Showing posts with label François Skyvington. Show all posts
Showing posts with label François Skyvington. Show all posts

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Napoleonic cavalryman on moped

This week, the latest series of moped movies starring François Skyvington has been showing on the Arte channel. Sensing that they’ve created an exemplary TV style, with a finely-dosed blend of form and content, the production team has respected scrupulously the approach developed throughout their two previous seasons, which gave rise to a total of 40 half-hour documentaries (which are being aired by Arte on the same afternoons as the new series). The general idea is that François—wearing a yellow helmet and an orange scarf—continues to take advantage of his archaic orange moped to crawl around picturesque byways, where he meets up with all sorts of friendly and interesting individuals, generally in most spectacular places.

To fit half-a-dozen such encounters into a 30-minute documentary, and to maintain the smooth rhythm of each road show, the production people are obliged to condense events and to take constant shortcuts. Viewers are expected to accept the principle that François simply “runs into” all these fascinating people, places and situations. There is no time in the documentaries for didacticism or dreary explanations, which would of course be fatal for the harmony and entertainment value. Ordinary viewers are not likely to examine these moped documentaries with a view to planning their forthcoming family vacations. On the other hand, each programme comes across as an inducement to travel and an element of touristic motivation in the sense that TV viewers are brought in contact immediately with the essence of such-and-such a site and its people. François and his primitive old two-wheeled vehicle take us directly to the heart of the subject and put viewers in immediate contact with the spirit of place.

Click to enlarge

The 5 programmes aired this week dealt with Corsica. Not surprisingly, the man on his moped soon met up with the world of Napoléon Bonaparte in Ajaccio. Down in the street in front of the house where the future emperor was born, François was received by an honor guard.


Images on the screen were then metamorphosed magically, as TV viewers stepped inside the splendid Salon napoléonien in the city hall of Ajaccio. The emperor's marble gaze did not appear to be unduly disturbed by the arrival of one of his cavalry officers on a moped.


As for the awestruck expression on the face of the cavalryman, it suggested that his mechanical steed rarely brought him into such prestigious settings.


He wondered whether it was appropriate that a humble moped man such as himself should be attired in such a fine outfit, and surrounded by vestiges of Corsican imperial splendour.


Why not? He would have time enough, later on, to get back to his faithful vehicle and his yellow helmet and orange scarf on the rural roads of France. For the moment, he could savour calmly this exceptional situation.


Besides, there was no time for dreaming. Much was happening out on the battlefields, and the cavalry officer was obliged to adopt a firm tone of persuasion when discussing certain life-and-death military matters with his senior commander.





It wasn’t long before François left this imperial setting, and the yellow helmet reappeared on the macadam of the rugged roads of Corsica.

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.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Longest European train ever

I suggest that you start the following video immediately. 


Like many people, I love to watch trains go past. I hope you share with me this passion. The merit of the above video is that the pleasure of watching this train go by is made to last for over a quarter of an hour. Your first view of the approaching train is a tiny white dot at the far end of the empty line on the left-hand side of the video. It only appears after you're about a minute and 20 seconds into the video. So stay calm, and wait. You'll recognize it as soon as it appears. Then the dot turns into a whitish blob, and the blob starts to get bigger and bigger. It's terribly exciting, but you've got to be patient.

When the train was in full view, I even had time to go downstairs and make myself a coffee… and, when I got back to my computer screen, the train was still going past. It’s the longest train in French railroad history, or something like that. That’s a great kind of a record, n’est-ce pas ?

I bet that strongmen are already contacting the French railway authorities, hoping to get into the famous Guinness book by showing that they can drag this train with their bare hands and arms over a distance of so many metres. That would be another great kind of a record.

Aussies are always going on about the length of their road trains on Outback roads.


But I reckon they wouldn’t get anywhere near the length of the French train.

Now, if ever you were bored, you don’t have to watch the video right up until the end. If you’re thinking of hitting the stop button, I can tell you what happens later on in the video. Nothing at all ! The train simply keeps on moving past.

POST SCRIPTUM: My son François Skyvington phoned to express certain doubts concerning this train video. In particular, he felt that neither the train nor the products being hauled appeared to be French. So, I’m inserting a few items of information that I discovered on the excellent websites of French TV and Challenge Nouvel Observateur.



The train seen in the video was 1.5 kilometres long and it weighed 4000 tons. As such, it was the longest train that has ever existed up until now in Europe. The experimental excursion whose departure is presented in the video took place on January 18, 2014. The departure was Lyon (Rhône) and the destination Nîmes (Gard). The train was composed by linking together two normal trains, each of a length of 750 metres and with its own pair of locomotives. (This kind of linkage is a standard operation in the case of TGV trains.) For the experimental run seen in the video, this linkage was carried out in a railroad freight zone named Sibelin, on the outskirts of Lyon.

In my title, I've replaced the adjective "French" by "European". The project, named Marathon, is not purely French, but European, guided by the European Commission and involving 16 financial partners. In the experimental train shown in the video, you may have noticed the presence of two French-made Alstom electric locomotives and two German-made Vossloh diesel locomotives. For this first experiment, as my observant son noticed, the rolling stock (wagons and goods) was indeed German, made available by the Kombiverkehr company.

In normal operational circumstances, train-watchers won’t have the luxury of spending a quarter of an hour admiring such a long train, because their cruising speed will be about 100 km/hour. At level crossings, drivers will therefore be held up for an extra 30 seconds. So, make the most of your opportunity to admire the above video. Viewing conditions won’t always be so leisurely once these trains become operational in a few years’ time.

Meanwhile, I thank my son for his keen observations and feedback.

Monday, September 23, 2013

I'm a Saint Sylvester baby

My son François Skyvington was conceived (so it appears) at the height of the summer of 1968 in a magnificent corner of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, in the vicinity of Sommières: the village of Lawrence Durrell [display]. Then he was born in Brittany on 30 May 1979, at the time that NASA was making final preparations to send astronauts to the Moon. I once took the liberty of referring to my son as a "Breton moon child" [display], but he may not have appreciated my poetic touch.

Let's talk about my own date of birth. How come that I happened to be born on 24 September? I've written already—in my ongoing memoir entitled Warm Days Down Under—about this momentous event.
My mother’s eldest brother, Eric Walker, liked to point out in his typical loudspoken manner that my parents had conceived me under Bawden’s Bridge, on the Glen Innes Road to the west of Grafton, about twenty kilometers beyond the Walker home at Waterview. He never described the precise circumstances in which he had acquired that trivial piece of knowledge, but I imagine him lurking behind a tree and watching the lovemaking from a distance. Be that as it may, I could never understand why he seemed to take pleasure in shouting out this information every now and again, with a self-satisfied smirk, as if it were a scoop that he had obtained with difficulty. I can imagine a scenario in which Eric (a 29-year-old bachelor nicknamed “Farmer”) had accompanied his 21-year-old sister Kath (my future mother) and her 22-year-old boyfriend Bill Skyvington (my future father) on an excursion to Bawden’s Bridge. Counting nine months backwards from my date of birth, I deduce that the excursion must have taken place around Christmas 1939. Maybe the trip to Bawden’s Bridge was a family outing on the warm afternoon following the traditional midday Christmas dinner of spiced roast chicken, potatoes, pumpkin, steamed pudding and bottled lager. It is perfectly plausible that my future parents, inspired by the balmy atmosphere on the banks of the splendid Orara River, decided to find a secluded shady spot under the lofty span of the bridge where they could make love. Did they realize that Kath’s big brother Eric was spying on them? I shall never know. In any case, Eric was probably not accustomed to seeing live demonstrations of human sexual activities in the environment of the dairy farm at Waterview, and this chance happening starring his young sister must have impressed him greatly.

If anybody were to ask me what I thought of my parents’ choice of Bawden’s Bridge as a place to conceive me, I would say that it was a fine decision. But they surely did no explicit choosing. The sultry atmosphere and their passion took charge of the affair.

An article in this morning's French press [display] has shed light upon the logic of my date of birth.


Needless to say, I'm delighted to learn that serious researchers are still investigating this question. Here's my translation of the opening lines of this article:
During the final fortnight of September, maternity clinics record a boom of births when compared to the rest of the year. These babies were conceived during the night of New Year's Eve. Specialists in demography speak of the Saint Sylvester syndrome. Every year, starting on 23 September and extending over two weeks, maternity clinics record a daily exceedance of 300 to 500 births with respect to the rest of the calendar.
Laurent Toulemon, researcher at the French government INED institution [Institut National des Etudes Démographiques], explains this phenomenon as follows:
The period between Christmas and the New Year is both a moment of euphoria for couples in love and a period of intense cultural festivity. Consequently, contraceptive behavior is at a low ebb. Obviously, we have no way of knowing to what extent a fecundity during this period was, or was not, accidental. But many parents confirm that they did in fact hope to create a baby during this period.
In other words, this high-level French research suggests that the pregnancy of my dear mother Kathleen Walker [1918-2003] was surely more than a vulgar accident. So, I'm happy to consider myself as a greatly-desired first offspring. WTF! On the other hand, I'm obliged to admit that Mum and Dad didn't actually get married until a month later, on Australia Day, 26 January 1940. Was the choice of that date an exceptional demonstration of patriotism, or did it rather reflect the initial absence of Kath's menstruation? I like to think it's a bit of both.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pumpkin scones

In the middle of a hot summer, life's not easy for pumpkins, which crave for water.


But they survive, and perk up—as sprightly as ever—as soon as the sun goes down. Then, in autumn, the harvest is so impressive that you end up wandering what you might do with all your glorious pumpkins. Well, here's my well-tested suggestion: Make pumpkin scones !


First, you need to produce pumpkin purée. Slice the pumpkin into big pieces. Remove the seeds, but don't touch the skin. Place the pieces on a non-stick tray (called Tefal in France) and bake at 200 degrees for an hour and a quarter. Let the baked pieces cool, then detach the soft pumpkin from the skin and place the fragments in a big bowl.


To transform the baked pumpkin into a purée, the ideal solution is a a gadget such as you see in the above photo. (My daughter Emmanuelle first informed me of the existence of this inexpensive soup-making device, many years ago, and told me that it would change my life... and she was spot on.) I soon had a pile of pumpkin purée.


Pumpkin purée is great stuff in that you can ladle it into plastic bags, each bag holding a cupful of purée, and deep-freeze it for your winter scones. Now, let's look at the recipe for pumpkin scones. At one stage, you'll need an essential ingredient that Americans (world champions in the domain of pumpkin scones) designate as pumpkin pie spice. In France, this product is obtained by mixing together four familiar spices, shown here:


Here's the precise recipe:

— a tablespoon of cinnamon (cannelle)

— a teaspoon of ginger (gingembre moulu)

— half a teaspoon of nutmeg (muscade moulue)

— half a teaspoon of ground cloves (girofle moulue)

Add a pinch of salt and mix. Keep the mixture in a sealed jar. For each batch of pumpkin scones based upon the preparation I'm about to describe, you'll only use a teaspoon of the mixed spices.

Here in France, people who would like to try out superb Anglo-Saxon recipes such as scones are often mystified unnecessarily by the names of three basic ingredients, whose French equivalents are shown here:


For French readers of my blog, here are the explanations:

— So-called buttermilk is simply fermented milk: a Breton product designated as lait Ribot.

— Anglo-Saxon baking powder is simply the French stuff known as levure chimique alsacienne, sold in its familiar little pink paper packets.

— Anglo-Saxon baking soda is simply the French product designated as bicarbonate alimentaire.

In France, these products can be found in your local supermarket. Once you've got everything in place, the preparation of pumpkin scones is quite simple.

Dry ingredients. In a big bowl, mix together 2 cups (260 grams) of flour, a third of a cup (75 grams) of sugar, a teaspoon of spices (as described above), a teaspoon of baking powder (levure chimique), a half-teaspoon of baking soda (bicarbonate alimentaire) and a dose of genuine vanilla.


As far as the vanilla is concerned, a convenient solution is the sachet of powdered vanilla sugar. If you resort to the liquid extract, then a few drops should be added to the moist ingredients (described below). The nec-plus-ultra solution that consists of grinding dried vanilla beans from Madagascar is applicable if you happen to have a son such as my François who visits all kinds of exotic places on his archaic moped.

In the usual pastry-making manner, use a pastry-blender device or a pair of knives to insert 125 grams of unsalted butter (beurre doux) into the flour. Here's a photo of a pastry-blender:


Stir in a generous quantity of raisins (I prefer the soft white variety) and walnuts (from Gamone, of course).

Moist ingredients. In a small bowl, mix half a cup (an 8th of a liter) of pumpkin purée with the same volume of buttermilk (lait Ribot). Stir well.

Insert the moist ingredients into the big bowl of dry ingredients, and stir lazily until everything is humid: just enough, but no more. On a floured board, pat the dough into a flat slab, and cut out eight fragments. Place them in small non-stick pie cups of the Tefal kind: a must for pie-makers.


Flatten each scone in its tray, then brush the top surface with a mixture of an egg beaten with cream. Sprinkle the top of each scone with chunks of pistachio nuts or sesame seeds. Place the Tefal cups on a large Tefal tray, so that the underside of the scones won't be scorched. Bake at 200 degrees C for some 20 minutes. Here's the result:


In all modesty, I have to admit that these are surely the finest scones I've ever tasted. To be eaten with a glass of cool Sauvignon.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

François Skyvington's moped road movie

Viewers in France and Germany have been reaching my Antipodes blog after Googling with the search argument "François Skyvington".


Residents of France and Germany can see replays of recent programs of the series entitled Détour(s) de mob (in German: Ein Moped auf Reisen) for a week after the broadcast date. People in Australia (François and his sister Emmanuelle are Franco-Australians) cannot unfortunately view the series. I have therefore not thought it worthwhile to carry on making blog posts about each program.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

François Skyvington's moped road movie #7

Episode #7 of the road movie was presented on Tuesday afternoon.

In this episode #7, François has moved down to the coastal region of northern Germany known as East Frisia, which lies alongside the northern part of the Netherlands.



On a country road, he was surprised to come upon two teams of men who were playing a curious game that consisted of tossing a big ball as far as possible along the macadam.


The rules of game were not immediately obvious. Players and onlookers were scattered all along the road, and they would start to shout wildly as soon as a ball ran off the macadam and into the grass.


In fact, there's a red team and a blue team, from neighboring villages. Each team (if I understand correctly) has its own ball, and the game—known as bossein—can extend over a length of roadway of 5 to 10 kilometers.


Besides, the players don't seem to be troubled by the presence of vehicles on the road.


The winners are the team that uses the lesser number of tosses to cover the distance. So, in a way, it's a bit like golf. François had a toss or two, towards the end of the wet afternoon, but he wasn't particularly impressive.


After the match, he was invited along to a tasty meal that included large servings of sausages and potatoes, accompanied by beer.


By the time François was ready to leave the bossein context, night had fallen.



Next on the agenda, the following morning, was a visit to an ancient windmill.


It had been restored by Theo, who was now the chief miller.


Inside the windmill, François stepped into a fabulous machine world whose centuries-old wheels and cogs were made out of wood.


Afterwards, the miller and his wife initiated François into one of the old traditions of East Frisia: tea.



The next day, in the port of Emden, François found his way to a distinguished establishment that blends high-quality teas.


The East Frisians seem to be connoisseurs in the tea domain.


The specialist at Emden blends his teas with the same quest for excellence as a Scotsman blending whisky, or a Frenchman producing brandy.


The various alternatives are compared and judged as if the teashop were a laboratory... which it is, in a way.


And the specimens are served and compared in an experimental context.



The next day, François met up with a giant named Tamme who works as a chiropractor with horses.


Tamme uses a high-tech device that enables a lame horse to walk on a treadmill immersed in water.


Viewers were impressed by a sequence in which the giant chiropractor manipulated rapidly the leg of a giant horse in such a way that the bones made a distinct crack.


François was apparently capable of performing a similar manipulation on a lame horse.


Then he was brought in contact with a huge white horse that had some kind of a problem.


I held my breath when I saw François climbing up onto the back of  this beast... but everything went over well.


Even the incongruous presence of Tamme as a pillion passenger on the orange moped seemed to be problem-free.



Finally, François terminated his interesting experiences in East Frisia by an excursion in a marvelous old wooden sailing boat.


The combination of old wood and ropes had the same magic charm as the interior of Theo's ancient windwill.


The orange moped, too, went on this boat trip.


At one point, François (who, I believe, might be described as a relatively experienced sailor) took the helm.


The same North Sea winds that drove the old sailing boat (not to mention Theo's windmill) was generating electricity on the shores of East Frisia.


Back on land, François left East Frisia under a damp steel-gray sky.


As a TV spectator, I had greatly enjoyed the tone of this episode.