Friday, November 18, 2011

Now That’s a Scarecrow!

Maybe you did not know, but scarecrows used to be just that, real crows to scare off crows and other unwanted, opportunistic scavengers. This is how some farmers still do it in France, however cruel, unethical and non-pc it may seem to some people. (Don’t worry,they shoot them first.)


Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Bit of a Splash

AA Pic of the Week 125 w

Out for a Sunday walk the other week I saw these people basking in the autumn sunshine having coffee or possibly hot chocolate, because this place serves a wonderful cup (or pot) of cocoa.

There was a screen of water jets coming up from the fountain, so I thought I would take some pictures of the water with people in the background. At the time I did not, although perhaps I should have, think about the fact that the people were in bright sunshine and the water in the shade. But unwittingly I got a rather strange-looking picture. I have not edited the image at all. I think it looks like I have splashed blue paint on a photograph.

Sometimes photos come out in the most surprising way, giving you an effect you did not envisage. I learn all the time!


Sunday, November 06, 2011

Insatiable Alsatian!

On our walk last time we lost the chicken farmer’s sociable dog to a high-energy chase of a poor little wild boar. Evidently our furry friend could not get enough of us, because when we next tried to sneak past the corner to the farm, he spotted us yet again, and this time from about one hundred metres.

He did not jump at all or push his nose into your side, but he just gently brushed against my leg as he caught up with us. Then we were stuck with him, for over an hour. He simply trotted along as if he was our dog.

Alsatian paw prints

He got his paws wet in the ditches along the narrow country lanes, and he crossed the road to explore everything he could smell, hear or see.

Alsatian 1

He was often behind us, but liked to be in the lead, in front of us, as if he had taken us for a walk.

Alsatian 2

We felt like his flock, especially when he turned round to check that we were keeping up with him. Cars passed, slowing down for the three of us looking like a couple taking the dog for a walk after lunch. After a while I started to feel quite comfortable with the dog quietly moving around us. It almost started to feel normal, a quiet country feel.

When we reached our turning point he just looked at us …

Alsatian 3

… and followed us all the way back again. Just as we got to “his” corner, I thought for a second his thirst might lure him home, but no.

Luckily for us, our neighbours were out cutting some hedge, so we managed to sneak in while he was distracted by their activity. Then he quite simply adopted them instead and laid down next to them with his head between his paws in, what looked like, a very comfortable position. And there he stayed for quite some time.

It was not the first time the chicken farmer got a phone call to come and collect his dog, who really likes company. Not much of a farm guard dog, is he?


Monday, October 31, 2011

Alsatian Chasing Baby Boar

Bracken  Road

Autumn apple  Field

On our first full day in France we thought we would go for a normal, quiet country lane autumn walk. It was very windy, but the sun was quite strong, so the top layer of clothing came off pretty quickly. As we were coming towards the end of our hour-long walk, we passed the chicken farm wondering if the guard dog, who patrols the grounds, would come pestering us like he has done in the past, following us all the way home.

I thought we had made it without him spotting us, but no. All of a sudden you could hear him breathing next to you. (This is not the time to be afraid of dogs for sure.) As he came up to me from behind, I tried to ignore him, but he said hello, I suppose, by nudging my elbow with his nose. Then he just followed us as usual, sniffing around like dogs do.

All of a sudden he went into the ditch sniffing particularly intensively, and quickly moved into the field where maize had stood before. There he stopped and “froze”, staring into the high grass between the fields. He had spotted something.

Then started a playful chase, if you are the dog, and a scary “run-for-your-life” chase if you are the baby boar! They ran this way, that way and back again, across the road and back yet again. At one time the playful dog grabbed the little boar by the neck and then let him go again. The little wild boar had probably been “separated” from his parents because of the farmers’ Sunday hunt in the area. Gun fire and hunting horns had been heard all through the day. So being picked up and tossed around a little by a friendly playmate was not such a bad alternative!

Boar Chase

(Boar trying to escape on the right. Apologies for image quality, but I was 150 metres away by this time!)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Wonderful Autumn

The other day the rain suddenly disappeared and the morning sun surprised us. The sun shone through the wooden blinds and I knew I had to grab my trusted Nikon and go and get some autumnal images. I felt I could not trust the sun to stay, so I wolfed down my morning porridge and dashed out.

Here are a handful, well seven then, photos from my neighbourhood.

1 Sun Rays

1.5 Misty Morning

2 Virginia Creeper

3 Autumn Dog Walk

4 Virginia Creeper

5 Geese

6 Virginia Creeper

Wednesday, October 12, 2011



AA Pic of the Week 125 w


Well, two images actually. Since I have not posted many “Pics of the Week” of late, I thought I would put up two in one go. They are from a forest walk this summer when you could hardly see the trees for the heavy mist. It made for some interesting photographs though. I chose monochrome to emphasise the raw and damp conditions.

Misty 1

Misty 2

Monday, October 10, 2011

That Girl Again – Her Tragic Background

Yes, my curiosity got the better of me. I just had to find out. I wanted to know why she went into foster care. What about the mother? I had to do some more digging, work my way back into more old archives. I was hooked!


To fill in the gap in her story I had to go back to the above page in the picture. As you can see, without reading any particular words, some text is in darker ink, fresher and younger if you like. At the bottom you can read “Dot. Maria”. That’s our girl. “Dot.” is short for daughter. Above her is another girl, born in 1878, three years later than the brother on the line above. Squeezed in a bit further up is a new entry, Maria’s mother, Kersti Persdotter.

The reason for Maria and her mother being added to this page, to this household, you find in the column on the right, with the heading “Död”, which means dead. Have you guessed it yet?

In February of 1879 the wife and mother of this household dies of consumption, and in June, four months later the daughter Anna, almost exactly Maria’s age, dies of diphtheria.

Maria and her mother move in, and the mother marries the farmer on 15 May 1880. So far so good. But the farmer had obviously lost both wife and a daughter, but rather quickly replaced them with a girl the same age and a new wife six years younger. Spookily enough, the deceased wife had exactly the same name as her replacement, Kersti(na) Persdotter. Kersti, Kjersti, Kerstina and Kjerstina were all the same name, nobody made any real difference between them.

So where is the problem then? Answer: nine months after the wedding. Yes, sadly I found the evidence in the “Death Book”. Nine months and one day after the wedding our Kersti, Maria’s mother (36), dies. No cause of death was recorded, but the assumption is of course that she died in childbirth. No child, stillborn or alive, was recorded on that day, or near that day, so Kersti presumably died with the child inside the womb more or less. Tragic. Her first child was born out of wedlock, which was noted in archives to follow her wherever she moved, and then she marries properly like a “good woman” and things go horribly wrong.

Not knowing who her real father is and having lost her mother, five weeks later Maria moves in with her aunt Anna, witness at her christening and her closest relative, at the age of eleven. Three and a half years later she appears in the household as a maid with my relatives, my grandfather being just a baby. My first great aunt was just seven days away, so Maria’s presence in the family was welcomed, I guess.

Like I wrote in my previous post, she moved to Denmark within a year, she was ready to fly at the age of sixteen. Perhaps she had children of her own to care for later, but that’s another story.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Who’s That Girl?

Birth register small

A young girl has intrigued me for a couple of weeks now. No no, it’s not what you might think. She lived over a century ago. You see, I am doing research into my family properly now. I have turned into an amateur genealogist by joining a website holding over 30 million photos of pages from Swedish archives. Before, I relied on handed-down documents and just copied other people’s work.

I started by trying to look into my paternal grandmother’s background, because nobody had done that to my knowledge. Since I knew some of her parents’ data I got going straight away. I ran into problems early on, finding some discrepancies to the little information I had previously. I thought I needed some guidance, but decided to practise on something easier first.

I chose to go for my paternal grandfather, and it was much easier. Most of the facts I had before, so this was a pure exercise in research strategy. When my grandfather was born in 1883 there were already two children in the family, but before he was six months old they died at the ages of four and two. The girl succumbed to bronchitis and the boy to diphtheria and paralysis. Later another girl was born, my great aunt.

But now there was a surprise. A fifteen-year-old girl was all of a sudden a member of the household. Where did she come from? Who was she? Could these poor people afford to have staff? Was she a maid or just a lodger? My guess is as good as yours. In this document I could see where and when she was born, where and when she had moved from, that she had moved in only seven days before my great aunt was born and that she within a year emigrated to Denmark, at the age of sixteen!

I was intrigued and puzzled. I needed to find out who she was, so I followed her trail back in time. First I tried the birth register where she claimed to be born, and could not find her. What? Then I suspected she might have lied about her age to get employment, which made me look up and down a great number of pages. Still could not find that entry anywhere, so I took another approach.

I found her in the parish she had moved from in the register (household by household), with data about family members and their literacy, “character” and their catechism knowledge. She was a foster daughter in a farming family far away from my grandfather’s family. She had officially moved from there 13 days before she registered in the town where I had first spotted her. That must be the time it took to move in 1884.

So now I had found her closer to where she claimed to be born at least. I followed the trail and found an entry stating a completely different birth place. Now things started to make sense. But why had she put down the wrong birth parish? Did she not know where she was born? According to this latest information her mother and she were born in the same place, twenty years apart. I had to dig deeper.

But what about the father? My suspicions were soon confirmed. She was born out of wedlock, father unknown, by a twenty-year-old maid in a big household, on a big farm. Since the father was unknown, she was given the Christian name of the master to add to “daughter”. Like so many other girls born out of wedlock she was christened Maria, perhaps to appease the Church, God and whoever. In the registers it was noted that the young mother had “given birth out of wedlock” and the date for when she was given absolution. And I can read about it still after 142 years!

Since the registers and archives I now have access to are photographs, it is not possible to search on the computer in the modern way, but I sometimes have to flip page after page on my screen in my search for a certain entry. In one of them I had to start on the first page until I found her on page 331! But it was worth it.

So now I know that Maria Jakobsdotter was born outside wedlock, father unknown, by a twenty-year-old maid, went into (correction: was in) foster care at the age of ten, moved to my grandfather’s family at fifteen and then emigrated to Denmark at sixteen. The “misinformation”, discrepancies, call them what you like, might have been an attempt to cover up her origin, so that she could start an adult life without prejudice. Did my relatives know her true background? We’ll never know. I only hope that she managed to get a decent life for herself, because I think it takes some guts to move away from what you know when you are fifteen.

Outstanding questions: Who was the father? Why and when did she go into foster care? What happened to her mother?

I think I will have to give up here and go back to my own family history. But I am sure she sang lovely lullabies to my grandfather and his baby sister.

Friday, September 16, 2011

French Harvest

It has always been fascinating to follow the cycle of the farming year round our place in France. Different crops in different fields depending on demand and perhaps EU subsidies, who knows? There is always a fair amount of maize, or corn, which is a staple feed for the dairy cows, but different kinds of cereal are also abundant.

The maize is normally harvested in late autumn, so we miss that most of the time, but not the August harvest of other crops. How they can predict the weather so accurately is beyond me. They seem to know exactly when to get the guys with their big machines out. I guess the farming community in an area co-ordinates the activities, because you see the same people in all the fields, working their way through them. They know when the rain is coming, so they literally work day and night. You hear the harvesters from afar and you see the cloud of millions of minute particles rising to the sky and being swept away by the wind, that is if it is not night time.

I have long been waiting for a good opportunity to get some decent photos of the night harvest, and this summer I finally had my chance. They were doing the fields right next to us, so close to midnight I got my tripod and camera out and positioned myself at the junction where they had parked their big transporter. It was totally dark, so I needed a torch to see what I was doing.

As I was standing there in the dark a tractor came along and parked in the field. The driver got out, walked up to me and shook hands and said good evening. I must have looked rather suspicious lurking in the dark, but I think he had seen me earlier in the day taking some pictures of them. I felt however the need say something about photography, all in my very best French, hoping he would not say too much back!

I wanted to get some spooky pictures with some blurry light. Since there was so little light, the shutter speed had to be very slow, giving any object time to move some distance. In some exposures you can see how the same detail is repeated five or six times, giving the image a rather mysterious effect. Here are some sample pictures.

Day Harvest Night Harvest 1

Night Harvest 2 Night Harvest 3

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Who Needs Disneyland?

It has been long since I blogged last.

My summer was very eventful, getting onto a flying start with a visit from my son and family to our holiday home in Normandy. You will understand how busy it was, children getting up much earlier than my preferred time in the morning, so in order not to miss too much time with them, I had to drag my body out of bed and try to increase my energy level to theirs, because they were up and running with a smile on their face straight away.

They had been to Disneyland in Paris on their way to us, but I am convinced they will remember these animals better than some costume cartoon animals.

Feeding the cows 1 Feeding the cows 2

Who needs Disneyland?

And this ride in the playground at the old ruined castle in Mayenne was full of joy.

Rock on!

Who needs expensive toys when you have a collection of empty plastic bottles?

Plastic bottles and pebbles

Instead of extortionate restaurant prices you can sit in the dying sunshine on the doorstep with some snacks and a locally produced apple juice.

Doorstep snack

We all had a lovely time at our own pace. The simple pleasures of life always outstrip everything else, especially when you are in such wonderful company.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Damn the Weather!

I have had these tickets to go hot air ballooning for two years, and we still have not been able to take off into the skies. The weather never seems to be right; absolutely perfect conditions are apparently required.

So instead I went for a walk with my camera.




Friday, July 15, 2011

Water Music in Gent

Grand pianos are rather expensive. You need to keep them safe, at the right temperature, at the right humidity, stable and also polished to a really high glossy standard. When in Gent the other weekend we came upon this strange boat with a remarkable cargo.

Grand piano on river 1

It was moored at a riverside restaurant, so we assumed it was for entertaining the dinner guests later that evening. We carried on walking down the narrow streets and lanes and were just crossing a bridge when we heard piano music being swept in our direction by the wind. No, it was not “Blowing in the Wind”, but some classical piece. So we looked upstream and saw this surprising scene.

Grand piano on river 2

A man was using his whole body weight in order to steer this, as it turned out to be, Bangladeshi wooden boat. A pianist was assisted by a helper to both keep the sheet music on the stand and to turn the pages at appropriate moments. A woman was sitting next to a man getting ready to jump ashore to moor the vessel.

The pianist was very good and a crowd was gathering on the river bank and on the bridge. Everybody seemed astonished, but all the faces lit up and people were smiling and chatting about this rare musical event.

Grand piano on river 3

The pianist kept on playing while the boat was being moored. But was the woman just decoration? No, all of a sudden she stood up and started singing.

Grand piano on river 4

I do not know who they were, why they were performing in this unusual way, and I did not recognise the music, but it was a nice surprise and very enjoyable. A grand piano and a soprano thrown in for good measure, not bad for a stroll in the old town of Gent. (I wonder how much the insurance was for this musical adventure?)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My Heart Is Bigger Than My Brain!

And here is the evidence.

Female Sparrowhawk catching a Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker

What? you say.

You know that I have a soft spot for the little birds in general, and in my garden in particular, since I attract them with food in order to enjoy watching them and taking photographs of them. In my previous post on Monday I outsmarted the cats, but today my brain short-circuited, it did not perform any better than a lump of jelly.

Alerted by commotion in the garden I looked out from the kitchen window and saw a bird of prey on top of a struggling woodpecker. What did I do? I rushed upstairs for my camera, which had the short standard lens on. I thought there would not be time enough to switch to the 300 mm lens. So I took two pictures from an upstairs window. And here comes the real brain meltdown. Since I saw that the victim was still alive and kicking, literally, I ran down to scare the predator off, hoping it would leave the poor juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker alone on the grass.

When I had come out through the kitchen door on the side, I took only two steps before the Sparrowhawk took off with its load firmly in its grip. (Here ought to follow a long sequence of very offensive words, but I have edited them out before having written them.)

Lessons learnt:

1) Always keep the 300 mm lens on when in house.

2) Preferably keep camera on same floor as oneself.

3) If you think you are a good photographer, think again!

I should of course calmly have taken the 30 seconds it takes to switch lenses, then positioned myself in a suitable window, and I should have put the camera in continuous shooting mode in order to get as many pictures as possible of this rare occasion, a Sparrowhawk tearing its victim apart. I would have had images of strings of bloody flesh being pulled by a natural-born killer. I had a fantastic opportunity to catch a real wildlife situation in my own garden, but my heart took over. How stupid can one get? Keeping cats out is one thing, but you cannot do anything about birds of prey.

Instead I had to resort to looking at the two blurry pictures, consult the bird book to confirm it was a female Sparrowhawk and then curse myself for being so soft-hearted. D’oh!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Killer Instinct!

Killer instinct, but no hunger! Why is it that cats chase birds only to catch and kill, but not eat? I know it is an instinct, they are programmed to do it, but why is the instinct still there when they have no other natural reason to kill? Why kill and not eat? You would have thought that evolution (or is that devolution?) would link those two urges, to eat and kill. Both or none, but that seems not to be the case.

My regular readers know that I feed birds in our garden and have had problems before with killer cats. These days I keep the shrub next to the feeders clear nearest the ground not to give any predators anywhere to hide. But cats are lightning quick when it comes to killing. Birds feeding off the ground are easy prey.

An incident the other week made me take another security step. I was upstairs when I heard a terrifying scream from the garden; I rushed to a window only to see the one we call “Socks”, because of its white paws, carry away a Great Spotted Woodpecker!

Great Spotted Woodpecker

I was down in the garden in a flash, ran after the cat, with the poor bird in its jaws, into the copse behind the garden, only to hear the heart-breaking screaming continue for what seemed an eternity, until it suddenly stopped.

The following day I went to a garden centre and bought some of those green-plastic-coated metal sticks and some wire. I made my own cat (de)fence, with the intention of at least slowing down the furry felines enough for the innocent little birdies to take off and save their lives.

Cat (de)fence

It seems to be working, and the wonderful twist on the story is that the birds now have even more places to sit while they are waiting for a chance to have a nourishing meal.

I feel much better about myself now that I have turned a death trap into a bird sanctuary.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Updating Tom Tom (and Visit to Gent)


If it ain’t broke … That’s why I have not updated my sat nav in the first year, but last week I was booking a hotel in Gent, Belgium (more about that visit later), and before clicking away the last window it asked if I wanted to transfer the address to my Tom Tom. Sounded good, I thought, so I clicked on the button with the familiar icon. But before anything was activated my Tom Tom suggested I update the software. I don’t know why I hit the Yes button, but I did. Then I clicked on a few options that looked useful. Disaster!

When I tried to switch on the trusted guide gadget, it froze. It dawned on me that this was exactly what I had read a lot about on the net. I tried everything, like unplugging and then re-plugging, rebooting … Nothing worked. My next step was to google the issue, which led to many different, possible solutions, all involving complicated instructions about finding obscure files on my PC and to copy lots of stuff back and forth.

Then I remembered that my Windows software had popped up a window saying there was something not quite right with the drive which was the Tom Tom. But I had to close the Tom Tom first, and then the window disappeared, so I had to go to Control Panel and find the Check Disk function, and then activate it to correct what was wrong.

While this was in progress I realised what I had done initially. I had greedily chosen to update parts of the software which I had not paid for when I bought it. So I guessed that must have been what caused the freezing. Once the Tom Tom had been tidied up, I updated only the basic default option, and hey presto, it was again in working order!

I was happy as a child, picked up the Tom Tom, went outside to get a signal, walked up and down the street waving it in the air. I felt a bit silly, especially when the security patrol (I live on a military base!) came past in their pick-up truck. I was so embarrassed that I felt compelled to wave to them with a stupid smile on my face.

Like I mentioned earlier, we went to Gent, and I could certainly have done with the help of my Tom Tom to find the hotel in the old town centre with narrow one-way streets and pedestrianised areas. It was like in the old days, and in the end I had to stop and ask for directions.

The medieval town centre itself was unbelievably picturesque. We had a terrific two-night stay and had excellent food, beer and wine. The place was rather pricey, but not enough to deter us from returning. We actually bought a hotel voucher to get a cheaper stay next time with this particular chain.


Gent 1

Gent 3

Gent 2

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Red Hot Lily

Scorchio! Even the weather forecasters on the BBC have started using that word jokingly now. It comes from a British comedy show in the 1990s where the weather girl pointed at a map with lots of suns, and she always said it would be “scorchio”, as in very very hot.

We have had two extremely hot days here in Germany now. Today when I got in the car in the afternoon, the car told me it was 40 degrees outside! After a few minutes of driving it had dropped to only 36 degrees.

So our trooper of a flower, the lonely lily in the pot, decided to open up today. It has almost become an annual event for me to take some pictures of it to document the solemn occasion. This year it seems to be much redder, not so orangy. It picked the hottest day of the year so far to show its wonderfully red petals. I think you can detect the colour of the early morning sunshine in the shot below.

Luckily the forecast for tomorrow is for more normal temperatures, that is, after the release of all the pent-up energy in the clouds. There will be thunder and lightning accompanied by rain.

Red Hot Lily

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Famous Colours

Have you ever been expecting a child? Did you not all of a sudden then see many more prams and buggies than you previously had done? Have you ever met a long-lost friend, only to start running into this friend over and over, as if by magic? It seems there is some sort of awareness or recognition phenomenon, something that happens in our brain, triggered by a single event or situation.

I had a similar awareness situation this morning, in the bathroom. On some towel racks were two items, not towels but some tops or T-shirts. I wondered why I was staring at them, why I could not take my eyes off them. It was not because they were in the slightly odd place, but there was something about them that I could not figure out straight away.

Then I realised it was because of the colour combination. See for yourself.

Wimbledon Colours

I am not a particular tennis fan, so I would not normally think twice about these two items side by side on a rack. But of course, it is Wimbledon now, and you see these two colours all the time on the telly. They are world-famous.

Sadly Robin Söderling went out yesterday to an 18-year-old aussie, because he was not well, so I suppose I have to switch my allegiance to Andy Murray. One pines for the days of Björn Borg, five consecutive Wimbledon championships. Beat that!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Adorable Or What?


AA Pic of the Week 125 w


This beautiful juvenile great spotted woodpecker was just sitting there tucked into the foliage waiting for the parent to provide some food. It is leaning in sync with the leaves on both sides as if it was part of the vegetation, had it not been for the strong colours.

Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker (low res png) ab