Sunday, 29 November 2015

Another month rushes past

Can you believe that it is nearly the end of November already? If we had
Sandy path near Domaine Fondespierre 
advent calendars we'd be opening our first door on Tuesday!

We are moving on to another new campsite tomorrow, not far from Perpignan, so it is goodbye to Castries. However, I found three photos taken around here on my phone that I want to share so thought I would write this little wrap-up post. We went for a shortish walk on Thursday, just around the nearby woodlands and sandy tracks, but were surprised to suddenly find ourselves alongside rocky outcrops. This area has random mini environments. One minute there's freshly ploughed deep red soil, then a dry-looking vineyard field or olive trees, then back to scrub ground that doesn't look like it can really support anything. We did find a pretty stream too.

And, having seen several small stacks of abandoned bath tubs lying around, we finally discovered why!

We worked out the off road cycleway into Castries. It does still involve maybe a hundred yards of the main road, but otherwise is quiet flat tarmac and avoids most of the hill. The turning is just outside a sports complex and is marked with green paint on the road, but looks to be heading out into the countryside which is why we overlooked it at first. We have used this twice now to cycle into town for shopping trips which seem much more fun when I'm zipping there and back on my bike. Maybe that's just me?

In other news, I am very happy that some lavender flowers I crocheted
My crochet flowers 
were featured in an Etsy treasury list this week. Thank you Shany!

Don't forget my book giveaway! A signed copy of The Judas Scar by Amanda Jennings. The giveaway finishes tomorrow (30th Nov) at midnight so there's still time to make that winning entry. Pick any of the five Ways.

Finally, if you're still trying to figure out what looks a bit different, I have changed the blog theme from tumbling autumnal leaves to bookshelves. I have added a couple more widgets to enable easy blog following too. They're up at the top right, unless you're reading this on a mobile in which case they might be anywhere! There's now a Follow By Email box - just put your address in and you'll get a message whenever I publish a new post. There's also a Google Friend Connect box - those two folks look a tad lonely up there by themselves so feel welcome to sign yourself up too! Of course, my Bloglovin follow button is still in the right-hand toolbar and, if you scroll to the bottom of the page, a Google Followers Box awaits you there

See you in Perpignan :-)

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Quick cheese scones recipe

I blogged a fruit scones recipe back in January and was reminded as we
Cheese scones 
ate a cheese scone lunch today that I had not yet gotten around to posting this recipe too. Low on health benefits, but high on taste cheese scones make a cheap and filling lunch which is surprisingly easy and quick to bake. They can also be made the basis of a more impressive meal - top a casserole with cheese scones instead of pastry to turn it into a cobbler, or serve warm cheese scones with a dainty bowl of cream cheese and another of that Christmas chutney languishing in the fridge door as a savoury version of the classic Afternoon Tea.

8oz plain flour
4 tsp baking powder
Pinch each of salt and pepper
40g butter
2 tsp dried parsley
50g grated strong cheese like cheddar or 2 tbsp of a grated hard cheese like parmesan
150ml milk

Preheat the oven to 220c and grease a baking tray (or dust it with flour).

Sieve the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. I like to use a half-and-half white and wholemeal flour mix. Dave prefers all white flour. Add the salt and pepper, mixing in well.

Cut the butter into small pieces and rub it into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Try to keep lifting the flour as you work it. Ideally it needs to stay as cool and dry as possible, not go into a buttery clump!

Stir in the parley and the grated cheese.

Add the milk slowly, 1 tbsp at a time, then mix it in with a palette knife or similar. You probably won't need all of it. When the mixture begins to come together, use your hands to make it into a soft dough. The dough so be pliable, but not sticky and, again, try not to handle it too much.

Dust a worktop and rolling pin with flour. Roll out the dough to about an inch / 2.5 cm thick. If you have one, use a pastry cutter to cut the dough into circles. Re-roll the unused pieces back together to get more circles. (If you don't, improvise with a glass, or just cut the dough into triangles with a knife.)

Lay the dough circles onto the prepared baking tray and brush their tops with the left-over milk.

Bake at 220c for 8-10 mins or until they are well risen and the tops are golden.

Serve warm or cold. Scones are best eaten on the same day (within the same hour!) as they are baked.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Benediction by Kent Haruf / The Book Of Abisan by C H Clepitt / Beowulf trans by Gerald Davis

Benediction by Kent Haruf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Benediction is the third volume in Kent Haruf's trilogy set in the rural American community of Holt. I loved reading the first two books, Plainsong and Eventide, so had high hopes for Benediction - hopes which were not disappointed.

Benediction is set some years later so characters that had previously taken centre stage have moved on or passed on. Instead we spend our time with an older man, hardware store owner Dad Lewis, who is dying from cancer, his family, neighbours and staff. I think that this was definitely the most melancholy of the trilogy and not just because of its cancer storyline, but also due to a very real sense of Holt changing as a town. References to America being at war again and the Reverend's disastrous 'turn the other cheek' sermon were particularly poignant and timely given the ISIS Paris attacks last week and many hate-filled reactions I have seen to it.

Haruf was one of the best observational writers I have read. His creation of ordinary people is superb and I love the way he makes the minutiae of their daily lives interesting and important. At one point, Reverend Lyle says that he just wanted to see 'the precious ordinary' and that quote completely sums up Benediction for me.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.

The Book of AbisanThe Book of Abisan by C.H. Clepitt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I downloaded my copy of The Book Of Abisan after having been pointed towards it on Twitter. A feminist fantasy novel of witches, magic and multiple realities, it isn't my preferred genre, but overall I enjoyed the read.

The Book Of Abisan is a volume of prophecy, carried and studied by a witch, Yfrey, who is trying to rid her world of an oppressive dictator, Calim. Calim is a charismatic man, but one without any magic of his own and he is determined to rid that same world of all its magical beings, leaving himself all powerful. Clepitt's book is a fast action-packed ride - a complete contrast to my previous read! There is some attempt at rounding out the two main characters, Yfrey and a human woman named Jacques, but otherwise everyone is pretty two-dimensional with the novel's emphasis put on doing rather than being. I thought several scenes were too rushed and would have liked a lot more in the way of description to help me understand what was going on and why, especially once the reality hopping starts. I wanted to know more about the different realities! If that was done I would say that there could be enough plot here for two exciting novels. However, overall this is an easy escapist read and I liked the drawings at the start of each Part.

Beowulf: The New TranslationBeowulf: The New Translation by Gerald J Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I downloaded Gerald Davis' translation of Beowulf after having read his other translation of Gilgamesh which I enjoyed reading, and the historical Northumberland novel Edwin by Edoardo Albert, who mentioned Beowulf and the Anglo Saxon Chronicles amongst his inspirations. I have vague memories of Beowulf-themed Primary School music and movement classes on the radio: 'and then Beowulf and his men went into the dark forest. Can everyone make themselves into a wild tree for the duration of this interminably long piece of music?' I loathed music and movement classes!

Other than the fab Baba Brinkman rap, I didn't think I really knew the Beowulf story, but reading it here, the events did all seem familiar so I must have absorbed it through cultural references over the years. Or maybe the story arc, like that of the Odyssey and Iliad, has been reused so many times since that the original no longer seems, erm, original. I greatly appreciate being able to read these ancient stories and love that they survive and are still studied and republished so widely. This translation does end with a very scholarly essay attempting to prove links to other contemporary works and real people. I tried to read it, but had to give up!

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Petition @SumOfUs against That Disgusting Daily Mail Cartoon

I was disturbed by Donald Trump's recent comments about requiring
American Muslims to carry identity cards. To me, that immediately smacked of 1930s Germany and I wondered if Trump, or other American wannabe leaders, might go further and suggest some form of distinctive badge to be worn at all times? I am amazed at the outpouring of hatred towards followers of an entire religion, although our recent visit to the fortified Crusade town of Aigues-Mortes reminded us that such religious intolerance is sadly nothing new. And the inflammatory rhetoric I keep seeing is beyond belief. Do so few Western people really understand that These Refugees Are Risking Everything To Escape From ISIS and civil war? They need our help, not our anger.

I have also heard that our dear Tory government is threatening to spend British taxpayers money on further bombing of Syria, despite overwhelming evidence from elsewhere that such aggression may well end up causing even more chaos in this war torn country and, therefore, resulting in even more refugees. I have emailed my MP, Kerry McCarthy, via this Care2 petition asking her to take a stand against such shortsighted madness.

We seem to be plunging headlong into 1984.

This morning I received an email from SumOfUs drawing my attention to a disgusting cartoon published in The Daily Mail and asking for signatures to a petition demanding apologies and removal of the cartoon. I am not going to republish here as I am sure that, if you haven't already seen it, the image will be easy enough to Google. I know The Daily Mail has a history of supporting fascism, but to see this kind of blatant bigotry in a mainstream British 'newspaper' in the 21st century turns my stomach. This is not representative of my country.

SumOfUs said "The Daily Mail published a racist editorial cartoon that suggests Syrian refugees are ISIS terrorists - depicting them as rats. It's imagery right out of 1939 Germany. Literally. Tell the Daily Mail to withdraw the cartoon and apologise now.

Millions of people are fleeing a brutally oppressive regime and almost certain extermination. And The Daily Mail depicts these people as rats and mocks their desperation. It’s appalling and hard to believe, but true. The Daily Mail published a cartoon depicting Syrian refugees, one carrying a rifle, and a throng of rats streaming into Europe. It closely resembles an infamous piece of 1939 Nazi propaganda depicting Jewish people as rats shut out from democratic countries after escaping Hitler.

There is no excuse for this hateful, dehumanising cartoon. Tell The Daily Mail to apologise and withdraw the image. Anti-immigrant forces across Europe have already been trying to demonise and dehumanise the four million Syrian refugees fleeing ISIS and a catastrophic civil war back home. With the recent Paris attacks, that trend has only increased. For The Daily Mail to join in, with imagery literally used by the Nazis, is beneath contempt.

The Daily Mail has been here before. It ran articles supporting fascism, the rise of Hitler and Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists, and later whipped up a frenzy of fear when Jewish refugees were seeking shelter in the UK fleeing the Nazis. Now the Mail has turned its hatred on Syrians fleeing war, violence and persecution. We can’t let the Mail’s portrayal of desperate people to stand unchallenged. Join us in demanding that The Daily Mail take responsibility for its cartoon that could have come straight out of Nazi Germany.

Thanks for all you do, Martin, Hanna, and the rest of the SumOfUs team"

Please sign the SumOfUs petition.

Please sign the Care2 petition and email your MP.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

I love to ride my bicycle! Sussargues and Castries + cycling travel blogs linkup

It's turned distinctly chilly here in Castries for the past couple of days - a
By a disused well in Sussargues 
nippiness not helped by a persistent wind from the north. We had planned to go cycling yesterday, but plumped for caravan coziness instead. However, when today dawned bright, sunny and wind-free (not that I would know. I didn't wake up until gone nine!) Dave suggested a couple of hours cycling around the local towns.

Long-term blog readers will know that I only bought my lovely not-so-new-anymore B-Fold bike in Roquetas Decathlon last January having previously lost my nerve and not cycled for several years. I still can't explain this impulse purchase and why my then-usual panic didn't kick in when I tried to ride. I am now so glad that it didn't though! I do still have willocky moments, but my confidence is growing ride by ride and I love the sense of freedom. I am sure that I get a stronger sense of a place from having cycled around it than having just zipped through in a car.

Today we cycled for about two hours starting from our Castries
Castries old olive mill which is now the Mairie 
campsite, going out through Sussargues and as far as Saint-Drezery before heading back into Castries town for a little shopping and a well-earned coffee. The D26E3 from the D21 towards Castries is a superb road for a not-so-fit cyclist - a challenging but not outrageously strenuous uphill for a short distance then a long gentle descent on a nice flat surface with beautiful views and plenty of time to spot infrequent traffic. Bliss! Most of this area would be considered flat by car drivers and isn't too hilly on a bike. I only got off to push the very top of a hill once - out of Saint-Drezery - and the others allowed us a good sense of achievement. We certainly kept ourselves warm!

I'd love to see your suggestions for great places to cycle especially if you have blogged about somewhere we haven't visited yet. Advanced or beginners, epic rides or legstretchers, old or new travel posts, all are welcome! I will start the ball rolling with links back to a few places we particularly liked...

Monday, 23 November 2015

The Judas Scar by Amanda Jennings + Giveaway / The Piper's Story by Wendy Isaac Bergin / The Western Lonesome Society by Robert Garner McBrearty

The Judas Scar by Amanda Jennings
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of The Judas Scar directly from Amanda Jennings as a prize via Sophie's Reviewed The Book blog. Sophie wrote such an enthusiastic review that I was keen to read this thriller too, but have had to wait until I could pick it up from Bristol first! Now, as we really don't have room to keep books 'forever' in our caravan and I don't want to just leave this signed edition on some campsite book exchange somewhere, I thought it would be fun to offer the book as a Giveaway to my blog readers - it was read so carefully, it is in practically pristine condition! Details of how you can enter to win it are at the end of the post ... after the Amazon ads.

The Judas Scar is a tense psychological thriller which looks at the aftermath of extreme childhood trauma and the varying ways in which adult lives are dictated by the events of the past. Jennings has created superbly real characters, both male and female, who are very believable - in a couple of cases, frighteningly so! Our 'heroes', Will and Harmony, have been happily married for twenty years. They had agreed to remain childless at Will's insistence and The Judas Scar begins by examining the emotional fallout when Harmony accidentally becomes pregnant - and then loses the baby. She is understandably devastated and bewildered by Will's apparent lack of equal distress. I suspect that readers are supposed to identify with Harmony, however I found my sympathies lay with Will. After two decades of happy marriage, I can't think I would be overjoyed at the news that something I thought was agreed upon had suddenly been completely overturned. It's certainly a thought-provoking storyline.

Jennings' uncovering of Will's paternal reluctance provides the exciting driving force of the thriller story when a blast from the past unexpectedly reappears in his life. Disturbing secrets are uncovered and I enjoyed the unpredictability of this part of the book. Perhaps the ending is too abrupt because I would have liked to have known more about what happens to everyone involved, however the whole story arc is satisfying to read.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.

The Piper's Story: A Tale of War, Music, and the SupernaturalThe Piper's Story by Wendy Isaac Bergin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I downloaded a copy of The Piper's Story by Wendy Isaac Bergin when it was featured in a Noisetrade newsletter. This is my ninth book for the Read Scotland Challenge 2015. I liked by the cover art and was intrigued by the premise which struck me as being different from the horror norm. The Piper's Story is quite different and is one of those books which is tough to pigeonhole into a specific genre. There are horror elements, although not graphically gory ones, and an interesting historical storyline. Romance features too, and a wonderful fairy tale sense which I found reminiscent of some of Neil Gaiman's writing and particularly enjoyed. The whole novel certainly has a literary feel to it.

We begin by being swept into the horrors of Second World War battles in France where a young Scottish piper is left for dead and must stagger, blind-mute and alone, towards Dunkirk. He has witnessed unimaginable hatred and violence leaving him haunted by a vision. Decades later his grandson, Neal, starts also having horrific visions, but thousands of miles away and from another time. The family's sixth sense has been passed to him too and Neal must find the source of his nightmare before time runs out for his young son.

Bergin's descriptions of her monstrous creations are perfectly executed to create a truly threatening atmosphere and I found it difficult to set this book aside for just a moment. I had to keep reading! She intertwines romantic scenes and some great humorous moments as Neal fights his attraction to travel shop owner Sarah. And there are some heart-breaking moments as Neal's marriage to fun-loving Vicky begins to implode. I absolutely loved The Piper's Story. Its multi-faceted plots are well-thought through and I would love to read anything further that Bergin writes.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.

The Western Lonesome Society: A NovelThe Western Lonesome Society by Robert Garner McBrearty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a copy of The Western Lonesome Society from its publisher, Conundrum Press, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

I was attracted to this novella by its quirky title and by the mentions of similarity to Cormac McCarthy and Kent Haruf - both favourite authors of mine - in the blurb. I really should stop reading blurbs, or at least believing them, as both names were somewhat misleading. McBrearty's previously published books have apparently been short story collections and I found this novella to be more short stories tenuously linked than a narrative in its own right. We swirl around in the possibly disintegrating brain of protagonist Jim, a college lecturer with serious trust and self esteem issues. Jim longs to be a writer telling his family's story so two of the threads are his own kidnap as a child, and a much earlier kidnap of two of his ancestors when they were children. These tall tales are interspersed with others of a young man taking a stripper to Mexico, an extremely unprofessional therapist, a child molester and mentions of an imaginary Ernest Hemingway.

Surprisingly, The Western Lonesome Society is very readable. Its vignettes are often amusing as well as shocking, but it is so jumbled that trying to decide what - if anything - is meant to be the point of the novella turned out to be beyond me.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

So now you've read (or scrolled past!) all three book reviews, let's get to the Giveaway! I am offering one signed paperback copy of The Judas Scar by Amanda Jennings. If you would like to win the book, I have chosen five different Ways you can enter. You can complete as many as you like and each Way is worth one entry into the giveaway. You need to complete Both parts of each though so I will have a record of your entry.

I will keep the Giveaway open for Seven Full Days so it will close at midnight (French time) on the 30th November 2015.

Good luck!

1) Comment on this blog post telling me your favourite book so far this year AND let me know how best to contact you if the comment doesn't automatically link to your Google ID.

2) Add me to your circles on Google+ AND tag me in a post mentioning The Judas Scar Giveaway 
(If I am already in your circles, just tag me in a post.)

3) Follow me @Stephanie_Jne on twitter AND send this tweet: I just entered @Stephanie_Jne #giveaway to win #thriller #book The Judas Scar by Amanda Jennings
(If you already follow me, just tweet the tweet)

4) Add me as a friend on Goodreads AND message me there mentioning The Judas Scar Giveaway. (Already a friend? Just send the message)

5) Favourite an item in my Etsy shop AND send me a convo there mentioning The Judas Scar Giveaway.

Terms and Conditions
At the end of the seven days, all (any?!) entries will be put in my red felt cloche hat and I will get Dave to pick a winner.
I will contact the winner via the method of their winning entry (ie Etsy convo/Twitter tweet/Goodreads message). The winner Must respond with their preferred postal address within 72 hours. If no response is received within 72 hours, an alternative winner will be chosen.
The Giveaway is open worldwide, however I cannot be held responsible if the parcel takes ages to arrive or gets waylaid in the post. (It is getting close to Xmas after all.)

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Finding T E Lawrence again in medieval Aigues-Mortes

Aigues-Mortes is one of the places recommended to us by the guy at Le
Aigues-Mortes walls 
Petit Arles creperie in Arles. The historic town is quite a drive from Castries, however we took this opportunity to view the Camargue delta and at one point drove across the thin strip of land past La Grande Motte. We saw several of the famous Camargue ponies and also two flocks of pink and white flamingos. I don't think we have seen flamingos since Tavira so that was exciting. The whole coastline along here looks as if moths have been at it! Huge lakes and ponds are everywhere although there is now a lot of commercial-industrial building too. We did briefly wonder at the long-term security of people living on what is essentially a flood plain.

Aigues-Mortes is certainly an eye-catching place. The thick medieval
Aigues-Mortes gateway 
stone walls surrounding the old town are maintained to a high standard and I can imagine that this would be a ridiculously busy tourist trap in the height of summer. Yesterday was sunny but with a strong wind so outside the town walls felt distinctly wintry. Sheltered inside, especially in a sunny spot was pleasant. We followed green 'P' signs to a free car park within easy walking of the old town. Near to the first huge gateway were several tall information stands, in French, which told the history of Aigues-Mortes. It was too windy to stop and read all of them, but the list of notable celebrities caught my eye as it included not only T E Lawrence (whose grave we saw in Dorset) who visited in 1908, but also two authors I read not so long ago: Ernest Hemingway stayed a while although we weren't told exactly when, and Alexandre Dumas came here in 1841.

Salt mining has been traced back to Neolithic times here and there has
been practically constant habitation since then. Charlemagne had the Matafere tower built in 793 and Louis IX bought the town and its surrounding lands from the Abbey of Psalmody in 1240. Louis IX ordered the massive fortifications, which were completed under his son's rule, and used Aigues-Mortes as a base for sending mercenaries out to the Crusades.  He took part in two Crusades himself, dying in Tunis during his second. From outside, the walls look impenetrable other than the slender arrow slits. From the inside it is possible to see that each slit has an arched area directly behind it with two bench seats, presumably for the sentries to rest upon while keeping their vigil.

I enjoyed simply walking the streets around Aigues-Mortes and was
Plaque above a house doorway 
suprised at the extent of residential housing within the walls. The commercial streets are limited and are mostly made up of restaurants, regional produce shops, tourist tat and expensive boutiques. I did find one shop I very much liked. Coton House is on Grand Rue Jean Jaures and sells beautiful Indian cotton clothing including medieval style laced dresses. The shop had that vintage-hippy-shop incense scent which I love. The prices were pretty good and I allowed myself to be tempted by a pair of embroidered lounge trousers. My Almerian ones have been worn so much they are starting to fall apart at the seams! We also pondered Camargue rice in a grocer's for a while, but didnt really want to spend €4 a kilo on each type and couldn't decide which of the three to try.

Once back into modern Aigues-Mortes, we paused to admire the wide canal that passes by. It's towpath looked very inviting for a long cycle ride!

Canal de Rhone