Showing posts with label Fitzroy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fitzroy. Show all posts

Thursday, March 20, 2014

My son’s 3-day working holiday at Gamone

François Skyvington leads an extremely busy existence. Over the last few years, my son has been working almost non-stop on his 30-minute moped travel movies for TV. (The latest series will be aired on the Arte channel later on this year.) For the moment, he’s starting major building extensions to his house on the top of Brittany cliffs looking out over the English Channel. And he has also decided to create a high-quality diner-style restaurant alongside the main road between St-Brieuc and Paimpol. I therefore find it perfectly normal that François doesn’t necessarily have free time enabling him to drop down here to see me at Gamone. So, I was thrilled when he phoned me last week to say that he had decided to take the train from Guingamp to Valence for a 3-day stay. To get an idea of how long it was since the last time we had met up, you only need to know that, last Monday afternoon, François met my dog Fitzroy for the very first time.

In such circumstances, it goes without saying that I did not expect my son to spend any part of his precious holiday time in carrying out work around our house at Gamone. But I had not reckoned on the spontaneous desire of François to tackle all sorts of practical problems whose urgency he sensed immediately, as soon as he reached Gamone. First, it was a matter of reducing drastically the volume of the "bun" of branches (my son is preoccupied by BurgerTalk) on top of the pergola.

Finally, the 6 rose bushes composing the pergola looked like young Australian boys of my generation who had just emerged from a customary short-back-and-sides operation at the barber’s shop.

François then set about tidying up the Buxus sempervirens (European Boxwood) hedge that I planted long ago on the outer edge of my future rose garden.

François then set about pruning the various bushes of my rose garden.

He then tackled the huge task that consisted of removing all the wild vegetation (including lots of small trees) on the perimeter of my rose garden. You can detect the presence of this vegetation in the background of the above photos. To remove it, François used both my electric hedge-trimmer and my chainsaw. Thanks to my son's strenuous efforts, I can once again get a glimpse of the road that runs alongside Gamone Creek.

Finally, as if all that work were not enough, François drove the Renault Kangoo and trailer to a nearby quarry where we were able to gather up (manually) a stock of high-quality limestone slabs that will be an essential part of my future wood-fueled bread oven. Here you see François sitting on this nice little pile of stones, alongside the place where the oven will be built (this summer).

I was delighted to see that the relationship between my son and my dog was better than anything I might have hoped for. François was often amazed by Fitzroy’s serenity. Indeed, I like to imagine that my dog and I, through sharing constantly our experiences, are becoming similarly zen in parallel.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Love this lizard

Can you see him?

Click to enlarge

He’s dark green, like the foliage. With a long tail. He's not particularly apprehensive. He emerged at midday to bathe in the Gamone sunshine, plentiful at present. He's so delightfully antediluvian. I would love to call him Bill and invite him in for a cup of tea, with my dog Fitzroy.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Portrait of a sporting dog

You’ve seen photos of great sportsmen and sportswomen posed alongside the tools of their trade. For example, alongside a rugbyman, there’s an oval ball; alongside a tennis star, a bag of newly-strung rackets, etc. In this portrait of Fitzroy, basking in this morning’s winter sun, his faithful blue hose-running equipment lies just below him.

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On an average, this metre of hose is only used for about a minute or so a day, whenever Fitzroy decides to perform a series of three or four dynamic sprints in front of the house, with the blue hose clenched between his teeth. It’s a little like the high-tech bicycle of a track cyclist specializing in 200-metre sprints. The equipment is only actually used by the champion for a brief lapse of time, when he or she is operating in an exceptionally high-powered state. Then the equipment is simply set aside until the next sprinting session, maybe on the following day.

Nevertheless, even when sporting champions are not actually using their precious equipment, it’s never far away from them, and generally in sight.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Habemus invictam

Trying to capture an image (for posterity) of the very first wisp of white smoke emerging from my new chimney at Gamone is like taking photos of a polar bear in the Arctic snow. At this time of the year, almost everything in the sky of Choranche looks like wisps of white smoke.

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To obtain this proof that smoke does indeed go up the chimney that I designed and erected (with constant help from my friend and neighbor Serge Bellier), I burned no more than a bit of paper and a few wood chips, because I’ll only be taking the stove up to its operational temperature over a period of a week or so, to give the metal time to gradually expand and creak itself into shape.

My only blog reader who’s likely to understand the title of this post is my son François, who also installed a French-manufactured wood stove of the Invicta brand. I was almost going to write Habemus poelam, but Christine would have lost no time in correcting me. The modern French word poêle can indeed designate either a frying-pan or a wood stove, but the ancient Romans only used poela in the first sense. They did not use metal stoves for heating. Their domestic heating installations were based upon steam generated in the cellar by a hypocaust system associated with a furnace (in the style of a pizza oven).

This is the same kind of system that was used to heat up water in a pool—called a caldarium—in the splendid Somerset city of Bath.

At Gamone, my living room is already well heated by my fireplace… provided that I keep the glass cover down, instead of raising it so that I can warm my toes while watching TV: a great pleasure, which I often share with Fitzroy, lying in my lap. Incidentally, talking about Fitzroy, I bought him an elegant cushion yesterday, which I promptly lined with an old pair of ski pants that I’ve outgrown.

For the first time in ages, Fitzroy spent the entire night on the kitchen floor in his new bed, which he guards jealously as if it were a bone that an evil passer-by might try to steal.

PS Don't be too alarmed by the grubby state of my kitchen floor. Apart from the fact that I'm only slowly emerging from the lengthy period of construction of my wood shed [display], not to mention final operations concerning the installation of the wood stove (during which time my tools were often left lying upon the kitchen floor), the current dirty state of the floor is due above all to the fact that the evacuation system for used sink water is clogged up once again. I'll fix that tomorrow, and clean up the mess in the kitchen. One thing at a time...

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.

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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.

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.

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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, October 27, 2013

Fitzroy locomotive

Once or twice a day, as usual, Fitzroy lets off steam by means of a short but intense session of hose running.

I tried to “freeze” him with my Nikon as he dashed alongside me like a locomotive.

Most of my images were total failures. Finally, though, they’re the images I most prefer, because their fuzziness conveys the spectacular motion of my dog.

It’s important to understand that Fitzroy’s hose-running field is studded with various random obstacles, which must be avoided by the dog. On the other hand, no points are lost if the hose grazes such obstacles, or even knocks them over.

Often, Fitzroy has no more than a thousandth of a second to determine the ideal itinerary.

I hope that Christine will enjoy this blog post. She has a beautiful dog named Nushka, of the same elegant Border Collie race as Fitzroy (but no doubt considerably purer).

In the grounds of a Breton castle, a day or so ago, Nushka (on a leash) made an abrupt and energetic movement that caused Christine to fall flat onto the ground, severely injuring her left wrist. She tells me that she has received exemplary treatment from medical professionals in Brittany, whose standards of friendly excellence merit praise. So, she's quietly recovering in her lovely Breton home.

It’s funny to recollect that Christine and I, back in Paris many years ago, were the least “doggy” individuals you could possibly imagine. Today, both of us are the proud owners of magnificent canine locomotives…

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Mysterious objects at Gamone

Up until today, my collection of mysterious objects at Gamone has included as star exhibits the following specimens (all of which have been presented on my Antipodes blog, which seeks constantly to stay abreast of avant-garde technology):

[Click to enlarge]

The red machine peels apples (the fruity kind, not the Cupertino models), the spiral prong enables you to roast unpeeled apples over an open fire, and the device at the bottom helps you to blend butter and flour when you're about to prepare an apple pie.

Well, this new mysterious object (purchased this morning in St-Marcellin) has nothing to do with apples... but rather with other Gamone fruit. My new mysterious object is not particularly photogenic, since its principal organ is composed of elliptically-shaped wires, and it's not easy to take a photo of an empty oval space. I warned you: This object is elusive! The following vague photo suggests that it's a kind of wire-framed rugby ball attached to a long stick... which is almost what it is, in fact.

My scientific/literary hero Richard Dawkins indicated recently (I forget where) that he didn't like the idea of swimming in rivers where nasty fluvial creatures (that's an elegant synonym for carnivorous fish) might bite his balls off. Imagine, for a moment, a momentous scenario in the underwater kingdom. A mother fish returns home with a fabulous gastronomical feast for her baby descendants in the wondrous chain of procreation: Dawkins's balls! Then there's that nasty business in Dawkins's autobiography about a schoolmaster who, in the words of the author, "pulled me on his knee and put his hand inside my shorts".

While I hardly imagine that my favorite writer reads Antipodes, I would not wish to evoke dramatic memories. I hesitate therefore before revealing that the mysterious object I purchased this morning is a nut grabber. To be clear, that's the French name. In English, I should specify that it's a walnut grabber... but, as the bishop said to the actress, nuts are nuts. Now, if ever Richard Dawkins were reading this blog post, I would suggest that he shut his eyes while I publish this closeup image of the metallic rugby ball (Dawkins, if I understand correctly, is not of a South African sporting nature) that grabs nuts that happen to be lying around indolently on the ground, as if they'd never heard of Saturday night fever.

In fact, my new toy is an old man's device that enables you to pick up walnuts without bending over. I don't know about you, dear reader, but I'm old enough to appreciate such inventions. But don't get wrong: I've never been particularly accustomed to bending over—neither forwards nor backwards—during my long and fulfilled existence in the domains of science, philosophy, technology, sex and walnuts.

As you will have gathered, there was no prize for guessing the identity of my newly-acquired mysterious object... but I offer you, as a gift for participants, a delightful everyday image—which you can share with my dog Fitzroy (a nutty connoisseur)—of a basket of Gamone walnuts.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Dessert for a dog

At this time of the year, Fitzroy is constantly moving around in a world of weeds, prickles and thorns... and I have to verify regularly that there's no nasty stuff caught up in the hair around his ears. Happily, my dog is not at all annoyed whenever I drag away dozens of lumps of hair and prickles. On the contrary, he seems to enjoy my taking care of him.

Recently, I've often seen him edging cautiously into thorny blackberry bushes in order to eat the sweet fruit. This morning, finding some expired-date cream in my refrigerator, I decided to prepare a little treat for Fitzroy.

He seemed to sense immediately that the dessert was for him.

Whenever Fitzroy finds himself face-to-face with a tasty dish, he becomes quite solemn, and the outside world ceases to exist. He seems to hesitate for a moment. I have the impression that he's cogitating upon a fundamental dog-question: Should I devour this stuff immediately, or should I bury it for later on? (Maybe my analysis is mistaken.)

Once the actual eating operations get under way, no time is lost.

I'm always amused by the way in which Fitzroy makes sure that not a molecule of his fabulous food is wasted. And the ultimate act consists of using his tongue to wipe all around his mouth. The pleasure expressed by Fitzroy is so explicit and catching that I almost imagine that I myself did the eating.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Baby beasts at Gamone

About a month ago, I caught sight of a small animal cantering down the road from my house, in the style of a rabbit. I only had a rear view of the moving animal, from a distance of some 50 metres, and it disappeared quickly, so I wasn't able to examine it. I concluded that it was probably a stray cat. Still, the cantering (or maybe galloping) movement seemed to be rather weird for a cat. And I have never seen rabbits or hares at Gamone. I came across a few small black turds on the road near my house, and they too didn't seem to have come from a cat. Besides, there are no scraps left lying around the house to attract cats. So, the identity of the small animal remained a mystery.

This morning, just after the annual passage of the fellow in a tractor who cuts the weeds alongside the narrow road up to Gamone, I think I finally solved the mystery. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to take photos, but here's a Web image of the kind of beasts (same size and colors) that I saw quite clearly, at close range, half an hour ago.

In the vicinity of my mailbox, Fitzroy and I suddenly found ourselves alongside three baby wild boors (called marcassins in French) which promptly cantered off down the road, with my dog on their heels. They disappeared into the grass alongside the creek, and Fitzroy didn't seem to be capable of picking up their scent. A few seconds later, one of them reappeared on the road, and he squealed in terror when he found that Fitzroy was chasing him. But the marcassin disappeared instantly, and all ended well. I have the impression that Fitzroy was just as surprised as me to come upon such small beasts at Gamone.

I left a message with a friend in Châtelus, Daniel Berger, who's a hunter and an expert in the behavior of wild boors, asking him for advice on how I should handle this affair. Wild boors, as their name indicates, are wild beasts, and I don't know whether it's a good idea to have a litter of marcassins just alongside the house. I can imagine some of my readers saying: "Oh, they're so cute. William should catch them and keep them as pets, as friends for Fitzroy." Yes, a great idea... but totally impossible!

Seriously, I don't deny that I would indeed be pushed by an obscure physical desire to cuddle such splendid little beasts (like I cuddle Fitzroy) and to experience the power and determination they would no doubt exert in trying to break free. I would be fascinated, above all, by their marvelous little snouts, used both as a marvelous sensory device (enabling them to carry on dozing in the undergrowth while dogs abound all around them) and as a tool for digging up hard soil and rocks in their search for tasty food. Of the same order as basic human sexuality, the attraction that emanates from domestic and wild animals is a wonderful and mysterious force that surely takes me back mysteriously to my evolutionary origins as an African ape (an expression employed regularly by Richard Dawkins). I often feel that the silly adjective "cute" might in fact be based upon this profound archaic association (resuscitated thanks to a handful of surviving genes) between our ancestors and us. I'm reminded of these links, every morning at about 7 o'clock, when Fitzroy wanders upstairs into my bedroom, moves his front paws stealthily up onto the bed, reaches around until he finds one of my hands (I'm usually still half-asleep), and then starts to lick it conscientiously, cleaning me up (symbolically, at least) for the approaching day.

POST SCRIPTUM: The property of my neighbors Jackie and Fafa, a couple of hundred metres further up the road, is bordered all around by woods. So, it's logical that they receive more visits from wild animals than I do. Jackie tells me that he has often seen a couple of marcassins hanging around their house.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Maybe I've outsmarted my dog

I have never, at any moment, actually caught sight of Fitzroy stretched out on the Ikea lounge chairs in the living room at Gamone. In fact, he has got into the habit of spending a lot of time dozing on one or other of those two lounge chairs. I know this because I see the traces he has left there: hairs and traces of his muddy paws. But Fitzroy only ever jumps up onto the lounge chairs when I'm out of sight, upstairs. Fitzroy has a sufficient mastery of the science of optics to know that, when he can't see me, I usually can't see him. Fitzroy also understands perfectly well that I don't approve of the idea of his jumping up onto the lounge chairs. I don't know how and when he acquired that knowledge, because I've never had an opportunity of catching him red-handed up on the lounge chairs, and yelling at him or dragging him off. From a moral viewpoint, Fitzroy has the mentality of a pure criminal. That's to say, he considers that a crime only becomes a crime when you get caught. So, as long as you don't get caught, nobody could ever claim that you're doing anything wrong. So, Fitzroy concludes that his dozing on the lounge chairs would only become an offence if I were to actually see him dozing on the lounge chairs... which, as I said, has never been the case. No matter how quickly and quietly I try to race downstairs in an attempt to catch him perpetrating his misdeed, Fitzroy is systematically sufficiently alert and rapid to scramble back down onto the floor before I'm halfway down the stairs.  Sure, I then look at him sternly and reprimand him for having been up on the lounge chairs. But, as we all know, verbs in the past tense don't really count in the dialog between a master and his dog. More precisely, I have the feeling that dogs do in fact understand all the subtleties of the past tense just as well as the finest human grammarians, but they seem to have learned that we humans believe that dogs only exist in the here-and-now, and they take advantage of this state of affairs by deliberately looking dumb whenever we speak of anything that happened in the past.

But, from now on, all of this will be ancient history, because I've invented an ideal method of preventing Fitzroy from jumping up onto the lounge chairs. I've purchased enough heavy cloth to make a new set of robes for the pope, and I've thrown all this machine-washable material over the lounge chairs in such a way (with the help of lengths of wood posed on the arm-rests) that my dog will no longer envisage the chairs as a familiar and convenient place to snooze.

At least, that's the theoretical sense of my solution. Another of my beliefs about dogs is that Fitzroy is sure to understand that I've gone to some trouble (and expense) to implement this solution, and that it would be most unfriendly of him if he were to drag the covers off, or scramble up underneath them. We'll see what happens...

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ghosts in the greenery

Fitzroy is suspicious of every zone of greenery that might conceal hidden foes such as lizards.

Whenever his senses detect the presence of such an enemy, Fitzroy generally adopts the spectacular technique of pouncing, which means jumping into the air and landing on the target like a bomb. But it's easy for an observer to understand that this method of attack is not necessarily efficient. On the one hand, there's no certainty that Fitzroy's targeting mechanisms are sufficiently well-coordinated to enable him to land at the right spot at the right time. On the other hand, the prey has a few life-saving milliseconds in which to escape from the descending black shadow of the dog. So, these lovely jumps into the bushes rarely result in the effective capture of a foe. But maybe they were never designed to do so. It's quite possible that Fitzroy pounces into the greenery simply because it's a nice summer feeling, for an energetic dog, to pounce into the greenery, on the slimsiest of pretexts.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Straight lines

People who live in the vicinity of cliffs and mountains soon discover the powerful beauty of straight lines, which determine the trajectories of both light and sound. Early every morning, when I wander up the road with Fitzroy for our habitual 20-minute excursion (giving the dog an opportunity to do his poo, generally on the neighbor's territory), there's a surprising moment when Fitzroy suddenly halts, gazes down into the valley, and acts for half-a-minute as if he were expecting a motor vehicle to appear on the scene. The explanation is simple, although the abundant foliage tends to conceal the facts. Over a short section of our itinerary (no more than a few meters), a straight line connects us to the main road down alongside the Bourne. And if, by chance, a vehicle happens to be moving along the road at that moment, then we can hear the sound of it quite clearly, creating the impression that this vehicle might indeed be heading up the road towards Gamone. Funnily, Fitzroy seems to have realized by now that the ghost vehicle, whose presence he has sensed, is only an illusion, and that there's no point in lying flat alongside the road to await its arrival. But he stills gets tricked for a few seconds, whenever our arrival at that spot coincides with the passage of a vehicle down in the valley. I don't know what kinds of principles of mathematics and physics float around in Fitzroy's mind, but I feel that he has mastered the problem from a pragmatic viewpoint.


Straight lines were invented, as it were, by Euclid, who flourished in Alexandria during the reign of Ptolemy I, some three centuries before the start of the Christian era. In Euclidean geometry, the very first axiom postulates that a straight line can be drawn from any point to any other point. But the universe seems to have mastered the question of straight lines well before Euclid started to think about them... although we now know that a so-called straight line is a simplified version of more generalized entities called geodesics, which play a fundamental role in general relativity.


In our villages, towns and cities, straight lines are relatively recent artificial constructions. In the beginning, most village lanes had lots of bends in them, like creeks and rivers. In Paris, the civic planner Georges-Eugène Haussmann [1809-1891] spent a colossal amount of public money in the creation of straight avenues, ostensibly so that troops would find it easier (if need be) to handle throngs of rioters. And even today, many Parisians speak of this self-proclaimed "Baron" as if he had committed an unforgivable sin in straightening and widening the thoroughfares of the city.


Personally, I'm horrified by the Euclidean linear layouts of cities in the New World, particularly when the streets are numbered and labeled as north, south, east or west. On the contrary, I'm always awed to discover, on late summer evenings, that the setting Sun has succeeded in finding a linear itinerary through the slopes above Pont-en-Royans enabling our faithful star to illuminate the limestone cliffs of the Cournouze, for a few fleeting minutes, with a warm reddish glow. Euclid imagined that all straight lines are basically of the same nature. As for me, I prefer those of Choranche to those, say, of Manhattan. And, if we were to think of Euclid's straight line as an abstract archaic god (why not?), we might say that its temple is Stonehenge.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Grass is for rolling in

Every pagan dog knows that the gods made grass for rolling in. It's the dogs, of course, not the gods, that do the rolling.

At Gamone, I'm not pretentious enough to refer to our grass as a lawn. It's simply a patch of rocky soil on which a pleasant blend of grass and weeds has appeared... with a minimum of assistance from me and my electric mower.

Fitzroy would surely agree with me that all the wet weather over the last month or so, followed by the last three days of sunshine, has enhanced the rollability of our grass.