PHOTOS FEBRUARY 2009
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I thought I'd start by including a photo of this beastie, for I don't have a clue what it is. It's a caterpillar-type thingy that I found in a stump of wood that I was trying to pull up.
As I say, I haven't a clue what it is, so if you can identify what it might be, please . But one thing is for certain - now I know why it is that we have so many woodpeckers knocking into the trunks of trees round here. This thing would feed a family of four for a week.
It's still early February but the sun is now fixing itself higher in the sky and we are having some beautiful effects of the sunlight in the evening just before the sun sets.
This is a shot down my field to the woods in the bottom of the valley. You would think that it is autumn and that the leaves have turned brown and gold prior to falling, but in fact all of this colouring is the sun and the sunset.
The sunlight may well be improving but the weather certainly is not. In the middle of February we were blessed with a really heavy fall of snow.
It wouldn't surprise me if this was the heaviest fall of snow that we have had this winter. There was tons of it. It didn't quite reach the 16cms that we had and which I recorded earlier in the winter but it just hung around for well over a week and finally disappeared in a long and continual downpour of rain that put me up to my knees in the morass again.
Once the weather settled down I had another surprise visitor - a JCB digger. I'm about to have my road made for me down at the rear of my house so that I can bring my cars and vans down to my land.
But if you look very closely at the digger you can see that he's demolishing the dry-stone wall of my neighbours. I imagine that they will have plenty to say about that, and quite right too. I know I would.
Well, this is the finished article, believe it or not. Everyone has packed up and gone home and taken the JCB with them. Compare this photo with this photo from 10 years ago that Paul took when he was down here, and compare the difference.
It only took them about 6 hours to make this road right from the beginning, and it took me almost as long to dig myself out once I tried to drive down it. I'm going to have a discussion with the mayor about this because in the state that they've left it, it's no good at all.
The next Saturday saw me out and about, and for a change I went to do my shopping in Commentry. It's farther away from me than St Eloy but the shops are nicer and there's a superb end-of-range discount shop that sells all kinds of useful items.
But never mind the discounts and the end-of-range items and such-like. Especially when there's a rare Karosa coach parked up on the shop car park. That's much more interesting.
Karosa coaches are made in the Czech Republic and during the days of the "Iron Curtain" they were the mainstay of coach operation fleets in Eastern Europe (although I had an interesting ride once on a Mercedes 0302 clone fitted with an Irannational body when I was in Bulgaria). I spent a lot of time as a coach driver in the east where my Van Hool-bodied Volvo was the envy of everyone, and I have dozens of photos of the older type of Karosa coach.
With the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, Renault bought out Karosa and this coach must represent the vanguard of a short-lived attempt to establish the marque here in France. I can safely say that I don't recall having seen any other "western" Karosa.
Sunday saw me out for a drive down to Chapdes Beaufort to watch my local football club give theirs a sound spanking. The road just outside Les Ancizes passes by this impressive monument, which is a war memorial to the members of the French Resistance.
It was erected in 2000 to commemorate those who actively fought the occupier as well as those who were interned or deported. It also mentions the disparus, those who simply fell into the hands of the occupying and collaborating forces and disappeared.
Where we are is south of the Vichy demarcation line so in the early days of World War II it was effectively "Free France". The American invasion of the French colonies in North Africa in 1942 saw this area come under occupation and it was from this event that the resistance began.
There has been a lot of focus on the Resistance around here just lately and monuments and memorials are springing up to the resistance fighters all over France, just as they will to the heroes of the resistance, the interned, deported and disparus in Iraq once the occupying forces leave and the bloodletting to oust the collaborators is over.
Of course, it's easy to mock the efforts of the Resistance and to pass criticism on the Résistants de la derniere heure - those who waited until the fighting was effectively over before joining the Resistance forces, but those people who mostly do the mocking are those whose countries have never been invaded and occupied, and who have never been called upon to fight.
In the UK and the USA right now there are Fascist governments engaged in the suppression of human rights, imprisonment without trial, torture and disappearance and I don't see any signs of resistance and fighting for freedom over there. Ancient Rome had bread and circuses to keep the poipulation under control. The UK and USA have 24-hour drinking and 500 channels on TV. That's how they hypnotise their huddled masses to keep them under control.
On the way back from the footy and guided by the GPS I found myself at the Viaduc des Fades, a magnificent iron railway viaduct that was the highest in the world when it was built. It carries the Lapeyrouse-Volvic railway line over the Gorges de la Sioule.
Or perhaps I ought to say "carried" for although the line is still there, services abruptly ceased at the enf of 2007. I write about the story of the viaduct elsewhere at great length"no surprise there" - ed so I won't reproduce my notes here except to say that what is happening to the viaduct is a total scandal.
Most people when thinking of French power generation imediately think of nuclear power, France being one of the largest per-capita producers of nuclear energy in the world. But France uses many iother soiurces of energy too, not the least being hydro-electric power.
Around here are many deep river valleys, gorges even, and several of those are dammed to provide hydro-electric power. The Gorges de la Sioule are no exception and this dam, the Barrage de Besserve, is situated at the foot of the Viaduc des Fades.
Towards the end of February is my birthday. At my age normally you count the years you have left rather than the years you have had, but that doesn't stop your friends celebrating your birthday for you.
Most unexpectedly, Liz turned up bringing a gift, to whit one vegan gooey sticky and sweet chocolate birthday cake, which is absolutely gorgeous with soya-based cream. No birthday candles unfortunately Liz is concerned about the effects of global warming.
We're having a heatwave here now - yes, in February! And it was a gorgeous day as I went out to meet Liz and Terry for the afternoon.
Even though the temperature here may be about 19 degrees, we are only 700 or so metres (2300 feet) above sea level. Other places in the area are much higher. Take the Puy de Dome for instance. That is 1465 metres (4800 feet) above sea level and while all of the snow has gone from here, that heavy rain that washed it away was in fact a heavy snowfall at that altitude. Doesn't the Puy look beautiful? It's probably not even 50 miles away from where I am.
The Puy de Dome is situated to the east of Clermont Ferrand and so as we are looking south, Clermont Ferrand is to the left of the photograph. The centre of Clermont Ferrand is actually built on the column of an extinct volcano - there are about 80 of those in this area.
The town is situated in a bowl surrounded by several plateaux, the most famous of which is the Plateau de Gergovie. It was there in March of 52BC that the Gauls under the leadership of the great Vercingetorix soundly defeated 6 legions of Julius Caesar's Roman army
Even further south but slightly west is the area of the Mont-Dore and the Puy de Sancy. This area is the highest part of Central France and the Puy de Sancy is the highest point at 1885 metres or 6200 feet.
There's a good deal of winter sports activity that goes on up there and I keep on threatening to bring myself out of retirement and go on the piste. Although there isn't any sea around here and who would have thought that I, a pisces, would have been far from the sea, but the mountains are gorgeous and we are really lucky.
Where I'm standing is on a bird observation mound not too far away from the pretty little town of St Gervais that you can see in this photograph. I'll edit out those high-tension cables when I have time.
They say that from this observation post one cansee as many as 100 different varieties of bird - but I bet there won't be one example of any kind of bird that I might be interested in watching, but I've used that phrase before.
While I was up there on my mound I had a little visitor. Someone came to see me, presumably to find out what it was that I was doing. Well, two can play at that game, mate. If you want to take photographs of me then I'll take photographs of you too.
Modern aircraft (that is anything dating from about 1944) aren't my thing so I have no idea what it is. If you have any ideas of what it might be, please . I'd much appreciate it.
So having seen that it was a camera that I was aiming at it and not a Stinger missile, it broke away and veered off into the distance. It's twin engined and prop-driven, and judging by the roundels on the fuselage it's French military.
We have a good number of visits from the French military around here. Mostly they are strike jets and this is where they practise their low-flying. It's impressive, the first one that you see, but by the time the thousandth has flashed low over your vegaetable patch it starts to get on your nerves. This is why this very sedate prop-engined plane makes a pleasant change.
Sy Gervais is pretty much south of where I live and to get here I usually take the quickest route, which is the D227 over the Font Nanaud, a pass of about 740 metres that is situated at the back of Pionsat.
I'm more used to seeing the Font Nanaud from the northern side at Pionsat so I reckoned it might be a good idea to have a photo of it from the southern side just here.
From the Font Nanaud the D227 descends past the back of Rebecca's and then opens out into a very fast but winding French highway - the kind that it is really quite nice to travel along on a hot summer's evening on a motor bike.
French roads have improved immeasurably and are amongst the best in Europe. Many diversions have been built to keep the traffic out of the narrow streets of many medaieval villages and one of the villages so by-passed by the D227 is Gouttières, the church spire of which you can see to the right of centre in this photograph.
What I miss most these days in France are all of the old abandoned cars that used to litter almost every single field or hedgerow. Back in the 1990s they had a big clean-up and thousands of exciting cars were simply junked. It's quite rare now to see anything lingering on, and when you do, you have to stop to photograph it.
Although not really all that old, this one is a Panhard dating probably from the early 1960s. The front end has gone, presumably onto another vehicle, so at least it's serving some useful purpose.
It was a crying shame, this clean-up campaign. But I'm doing my best. I have three vehicles at the moment abandoned in an overgrown hedgerow.
"Look at that! Oooooh look at that!" said a famous footy commentator - maybe John Motson - and look at that indeed!
It's not very often that a photo jumps off the page and catches you in the eye but when I saw the original of this pic, I was amazed. It's not very often that one of mine comes out so well.
By the way, the pics that you are seeing here on these pages are reduced from 3000x2000 to 800x533 and the quality is reduced by 35% and is about 75kb. So just imagine how good this pic is in its full-size glory at 100% and at 10,100kb in RAW format instead of JPG format.
As an aside, the match is the 3rd XI of my local football club, FC Pionsat-St.Hilaire, at home to AS Charensat in the Puy-de-Dome League's 4th Division. You can see more of the match here.