The Greta Garbo Home for Wayward Cats and Dogs

P1110287At The Greta Garbo Home for Wayward Cats and Dogs, we have 11 cats and 2 dogs. In addition, there are two “outpatient” dogs. All of the cats are strays, abandoned by their former masters and mistresses. One of the dogs was adopted because his elderly mistress developed dementia. The two latest cats to arrive, Angel Cake and Baby Love, were almost certainly dumped from cars by the lumberjack’s woodpile at the edge of the hamlet. In France, it is almost a national tradition to dump one’s pets before going on holiday, for lack of other solutions – and not wishing to pay for a kennel or cattery. Thus it is that, in common with one of our neighbours, we have become a default refuge for homeless and needy felines. To take one example, Baby Love was found trembling and emaciated, eating insects that had been crushed by cars on the road. Now she has food, a bed, a nice home, and she is not complaining.

A word about the naming of cats and dogs. It has always been my practice to provide different names for animals, as the spirit moves me, and for different reasons. Thus:

Noisette: aka Noisy-le-Sec, Noisy-le-Grand, Noisy-Noisette, Big Chief Little Noise (the latter drawing on “Noise-ette”, little noise, and the obvious addition of Big Chief, as in Big Chief Sitting Bull, etc.)

Alec, the dog: aka Professor Lillolman. This is a reference to his ageing, because at 16 he is not as limber as even a year ago, but he can still go for a one-hour walk, has perfect eyesight and hearing. The name, misheard as “Professor Little Old Man”, features in Mel Brooks’ film High Anxiety.

Dahjeeling: aka Poupounette, Poops, Poopsy-Daisy

Girofle: aka Gigi, Girophare (this cat has rights that the others do not, and can go and do whatever it likes, by special dispensation, i.e. because she’s my favourite)

Angel Cake, so-called because his colouring is precisely that of British Angel Cake

Bergamote: aka Brocante

Baby Love has the particularly of needing to be called not by the name alone, but by singing the entire 1964 Diana Ross and the Supremes in a loud falsetto. She has learnt to respond to this.

Our latest friend, the dog Marlowe (alluding to Shakespeare’s contemporary Christopher Marlowe, but also Philip Marlowe in the novels of Raymond Chandler and the narrator of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) was called Merlin by his previous owner: the change of name marked a change of ownership, while remaining close enough to the ear for him to make the transition without distress. Prior to this, we had been considering calling him James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George Dupree, but it did seem a bit of a mouthful.

Other residents are Chataigne “le chat le plus gentil dans le monde”, Félicie (“Aussi!” – an allusion to the Fernandel song), Myrtille (who replies “Oui!” when asked “C’est toi, Myrtille?”), Pounia the hermit, Cassis the “Black Panther”, and so on.

Who am I forgetting?

The two outpatients are Jeff and Jeffco, brothers and border collies who live imprisoned in an abandoned pig farm, supposedly performing the function of guard dogs, though there is nothing to guard. We acquired visiting rights, bring them toys and take them for walks. One of the dogs, Jeffco, is stone deaf and only knows what to do and where to go by carefully observing his hearing brother whom he has been known to mistake for a female.

It has been suggested to me that it confuses cats and dogs to have more than one name. However, I maintain that it makes them more intelligent because on hearing a name being called they have to think (“Hold on, is that her over there, or me – wait… ah yes, it’s my third name!”) The mental exercise is akin to doing crosswords or playing Scrabble.

I searched for a long time for a name for the fictitious cat in the book I am presently writing and eventually settled on “Chairman Miaow.”

Any other suggestions of witty cat or dog names?

The Gripes of Wrath

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The mother of all…

The pope recently objected to the giant bomb dropped on Afghanistan being described as the “mother of all bombs”, saying “A mother gives life and this one gives death, and we call this device a mother. What is happening?” The expression was also used for a demonstration in Venezuela recently, “the mother of all demonstrations”. It would seem that this expression was popularized by Saddam Hussein, who in 1991 called the Gulf War “the mother of all battles” and that it is Arabic in origin. However, an Internet search will show how other uses predate this. I also object to the expression when used to mean “an extreme example of something”, rather than an “originator”, because it has nothing to do with mothers. It is the only matter on which I and the pope agree.

Here are a few other recent languages gripes:

Accident and Incident

An “accident” is now often called an “incident”, which seems to me to minimize its importance or impact: click here for an example.

Likely

The American use of this word where in British English we would use “probably” is fine – in America. However, it has now infected the British press.

Looking to do something

Used to mean “expecting to” or “hoping to” or “planning to”. What is wrong with the aforementioned verbs?

Protest

I have heard “in protest of”, which is awful. There is also a very widespread use of “to protest something” instead of “to protest against something”. Is this American? Whatever it is, I protest.

Appeal

Another example of the preposition “against” being dropped. “LuxLeaks whistleblowers appeal sentences.” I’ve heard this so many times that I’m beginning to wonder if it is right or wrong, or if the words “right” and “wrong” even apply.

Multiple

“The victims were shot multiple times”. What’s wrong with “many” or “several”?

CIA-speak 

For example, “taking out a highly valued target”. Press reporting on real-world incidents is increasingly contaminated by CIA-speak, no doubt from the movies. It is often euphemistic in the worst possible sense, the above use of “highly valued” being a case in point. The “value” of the human target is presumably in death rather than in life. I would welcome other examples of CIA doublespeak that are now common journalistic currency.

How are you? I’m good.

Once again, fine – in America. But please do not import this pathetic replacement for “Very well thank you”. In either case, it’s generally a lie.

Can I get…

For example, when ordering a coffee. In fact, there is something very Starbucks about this depressing Americanism. Corrections: “Can I have..,”, “I’d like…”, “Could I have…” etc.

To gift

The use of this as a verb with an object, e.g. “He gifted her with a diamond ring” seems to me recent and wrong. Or once again, is it just American?

Signature

“The New Yorker offers a signature mix of reporting and commentary”. In my book, signature is not an adjective, yet this is how it is increasingly used, and it smacks of advertising jargon – like the substitution of “apparel” for “clothing” in upmarket garment ads.

Scapegoat

“Germans have been urged not to scapegoat migrants, after an Afghan youth was arrested over the rape and murder of a German student.” “Scapegoat” is not a verb.

To reach out

This is a sickening one. “She wrote me a nasty letter and I tried to reach out to her”, “CNN has reached out to him for further information”. Meaning “contact”, or “tried to contact”, the visual image accompanying this usage has connotations of kindness, generosity, appeasement that strike me as sentimental and inappropriate.

In our thoughts and prayers

This fixed expression, following a death or disaster, is so common that it has become glib, though one must allow for the fact that offering condolences is one of the situations in which the only thing one can often do is trot out worn phrases. It’s like speaking in code.

To walk

“He walked back some of that language last week.” What happened to the verb “retract” or “go back on” or “take back”? What does this have to do with walking? Cf. “Please walk us through these numbers” and “to walk the talk”, all drenched in the ennui of the boardroom.

To think out of the box

Anyone who uses this expression is doing the exact opposite of “thinking out of the box” in that they are simply using a cliché. I am reminded of the man talking to his cat as they both look at the litter tray: “Whatever you do, do NOT think out of the box!” The expression “to push the envelope” is equally jaded. Why not say “to think out of the envelope” or “to push the box”, just for variety’s sake?

Insecure

The expression “food insecure people”, meaning “people who are starving to death” (is this UN-speak?).

Incomplete information

The accession of Trump to the US presidency has led to a lot of language relating to fakery and lies. Thus Michael Flynn: “I inadvertently briefed the Vice-President-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador.” I love the “inadvertently” and “incomplete information”, as if he is exculpating himself twice in the same sentence. We all know what he really means. Here is another nice example of contemporary doublespeak: “He said Sessions did not make any misleading statements under oath during his confirmation hearings, but that he could have been more accurate in his responses to lawmakers.”

Back in the day

This seems to be a way of saying “In the past”, with the subtext that this was a very nice time. Not to be confused with “back in the days when…” in a larger context, which is fine. The earliest example comes from a 1986 Beastie Boys song, and the OED says it’s African-American. I don’t like it, so please stop it at once.

How about we…

For example, “How about we go see a movie?” Instead of “Why don’t we…?” or “Let’s…” or “What about…?” I don’t see any objection to “How about going to a movie?”, i.e. followed by a gerund to make a suggestion. But the “How about we…” strikes me as wrong.

In the many cases where the expressions I dislike are of American origin, my objection is not to their use in America, but to their adoption by Brits. There are few things as pitiful as someone ordering a coffee with “Can I get a macchiato?” with a British accent. A little flag goes up in my head, saying “He’s trying to be hip. He’s trying to be the exact opposite of what he is.”

So there we go, some of my recent “Gripes of Wrath”, bearing witness to the rapid decay of language and the feeling that Orwell on this subject should be required reading in every school. With America being presided over by a one-man language-composter,  abundant quantities of putrefying gripe fodder are now available on a daily basis.

Please feel free to correct me or add to these in the Comments box.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Badgers’ Bike Squad Probes a 1946 Murder Mystery

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 22.12.11Two days ago, Badgers’ Bike Squad was thunderstruck but profoundly and even obsequiously honoured to be awarded the Prix de l’Humour in the prestigious Beaugency Film Festival – proof, and it was needed, that the three of us were not living in a hermetically sealed waggish universe of our own making. In this riveting new video, the plucky Badgers set off from Saint-Flovier on an 80 km round-trip through the Brenne region, on the trail of a true post-war murder story that still gets tongues wagging here and throughout the length and breadth of France. Who killed gamekeeper Louis Boitard? Why were Raymond Mis and Gabriel Thiennot deemed to be guilty? Why was the château owner Jean Lebaudy so keen on reaching a speedy conclusion to the case? These are just some of the questions that cropped up in the course of our ride and got our little grey cells pedalling overtime. The investigation, led by Badger Po and abetted by Steve, himself a former real-life detective, is – as ever – interspersed with spontaneous mischief, monkey business and misadventure, from Yves’ mascot hitchhiker to Steve’s complimentary suncream massage and Adrian’s exploding inner tube – which so resembled a pistol-shot that he thought a hunter was taking pot-shots at him. Murder and mayhem courtesy of everyday life and Badger Po’s painstaking research, musical accompaniment courtesy of Carl Orff, pre-spring sunshine courtesy of the western world’s blithe indifference to rampant global warming. For verily, après moi le déluge… Click here to view the video.

Badgers’ Bike Squad – With Apprentice Badger Brice

Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 21.37.42March 2, 2017. The Badgers are joined by artist Brice Desrez for a round trip from Saint-Senoch, taking in Saint Flovier, Charnizay, Le Petit Pressigny, La Celle Guenand, Ferrière Larçon and Esves le Moutier. Will Brice remain a “Badger for a Day”, or is he made of sterner stuff? Indeed, is he destined to become a true Apprentice Badger? How far is Yves prepared to go in his increasingly convincing imitation of Po from Tellytubbies? On the road, can any of them keep up with Adrian? Watch the video to find out! The route is 51km but very hilly, with coffee-stops and lunch to ease the pain. Plus, a special feature on a daredevil aspect of Yves’ cycling technique – unique for its physical prowess and heroic intrepidity –  captured on video for the very first time! (Good job there weren’t any rose bushes around!)

Click here to view the video. 

Badger’s Bike Squad in the Parc de la Brenne

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 Click HERE to view the new Badger’s Bike Squad video.

This week, historian and impresario extraordinaire Yves Krier chose the route and took us to the Parc de la Brenne, one of the biggest and most serene nature reserves in central France, famous for its extensive lakes and the variety of birds. We rode our bikes from Preuilly-sur-Claise to Bossay-sur-Claise, Lureuil, Douadic, Rosnay, the Château du Bouchet, Saint-Michel-en-Brenne, Azay le Ferron, and back to the same café we left from in Preuilly.

Though Steve doesn’t like flat landscapes and had various things to carp about – except the excellent battered carp we had for lunch! – we enjoyed the trip, meeting interesting people, enjoying local culinary specialities, and engaging – as ever – in creatively inane conversations and intriguing misunderstandings.

Forget the Famous Five and Secret Seven. We are, as Yves has christened us, “The Three Dicks”, possibly without realising the impact of this phrase on anglo-saxon ears. A shame in a way. We started as the Three Musketeers, transformed into Three Men on Their Bikes, and now … The Three Dicks? Well, so be it. As Steve has decreed, in his infinite wisdom, “Death is the Only Condition in Which Surrender is Acceptable”…

Bloody hell, how did I get into this? Anyway, both Yves and Steve had a keen eye for the local bird life on this particular trip, as this modest video discloses.

Badger’s Bike Squad – Descartes Wheels

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A new Badger’s Bike Squad video is online: click here to view it.

Badger’s Bike Squad cycles a 73-kilometre round trip from Descartes, birthplace of the philosopher, through some of the prettiest villages in Southern Touraine and blessed with balmy weather. Steve and Yves engage in an insane competition to be the best historical storyteller, casting all respect for truth and honesty to the winds. This was Steve’s choice of route, and we all agreed that it was one of the best we’ve done. Thanks, maestro! For previous badgerish adventures, just type “Badger’s Bike Squad” on YouTube. If you work for HBO or Time Warner, please get in touch asap before the media jackals pounce on the movie rights in the imminent bidding feeding frenzy – gosh, it’s a jungle out there!

Click here: Badger’s Bike Squad – Descartes Wheels

Badger’s Bike Squad – Cold Warriors

screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-09-18-23Another Badger’s Bike Squad video is online. Click here to view it!

Badger, it’s cold outside!

Badger’s Bike Squad braves temperatures around minus 4C, cycling 60 km from Saint Hippolyte to Bridoré, then on to Saint Flovier, Châtillon-sur-Indre, Le Tranger, and back to Saint Hippolyte. On the way, a stirring mix of adventures and misadventures, accidents and incidents, unexpected encounters, a couple of châteaux, some churches, a light sportsmans’ lunch, and the inimitable waggish jokes, franglais and badinage of the celebrated misspelt triumvirate, “les trois moustiquaires”: Badger (Resident President), “Slipstream” Yves-el Knievel (Cultural Secretary), St Eve (State-Registered Jester and Super-Hero at the Court of King Badger).

Despite a few slight cultural friction burns, deft feats of tact and humour – and the boundless good cheer of the Three Men on Their Bikes – help keep Anglo-French relations on an even keel to remain afloat another day! (Please contact us for our fees and availability for important international diplomatic missions and/or children’s birthday parties).

View the video.

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Badger’s Bike Squad – Dawn to Dusk!

La Corroirie

A new Badger’s Bike Squad video is online! 

Badger’s Bike Squad – Dawn to Dusk!

It was Yves Krier’s turn to define our route. He took us in the footsteps of the Plantagenets – La Chapelle du Liget, La Chartreuse du Liget, Le Corroirie. All interlinked 12th-century monastic foundations, with connections to the Plantagenet empire. However, he then got us seriously lost, almost to the point of missing lunch – a totally unBadgerish risk to take. We rode home at nightfall, dodging cars and trucks on a busy road and in the rain. Yves – we’ll buy you a watch and a map for your birthday! But thank you for your erudition, even if you did make it all up. And Badger’s Bike Squad survives to pedal forth valiantly another day…

Click here to view it.

Badger’s Bike Squad – November Update!

Adrian and Steve, on the road near Chaume

Adrian and Steve, on the road near Chaume

Since my last blog post on Badger’s Bike Squad, two more videos have been put on YouTube.

Badger’s Bike Squad: On the Heel’s of Saint Joan. 

(Nearly said “hot on the heels”, but given the poor lady’s fate, perhaps not, eh?) From Sepmes we cycled to Civray sur Esves, Bournan and Bossée, where we had lunch. In the restaurant, a surprise encounter with an old friend! Next stop, Sainte Catherine de Fierbois where Joan of Arc turned up on 4 March 1429 to get her mitts on a famous sword. Lastly, back to Sepmes via Sainte Maure en Touraine. The usual dose of gorgeous French countryside and architecture, Anglo-French ribaldry, rivalry and repartee, mutual incomprehension, corny jokes, profound historical, philosophical and political discussions, and – well, just CLICK HERE to watch it!

Badger’s Bike Squad – Sissies, Do Not Apply! 

“Badger’s Bike Club: Sissies, Do Not Apply!” In which the three intrepid cyclists set out one cold November morning despite a dire weather forecast of wind, storms and hail. A mishearing nearly leads to being too late for lunch, and Yves thrills us with his spectacularly original accident – caught on video. Or was it a curious attempt at oneupmanship or even “onedownmanship”? Hmm. CLICK HERE to watch it!

In the last video, and from now on, subtitles help those who have not yet mastered the nuances of franglais.

Loches-by-the-Sea

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-18-42-29In Blighty, as I’ve had occasion to mention before, oysters have become a rich man’s delicacy, whereas in Dickens’ day they nourished the poor, collected at low tide in the Thames estuary. In Dorset, where my brother lives, they are almost impossible to find. One girl, working at the fishmonger’s counter in a large out-of-town Tesco’s, simply did not know what they were – one of the saddest moments in my life. Likewise, fresh seafood is very hard to come by in England, even in popular seaside resorts. The industrialisation of the fishing industry is to blame, I presume, but wherever one casts one’s aspersions, it is a tragic tale indeed.

In France, thankfully, the opposite is true, and the wonders of the deep are everywhere on offer at prices that suit all pockets.

If you were to stick a pin in the centre of a map of France, you wouldn’t be far from Loches – in other words, a long way from the sea. Nevertheless, Loches market, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, has always had two huge fishmongers’ stalls – one next to the other – with a cornucopia of affordable produce. Whoever invented the refrigerated truck, chapeau!

A week ago, a new venue opened, l’Oyster Bar in the rue Saint Antoine. In the summer months, this outlet was in the open air, in front of the florist’s beside the river Indre. It now has its own chic premises, with 18 seats inside and, when the weather’s fine, 12 on the terrace. This is all thanks to Vincent Houlier and Florent Gouverneur who have created a shellfish haven that is destined to be popular throughout the year – even in the months without an “r” in them, when the oysters are milky, and thus not to everyone’s taste. 

We went there with old friend and antique dealer Frédérique Grego who lives next door, and the dining room even has a little barred window that looks directly into her garden.

Winkles were served as a little amuse-gueule, along with a little aioli, and we chose platters of Ile de Ré oysters, shrimp, whelks, langoustine, and half a crab (at a reasonable 23 euros a platter), accompanied by a pichet of Muscadet white wine. If you’re eating à la carte, there’s a choice of 9 different types of oysters from different French coastlines, French caviar from the Dordogne, and smoked fish from nearby Descartes, in addition to cheese and charcuterie platters.

The wine list was elaborated with the help of Jean-Christophe Laplanche of Les flaveurs de la terre, the best wine merchant in Loches and the most enthusiastic and eloquent oenologist I’ve ever met.  The tableware is intriguing, including individual transparent lemon presses to produce the juice that stuns the oyster prior to ingestion.

We regularly eat seafood bought either at the market or at the supermarket, and the fare on offer at l’Oyster Bar was noticeably superior: very fresh, clean, plump and full of flavour. Having eaten at its US namesake, the famous Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station, New York, I know which I prefer – Loches! 

The bar is open 7 days a week and is sure to become a popular haunt for oyster maniacs such as ourselves. All Loches needs now is a proper Sushi bar, but maybe l’Oyster Bar will branch out in an easterly direction one day?

 
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© 2018 Adrian Mathews