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

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Parable of the lamps


Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a great new light cast by the lamps of Led.

Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, There is incandescence throughout the land of Canaan. And the multitude in the great market of Superu look not upon the lamps of Led, but prefer still the iniquity of incandescence.

And the scribes and Pharisees did cause a law to be passed throughout the land which would forbid the sale of incandescence. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and the old lamps of incandescence. And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and smashing of glass. Then shall the righteous lamps of Led shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath lamps to change, let him change them.

There was in Galilee a young man named Francis, who said unto himself, The old light of incandescence is sweet unto the eyes, whereas the lamp of Led is harsh. But soon there will be no longer the old light in the land. So went he into the market of Superu where he gathered up unto himself a great load of incandescent boxes of many shapes and colours, for many years to come.

And the young woman who did take the shekels of Francis said unto him, Take heed, for the jugs are old, but the wine in the jugs is new. But Francis did not understand her words.

In his house on the shores of Capernaum, Francis did start to open his incandescent boxes of many shapes and colours. But lo, within, there was no sweet incandescence, only the lamps of Led. And the children of Francis did say unto their father, You have been screwed like a lamp of Led.

Whereupon Francis did go unto Jesus and ask, Master, why do the many incandescent boxes from the market at Superu hold lamps of Led? And Jesus did answer, Ah man of little faith in the new light. The Holy Spirit moves in the market of Superu in mysterious ways. Dost thou know how many men it takes to change the old light into the lamp of Led? And Francis did not know, for he was full of iniquity.

And Jesus did answer with a cunning grin, It takes no man at all, for it is the work of my Father in heaven.

POST SCRIPTUM  Although the parable of the lamps speaks for itself, in the language (more or less) of our lovely King James Version of the Holy Bible, I’ve been told (by the hero of our parable, my son François Skyvington) that parishioners might fear that the scribe William has been consuming mind-distorting mushrooms. To set things straight, here is the authentic anecdote. Several years ago, my son heard that French authorities were adamant upon removing all the old incandescent light bulbs, and replacing them by led lamps, for economic reasons of power consumption and efficiency. For reasons that only my son might explain, he was somewhat disturbed by this change, for he felt that the old incandescent lamps, in spite of their technical and economic weaknesses, retained a certain charm and conviviality when compared with the new led lamps. Fearing that incandescent lamps were apparently an endangered species, François went into the local Super U store at Lanvollan and purchased a huge assortment (for a significant sum of money) of what he imagined to be the old-fashioned incandescent lamps (as indicated on the packaging), of all shapes and varieties. In that way, he was assured, no matter what happened, that he would not soon run out of incandescent light bulbs. When François informed the female cashier that he was happy to be able to stock up on the old products, he was so pleased with his purchase and proud of his perspicacity that he didn’t pay attention to her certain ironic regard. Back home, François found with amazement that, while the cardboard packaging seemed to indicate the presence of old incandescent bulbs, the actual products inside the packaging were all modern led lamps. Screwed like a light bulb!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Alarms

In my house at Gamone, I’ve just assembled and installed two alarm panels like this:


The alarm on the left is a smoke detector, while that on the right detects lethal carbon monoxide gas. They both run on batteries.

I’ve installed one panel in the staircase, in the vicinity of my ground-floor wood-burning stove. The other panel is installed on a wall in the kitchen. These detectors are not expensive, and they’re easy to install. So, I’ll probably get around to installing other identical panels throughout the house.

My son François told me that he inadvertently tested his CO detector when cleaning the interior of the chimney pipe that evacuates smoke from his wood-burning stove. There were two 90-degree bends in his piping (which have since been eliminated thanks to a single vertical pipe from ground level to the roof), and it would appear that CO had collected between these bends. Consequently, as soon as François started to brush away the soot that had gathered in these bends, the CO floated down into his living room and set off the alarm.

François and I both felt that it would be reassuring if we were able to test our smoke detectors… without setting fire to our houses. At lunchtime today, I succeeded in doing just that, thanks to half-a-dozen barbecue sausages from my deep freezer. I cooked them on a flat iron pan of the kind used for making pancakes, heated by my gas range. Naturally, as the temperature rose, and the sausages sizzled, a bit of smoke escaped from the pan. Suddenly there was a piercing whistle, but I had no idea of its origin. Since I was also using an induction plate to cook vegetables to accompany the sausages, I had the crazy idea that the molecules in the induction system might be “resonating”  weirdly and catastrophically… and I half-expected something to explode. The whistle continued to shriek. Finally, I noticed that the smoke detector was also flashing a red lamp… and I realized what had happened. So, I rushed to the kitchen door and opened it to let out the smoke, which ended the whistle shrieks.

It was a successful and convincing test. Besides, I had the impression that the sausages and vegetables—which I ate on an outside coffee table, in the autumn sunshine, sharing tidbits with my dog Fitzroy (who had been just as disturbed by the alarm as I was)—tasted better than ever.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Pyrenean colors

In one of his recent TV documentaries, François Skyvington found himself in the middle of a wonderful world of colors in the Midi-Pyrénées region of south-west France. To start the ball rolling, he visited an amazing old laboratory that has preserved the ancient and secret know-how involved in using a local plant as a source of blue dye.


Wearing his trademark orange scarf, François gazed with fascination at the mysterious blue broth that was cooking in the cauldron.


Then a bee started to buzz in his bonnet. François wondered how his orange scarf might react to the Pyrenean blue dyestuff. No sooner said than done. He took of his keffiyeh and threw it into the vat.


I have the impression that François may have wondered, at that moment, whether he might have just made a foolish decision. As they say in the classics, curiosity can kill a cat. Maybe curiosity can destroy a keffiyeh, too…


At first, it looked as if no harm had been done.


But a minute later, the outcome was quite different. A change in color was taking place in real time before the startled eyes of my son.


Now attired in a blue scarf, François asked the lady if he might be able to put his moped in the vat of dye, so that its color would match the keffiyeh. But they all agreed that this might not be a good idea. So, François bid farewell to his newly-discovered blue world.


Happily, in the next scene, through the magic of movie-making, François had retrieved his original orange keffiyeh. Besides, he seemed to be moving around still on the same archaic moped. But can we be sure? Be that as it may, we then find our golden-helmeted hero wandering around in a field of sunflowers.


Next thing, he’s sipping a glass of freshly-pressed sunflower oil as if it were a delicious nectar… which, apparently, it is.


Things then get serious, as the dominant color changes from orange to red: of the kind that is supposed to infuriate bulls.


The local fellows told François that bulls see reds and oranges as if they were 50 shades of grey. But that seems hard to believe. They also explained that, if you happen to be confronted by a furious bull, the best thing is to simply jump out of the way.


And François was promptly invited to take part in a 5-minute crash course on how to become a torero.


Courageous or foolhardy, he was prepared to prove that he had learnt his lessons well. That’s to say, sufficiently well to survive.


Apparently he didn't feel at all comfortable while awaiting the bull's charge. Olé!


As I’ve often said, riding around France on a two-wheeled vehicle such as a moped can be a dangerous business…

Friday, August 1, 2014

Moped Facebook

My son François Skyvington told me on the phone this morning that his moped road movies are currently being aired on the Arte channel at a rate that often rises to four 30-minute programmes a day. Apparently the producer has set up a Facebook page here.


The problem is that my son, like me, is not a regular Facebook user. So, the situation is likely to be a bit frustrating for people who might wish to communicate with my son through Facebook. On the other hand, I have the impression that, if you click around, this Facebook page offers you various extracts from the series.

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.