'll stay at home in front of the fireplace.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Donkey situation at Gamone

A few months ago, I deliberately refrained from indicating on my blog that my young female donkey Fanette had suddenly died. At the time, shocked and saddened, I simply failed to understand what might have killed her, almost overnight… so I preferred to remain silent. I shall never know, but donkey life goes on… and it looks like this, today, at Gamone.

[Click to enlarge]
Left to right: Bella [young Monaco female], Alice [black Monaco female], Victor [Alice’s son], Louise [gray Monaco female], Fernand [Louise’s son], Moshé and Barnabé [young local male, obviously gay].

There are seven animals: a donkey for each day of the week.

After the above-mentioned tragedy, my kind neighbor Jackie had the impression that Moshé was depressed by the disappearance of his female companion. So we decided to join our neighboring properties, donkey-wise. And the consequences are happy for all of us… particularly since the birth of the two young males.

For the moment, all these splendid beasts are grazing on my backyard slopes. Jackie has gone to the trouble of installing fine winter lodgings for his animals, but the chances are that they’ll spend the cold season outside. Tomorrow, Jackie and I plan to reinforce all the electric fences around our properties. Incidentally, I'm immensely happy to have a friendly neighbor such as Jackie who adores donkeys, chooks and my omnipresent dog Fitzroy.

Gamone Press

A new publishing house is about to emerge: Gamone Press. Our first title will be a paper book: A Little Bit of Irish — My Mothers' People in Australia.

Published by Gamone Press, this book will be marketed internationally by the giant UK-based IngramSpark organization.

Our second title will be a rather technical manual explaining, not surprisingly, how the first title came into existence.

After that, there’ll be another genealogical document: They Sought the Last of Lands — My Father's Forebears. And this will be followed by a paper edition of the novel All the Earth Is Mine associated with an official eBook version.

Other publications will follow at a modest rate. In particular, there'll be my long-awaited update on the Skeffingtons:

In this way, I shall be in a position to publish all that I have to say as a writer, while avoiding to get screwed by unscrupulous capitalists.

Furthermore, I'll no longer have to go through the boring process of attempting to convince dull employees of established publishing houses that I have something to say.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Medals-wise, Charles thrashes Dylan

Prince Charles has been in combat, over the years, on all kinds of hostile fronts. So, it’s normal that the breast of the future monarch should be sagging under the weight of medals.

Bob Dylan, on the other hand [display], has probably never been on active service anywhere. What’s more, I reckon that, if Charles could be persuaded to learn to play the guitar and give us a few royal songs, we might be all struck dumb with awe. Believe me, there are surely all kinds of surprises concealed under that bowler hat.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Old man with a medal on his chest

                                                — photo Didier Plowy

The young woman in blue—who seems to be smiling inwardly, as if her joy must be restrained at all costs—is Aurélie Filippetti, Minister of Culture and Communication in the present French government. As for the old guy with gray hair, who looks as if he acquired his clothes in a second-hand shop, that’s 72-year-old Robert Zimmerman, better known as Bob Dylan. This morning, he became a chevalier (knight) in the French Légion d'honneur, but I have the impression that he wasn't particularly overwhelmed by this honor.

Unsafe to eat

This afternoon, at the charcuterie counter in a local supermarket, I was intrigued by the behavior of a young female client who wished to purchase a few slices of ham. She was lecturing the employee.

CLIENT: I’m counting on you to give me good-quality ham, not the nasty stuff with mixed-up DNA.

The employee was just as bewildered as I was. What was this allusion to “mixed-up DNA” ? A few extra words from the client informed me immediately what it was all about. She referred to a TV show, last night, on the subject of ham, and the dangers of certain categories of products. I had started to watch it, but I was too depressed to persevere to the end of the program… so I missed out about the “mixed-up DNA”, and can only guess what ugly facts had been divulged. But I stepped into the conversation.

WILLIAM: Did you watch the show on disgusting fish, a week ago? Personally, I’ve decided to cease eating salmon.

EMPLOYEE: I always say to myself that, if we took account of everything we see on TV, we would be afraid to eat anything at all.

By that time, two other clients joined in our conversation. All of us (except the naive supermarket employee) seemed to have seen the two TV shows: the first one on dangerous fish products, and the second one on ham. And it was clear that we were all impressed, to a certain extent, by what we had learned about the dangers of certain everyday foodstuffs.

WILLIAM: It's amazing that four random clients such as us have all been influenced by these TV shows. We should form a club, to talk together about these dangers.

CLIENT: I agree wholeheartedly, Monsieur. Please create such a club, and I’ll be the first to join.

It’s clear, in any case, that French TV is doing a fine job of making consumers aware of various unwholesome food facts. It would indeed be an excellent idea to create some kind of consumers’ club within the context of our local supermarkets (if it hasn’t been done already), but I’m not exactly the right man in the right place for such a project. On the other hand, I do intend to explore our local trout-hatchery situation, if possible, to see if everything’s as limpid as the icy water in a mountain stream.

Somebody’s marketing my novel

In 2010, my novel All the Earth is Mine was published as an E-book by a US firm, Smashwords. After a while, having received not a single cent of revenue from this firm, I told them that I wished to abandon my ties with them... and that's what ensued (as far as I know).

Today, I’m surprised to discover that an online dealer is still offering my E-book for sale [access].

Since I’ve never had any contacts whatsoever with this dealer, I asked them to explain what’s happening.

Meanwhile, if anyone wants to receive a free copy of my novel in ePub format (to be read on an iPad, for example), just let me know.