Hoop, hoop–oeray!


This fine fellow flashed through my sightline at lunch with our friends George and Hilary today.


In mid-conversation I caught a glimpse of the headdress outside the window at the back of the house and it was gone before I could say: “There’s a hoopoe!

Nobody would have believed me, anyway.

Hoopoes are well known for their shyness and we have never seen one near the house.

On the tarmac outside and once in the garden, rising vertically like a helicopter to the nearest tree branch but–my word–never this close!

Back from tropics, it’s their time of year and it always thrills me to see them again.

Then Meredith says, with an intake of breath from the opposite end of the table: “Look! Look! There’s a hoopoe at the window, trying to get in!”

I turn slowly and face the courtyard.

There is this exotic creature hovering at the window–appearing to knock on the pane with its long beak–”let me in, let me in!”

Where’s the camera? Can you try? Oh my word!

Meredith finds the camera and gingerly opens the front door. The flustered creature, now at another door, obligingly turns its head and stays put long enough for Meredith to capture this shot.


Why was he/she trying to get inside?

Will it be back tomorrow?

On verra!


Every time we drive to our nearby town of Castres, we pass this beautiful building–and wonder what was goes on inside.


This week Robin & I found out!

[This is a Guest Post by Meredith--wife, Photographer, Taster-in-Chief.]

We were invited for a special tour of the historic Collège Jean Jaurès by one of the English teachers–who first bumped into Robin buying cheese at the open air market.

Jean Jaurès is one of France’s most famous politicians. He was assassinated 100 years ago in Paris for trying to prevent World War I from breaking out. A pacifist, he was also opponent of the death penalty and a supporter of the maligned Dreyfus. Many French towns honor his memory with a rue, avenue or place Jean Jaurès.


Jaurès was born in Castres and attended this school where he was reportedly a brilliant student.

(It was renamed in his honor in 1924.)


It is one of the oldest secondary schools in France, established in 1574.


These young students of English were challenged with guiding their Anglophone guests around the landmark building.


At collège, they range in age from 11 to 15.

They were enthusiastic guides!


This [below]  is the former chapel and medieval tower topped with a bell, viewed from the playground.


Inside,  it’s a gynasium! The young people have gym twice a week.


A poster on the gym wall promoting fair play, no racism, inclusiveness, no drug-taking.

IMG_3066In the inspiring ART room, versions of Jean Jaurès portraits were on display.



The students have Art class once a week (and they would like more!). We could see why.









We couldn’t miss out on an English language classroom.








We also stopped by lunch room.


Robin was interested to see the weekly lunch MENU posted. Looked delicious!




In the library and media center, posters discussed food, cooking and how to avoid wasting food.




The young people have their own student lounge.


In honor of English guests, the tour ended with a cup of tea…


We learned a lot on our first day in a French school!

Merci to Madame Henriette Courtade and the students at College Jean Jaurès.

IMG_3105 - Version 2






We first tasted this dip in Gail Zweigenthal’s apartment overlooking Central Park when we were in New York recently.


She had generously invited us–two strangers–to dinner with our mutual friend, Francia White.


Gail was Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet Magazine from 1991 to 1998, where this recipe originated.

Six simple ingredients plus seasoning make this a dip-in-a-flash.

In fact seven–Meredith thought a squeeze of lime or lemon juice would be good.

(The nod to tapinade comes with the capers; caper in Provençal patois is tapinas.)

1 can artichoke hearts (200gm/7oz)–drained
1/4 cup olive oil
1 garlic clove–mashed with a pinch of salt
1/2 cup green olives–pitted 
2 tsps capers
3 tbs parsley–chopped 
juice of half a lime
  • Put the ingredients in a food processor and whizz it to a rough smoothness–i.e., leaving a little texture.
  • Add salt and fresh ground pepper–adjusting the seasoning to taste.
  • Serve as Gail did on the fennel slices or toast with a dribble of olive oil.


First day’s filming today, on the NEW POLDARK.

The twittersphere is alive with anticipation as the cast and crew embark on the journey.

I’m looking forward to joining the caravan in May.

Jacqueline, make-up supremo, emailed this morning with ideas and images (facial hair!) and I’m already experiencing moments of anxiety about my first day.

First days are fraught.

My first day at my pre-prep school, aged 4, I left the school mid-morning and walked home– a mile at least.

A couple of days later, I’d fallen in love with beautiful Miss Rosemary and nothing could keep me away–much to my mother’s relief.


From my memoir, Making Poldark, the first day’s filming in 1975 –a typical spring day in Cornwall:

It was bitterly cold and dank.


Another bitterly cold and dank day!

We were in Towednack churchyard near St. Ives. I remember it well.

Contrary to rumour, I was born without a scar–so on went the first scar of many, made unromantically of glue; on went the make-up and the back-piece of hair.

My hair had been dyed darker with copper tints for the part.

I put on my black mourning coat–the scene was Uncle Charles’ funeral–and my specially-made boots and there I was: Captain Ross Poldark.

But as the day wore on and they still didn’t get to my bit, I began to wonder. I saw the director looking worried and thought at first it must be the weather.

Then I thought maybe it’s my hair, then my scar, then my FACE.

Then I thought: my God, it’s ME!

They don’t want ME!

They think they’ve made a mistake. They’re re-casting–the lines are hot to London and actors are streaming into the producer’s office with the sun in their eyes–it was fine in London–and they’re all Olympic equestrians.

Robin, will you come to the graveside please?’

Of course, I’ve got it–I mean–of course I will.’

I’d started at last.


Good luck to Aidan and Eleanor and everyone–(me included)!


LUNCH today:


A sparklingly, fresh salad to complement and cut the rich oiliness of the stuffed mackerel fillets.

Just one large fennel bulb (outer leaves removed), one large spring onion (outer layer removed), one long celery stick (sliced thinly), several large red radishes (sliced thinly) and some chopped parsley to sprinkle over.

Add some lightly pan roasted sunflower seeds–if you have them and a dressing of the juice of a lemon, some salt and pepper to taste and three or four tablespoons of the best olive oil you have, whisked in.

Turn everything over carefully so the dressing gets to visit all corners!





That was then!

The BBC have just announced the news–Mammoth Screen have offered me a cameo in their new production of Poldark.

Poldark has brought much joy to my life–I’ve often called them Poldark Perks–which doesn’t do them justice.

It continues to deliver.

I am delighted to be invited to play a role in the new venture which has got off to a flying start with superb scripts from Debbie Horsfield (I have just finished reading them) and a tremendous first tranche of principal casting.

I am cast as Dr. Halse–the clergyman with whom Ross shares the coach on his journey home to Nampara from Truro in the opening scene of the first series. Back then, a benign figure–in the new series he comes over as rather less so!

I fear I’ll be exchanging the marvelous leather coat and boots for drab, black church cloth and a sneer.

Joining the Cornish establishment that Ross so despises (though he was born into it) will be a challenge!

Joining the new Poldark will be exciting–but also poignant for me, bringing back many wonderful memories of 40 years ago.

Not least in my mind will be fellow members of the original cast–especially those no longer with us: the beloved Angharad Rees, Ralph Bates, Richard Morant, Frank Middlemas, Paul Curran and Mary Wimbush.

I’ll be there for their memory–and for the late Winston Graham–as well as for the intriguing prospect of acting with the new cast to help bring this wonderful saga to a new audience.











The first asparagus spears were on the stalls at Castres market on Saturday at 9 euros /kilo– steep I thought–wait a week or two and down they’ll come.

Then last night Meredith and our friends Tamsin and Stephen–here for a weekend visit–returned from the annual Réalmont Agicultural Foire (fair).


Deciding our garden was on the small side for this magnificent specimen;


they settled instead for a large box of oversize strawberries,


and a couple of bunches of Spanish grown asparagus!

OK–a starter for our hazelnut pasta supper last night!

I roasted all but ten spears–thinking lunch today– with thyme and olive oil.

It was good to have it confirmed that the asparagus season is about to start but the spears from over the border were not as tasty as the locals will be in a couple of weeks.

Lunch today then.

I’m poaching a couple of eggs each and laying them on top of the remaining asparagus for the yolks to break beautifully and Spring-like–yellow on fresh green–over them and make a superb light lunch with a salad.


Heat the oven to 220C/430F

Arrange the spears in a single layer on a shallow oven tray.


Pour a little olive oil over the tips and sprinkle some salt and fresh thyme .

Slide the tray onto the top oven rack and roast for 10 minutes–test for doneness.


Arrange equal portions on two plates.

Bring a saucepan of water to the boil and add a tablespoon of red/white vinegar–this helps gather the egg white.

Break the eggs into the water trying not to burst their yokes.

They’ll be ready to take out in about three minutes–depending on the thickness of the spears..

Carefully remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and drain them.

Place them decoratively on the asparagus and season with a little salt and pepper.



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