Archive for the ‘other sides to this life’ Category

Meredith posted a moving tribute to her father on the occasion of his 106th birthday  (May 4th–he died aged 70). Prompted by the commemoration of the 75th VE Day, she wrote about his experience in the war and how it affected his life afterwards.

VE (Victory in Europe)Day May 8th 1945

I was three years, five months on May 8th 1945 and living with my mother in a friend’s house in Putney SW London. Molly, my mum, had celebrated her thirtieth birthday the day before.

I have no memory of these momentous days or asking about them as the years passed.

I am a history major but never grilled Dad about what he did in the war and he was never forthcoming. Too late now.

Dad, my father–(Tony) may or may not have been there on VE Day.

April 1938 Molly and Tony on their honeymoon*


Young Dad–RAF trainee

He’d spent the previous nine months in the States training to be a fighter pilot based at Falcon Field, Mesa, NE of Phoenix, Arizona; where he’d “won his wings” on April 1st 1945.

Maybe he was on his way back to Blighty. How lucky for him and Molly and me that the war in Europe ended a month later on May 8th.

Aircraftsman 1st class Tony Ellis, had been ground staff until he was recruited to train as a flyer. He was posted  ’round the country as needed. I was born in Ipswich on the east coast and saw Edinburgh and Leamington Spa from my pram before setting in Hammersmith.

No great exploits, I guess, no derring-do’s.

He must have, however, let slip the story, that one day, on a training flight in Arizona, he flew solo through the Grand Canyon–an action strictly verboten and uncharacteristic of my father whose mantra in life as communicated to his three sons was–don’t rock the boat!

It took me over 70 years get a true understanding of what he had done, albeit in a small commercial helicopter with a pilot and Meredith and her sister Holly on board. It took our breath away!

He was 28 when left Molly and me and went west. He wrote long, tender letters to her telling her how much he loved her and how he missed us both– but he was clearly seduced by the American way. 

He brought back 78rpm reckerds…

Country music—Hank Williams; Roy Acuff; railroad balladeer, Jimmie Rogers.  

I loved Jimmie Rogers singing his hobo songs and listening Dad mimicking the sad, resigned yodelling refrains.

He’s in the jailhouse now, he’s in the jailhouse now–Ahh lee odle edly ee.

I didn’t learn much about the war but Dad with his Arizona tan and his gentle humour instilled in me a love of things American I couldn’t explain and set me on a life changing path.

*This photo was taken on their honeymoon and a story from the family history jar is that they took the boat out for an innocent row on the sea and were capsized by a basking shark (not dangerous apparently, except to non-swimmers!).

Not satisfied with the drama of that, they both got chickenpox!

Read Full Post »

Thirty years ago–about this time of the year–we walked into a courtyard and fell in love with a house.

Well, I did, for sure.

It was second coup de foudre (thunder bolt) for me in four years–guess who was the first..!

Four hours later, in the retirement home of Meredith’s ex–ABC TV colleague, the veteran anchor and correspondent Hughes Rudd, I phoned the owner of the breathtaking, life-altering, irresistible home and agreed to pay the asking price.

Back in London I heard myself telling brother Jack I’d bought a house in France.

This was the courtyard and this the house.

(Cover photo Meredith Wheeler!)

We are still here and I have never regretted the impulse to buy.

My fourth cookbook (all written in this house) is scheduled for publication in late June.

Robin Ellis’s Mediterranean Vegetarian Cooking

Delicious Seasonal Dishes for Living With Diabetes

(available on pre-order now on Amazon.co.uk)

(Little, Brown UK)


Here’s the link to the magazine (there is no free link to the article itself).






Read Full Post »

The sun is up and the plump young woodpecker has the bird feeder to itself.

Black and white stripes with a hint of red on his head.

Woodpeckers are famously shy, so it’s a treat to see it.

It is replaced by a small round bird–a youngster too and oblivious to the dangers of…

…a large buzzard, sitting atop a tree surveying, checking out the potential pickins.

I’m up early waiting for our plumber, Lionel, to arrive to fix the boiler–again.

Seems a mundane thing to be saying when the world is going mad, thousands are dying, coffins pile up at crematoriums, doctors, nurses and health workers risk their lives with inadequate supplies of equipment and politicians flounder, repeating the mantra–“we are working 24/7“.

I feel like screaming when I hear health ministers trotting it out–no surprise nurses and doctors on the front line are beginning to scream. Bit like sending the Tommies over the top without rifles at the Battle of the Somme.

Lethal incompetence, calculated unpreparedness, criminal negligence?

It’s a scandal!

Matt Hancock (UK Health Secretary) should do a nursing shift in an Intensive Care Unit.

FYI– and I’m sure you are on tenterhooks–Lionel turned up and we are awaiting replacement parts–a certain irony there.

Of course the delay in our case is not potentially fatal; just means boiling the kettle to wash our hands.


Read Full Post »


We just watched an impressive Emmanuel Macron address the nation for the second time in five days.

Thursday was the first–and seems an age ago.
Things are moving so fast the “elbow welcome” we’ve perfected is almost suspect now.
Waving your arms seems to be the order of the day–today.
He announced not quite the full shutdown–as in Italy–but the gates are closing here in La France Profonde—(though these days nothing is quite as profonde as it used to be.)
I have no wish to travel very far or be very social—not much change there, if I’m honest!
Seems to me a good opportunity to read the lovely books in the pile I’m adding to each day, as Spring brings a tumble of new titles.
Beloved cookbooks are getting an airing as my new vegetarian cookbook goes to the printers.
We’re building an impressive larder, so I won’t be short of ingredients.
The cats are gloriously unaware that the world is in turmoil–and will be happy not to see passports and suitcases on the dining room table, indicating imminent departure. They know, you know….
I was wondering whether to cancel my dentist appointment for Wednesday but agreed with Meredith that it’s better to do it now because who knows what might happen next week.
In London, in times of plague, those that could headed for Hampstead and Highgate–the northern heights high ground—part of which is still named The Vale of Health.
The Tarn feels, for the moment anyway, a little similar.
We are lucky.
I fling open the bathroom window and inhale its lovely air for a couple of minutes every morning.
It helps momentarily to dispel the alarming feeling that as President Macron just pronounced–six times–we are at war–nous sommes en guerre!
We are not used to such situations.
They happen elsewhere–to other people–not to us.
Not this time–get used to it!

Read Full Post »

Just back from my annual eye test.

I used to drive ten minutes to our local town for the test with the phlegmatic and methodical M. Nguyen. He retired last year and as ophthalmologists are becoming a rarer breed I am lucky that Meredith’s doctor agreed to see me in a clinic close to Toulouse–albeit an hour and quarter drive from here.

The procedure hasn’t changed although the equipment on offer now makes for a less intimate relationship with your specialist, which may or may not be a plus.

This is what I wrote back in February 2011:

Eye Test–(15/2/2011)

Arrive–present my Carte Vitale (the card accessing the French health care system)–take a seat in the waiting room.

“Monsieur Ellis?

Put your chin on the strap please and place your forehead against the bar—look straight ahead and don’t move”.

The forced intimacy of doctor and patient is strange. As he leans forward and shines his special torch deep into my eyes, we are eyeball to eyeball. For a moment I feel like the Man in the Iron Mask, receiving a visit.

The short pause before he says–pas de diabetes [no sign of diabetes], is a bit nerve-wracking; on occasion I’ve caught myself crossing my fingers under the table—though I forgot this morning!

Phew-another year gone!

I learned early on, that managing Type 2 Diabetes involves more than watching what you eat—it’s really a head to toe job!

The villain sugar is a ruthless foe. It will take advantage of any weaknesses with alacrity, and insinuate itself into those vulnerable spots like eyes and feet if you drop your guard, causing damage that cannot be reversed….

Being tested has become part of life again. Just like schooldays.

I see Cyril for feet every three months and have a blood test to check cholesterol and glucose levels as often.

No big deal really—when your life depends on it.

Pas de diabete!   Encore phew!

Less than 15 minutes after “the summons, I had paid 27 euros for the consultation (to be reimbursed later), made an appointment for February next year and was searching for my car key outside in the cold.

Apart from the increased sophistication of the machinery the only thing different about today’s session was that I remembered to cross my fingers–still works!

Blood test next week for: blood sugar level, heart, kidneys, liver, blood pressure and prostate and Cyril for my feet.

No big deal really–if your life depends on it.

Read Full Post »


Blue sky and no wind.

Cows in the meadow, finches and tits on the wing, lamb in a paddock.

Parsley and chives showing in a pot.

Almond blossom‘s second day out–not quite full bloom.

Crocus, daffodil and the large rosemary bush in flower.

Bees at work

Lovely combo of warmth from the sun and a scarf round the neck, for the shadows on my walk.

New Tilley hat comfortably on my head–and not a bus in sight.

Our young neighbour who runs the Mediateque de Lautrec passes in her little red car taking her baby home for lunch. We are in la France Profonde –and there are four rush hours a day! She entrusts him to the village creche in working hours.

The Postman who delivered my new hat yesterday, passes and waves as he nears the end of his rounds.

Perfect, you might say.

Except, as Meredith says, it is all a month too early.

Ten days before the end of February!

Spring is sprung officially on March 20th

Still, gather ye rose budscarpe diem and quand même–eh?!




Read Full Post »

In Oscar Wilde’s incomparable comedy, The Importance of Being Earnest, John Worthing’s prospective mother-in-law takes him to task for truthfully admitting that he has lost his parents.

To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

Lady Bracknell would certainly apply the same ruthless judgment to my losing two Tilley hats in the space of 14 months–both losses confirming in her mind that society was about to break down and…

“…reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution.”

It’s appropriate then, that my latest display of carelessness should have occurred in Paris.

When I realised three minutes after getting off the 69 bus at St Gervais Church in the Marais district on Saturday afternoon that I didn’t have my Tilley with me–and must have left it on the bus–I felt an urge to break down myself.

What made it doubly frustrating was that I knew exactly where the hat was. My seven-and-three-eighths broad-brimmed Tilley–faithful protector against the harmful ultra-violet rays of the sun–was still there on the seat where I’d been sitting. (I put it there to make the hard seat more comfortable.) But the bus was gone on its unstoppable way, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. 😩

My wretchedness was increased by the knowledge that this was not the first time it had happened–on a bus.

I left my first Tilley–purchased at the Grand Canyon and much-treasured as such–on a 24 London bus on my way to pick up my new passport.

The Tilley company was founded in Toronto in 1980 by Alex Tilley, a keen sailor, who wanted a “proper durable hat”, that would float, stay on the head, be unshrinkable and look attractive.

Their motto: Designed for Nature. Built for Life. 

Durable they certainly are, and wherever my first two Tilley’s are now–I wish them and their new owners, well–though that may be a curse as they are no defence against Carelessness Compounded.


Lost property at RATP (Paris public transport) told me NO hat like mine had been handed in.

Postman arrived today with a package–with the NEW Tilly hat in it. 


Ordered online Monday–miracle of modern life–arrived two days later.

Meredith suggests I write my name and email address on the inside of the hat. Good Idea!

Brother Jack wants to open the betting on how soon I lose it.

I’m wondering what number bus it will be.








Read Full Post »

The Dickens Museum has recently acquired some fascinating Dickens memorabilia; reading about it reminded me of my TV debut in 1967.

Mr. Dickens of London was a part-dramatised tour of the great writer’s big city haunts.

The conceit would have appealed to Dickens’s instinct for self-promotion .

It starred Sir Michael Redgrave as Charles Dickens and Juliet Mills as a tour guide whom Dickens befriends and offers to show her his London.

The first stop on the tour was 48 Doughty Street–the family’s home for two years from 1837–when he was 25 and where he wrote The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nickolas Nickleby .

“And this is Boz, young me, hard at work writing,” says Sir Michael/Charles Dickens, pointing at me! 

And there I was–sitting at Dickens’ real desk, twiddling a quill and spilling the ink, no doubt. It was directed by actor Barry Morse–who was big presence at the time on ITV as the detective pursuing David Jannsen as The Fugitive in weekly episodes. The Daily Mirror had opened a book, taking daily bets, on when Morse would track him down.

We were filming in Covent Garden–still operating as a fruit and vegetable market and an authentic Dickens location (he’d had an office in Wellington Street nearby). The porters were about to knock off work after a hard day’s night and were standing round watching the action. One of them spotted Barry giving me directions and quick as a flash shouted at him:

“You won’t find ‘im ‘ere mate–long gone!!”

The job was well timed for me. I’d been out of work for some weeks after sharing the stage for six months with another star-studded cast in a production of Sheridan’s The Rivals at the Haymarket Theatre.

A baptism of fire–straight from playing Idle Jack in Cheltenham Theatre’s Christmas pantomime.

I took over the leading part, Captain Jack Absolute, from Dan Massey.

Ralph Richardson played my father, Sir Anthony and Margaret Rutherford, Mrs Malaprop.

I was paid £35 a week and by the end I was hard up!
So this Dickens job was a gift and then more….

U.S. President Lyndon Johnson chose the night of transmission to give a major TV address to the nation. Our show went out–but the ratings persuaded the network to show it a second time.

Thus I got paid a repeat fee–which paid the rent for a few more weeks!

There was a fine gentle wind, and Mr. Pickwick’s hat rolled sportively before it. The wind puffed, and Mr. Pickwick puffed, and the hat rolled over and over as merrily as a lively porpoise in a strong tide.

from The Pickwick Papers by Boz (young Charles Dickens)

Read Full Post »

I just received a letter from Monsieur le Maire de Lautrec–not an everyday event.

It informs me that because I am longer a European citizen, I am not entitled to vote in either the Municipal (local) elections in March or the European elections.

First fall-out from the Brexit vote.

You must be a citizen of La France to vote in the national elections–but at least these other elections offered foreign residents an opportunity to show solidarity and involvement with their community.

It’s also fun to be part of a small town elections–the visit to the Mairie to cast our votes, joining the steady stream of familiar faces.

The relief when you show your registration card and it’s confirmed you are indeed on the register–yes, you belong here (and we have been here full-time for 20 years–30 in all).

A sense of pride when you are given an envelope and the ballot papers of all the lists–and pointed towards the voting booths.

Doing your best to remember for whom you’ve decided to vote!

Placing chosen ballot paper in the envelope, signing the register of voters, putting the envelope in the transparent ballot box–glowing with a sense of duty done.


No longer!

It is doubly sad for Meredith, who had been invited to join one of the lists and had already attended a couple of meetings.

It’s apparently hard to find people willing to stand in the countryside–here’s someone who is by nature public-spirited and willing to do the work–and is now excluded.

Seems crazy.

But we are trusting that by the next set of elections 2026 (My! Seems a lifetime!) we will add French citizenship to our tallythus qualifying to vote in the national, local and European elections.

Allons enfants de la Patrie!

Allez les Bleus!



Read Full Post »

Europe becomes ELSEWHERE–“over there” again, at midnight, as the UK ups anchor and sails away (or free falls from a ship in the sky!)

I was born in January 1942, so for two and half years I lived in a Europe torn apart by war,  blissfully unaware of the horrors that were happening.

I was lucky. “Elsewhere” featured strongly in my life in the 1950s. My parents were outward-looking and liked to travel, using Dad’s concessionary travel permits (a perk as an employee of British Rail). I took it in my stride; never felt scared of the idea.

My first trip in 1951 was to Paris with a school party.

We traipsed through the streets in crocodile file–two abreast.

Blissfully ignorant of what being occupied had meant for people we were passing on the pavements.

My recall is minimal but I do remember the hot chocolate in cafés and the scary view from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Two years later (summer of 1953), on our way to a beach holiday in Lloret del Mar on the Costa Brava, I remember feeling shocked seeing young boys begging on the street in Barcelona, just fourteen years after the end of the Spanish Civil War,

I remember Franco’s sinister police with their winged black helmets and machine guns keeping the beach “decent”.

I discovered the taste of an egg fried in olive oil, too.

I remember my first trip to Germany–1957–twelve years after the end of the war. I took the train to Flensburg near the Danish border and had my wallet stolen.

I remember the generosity of my German host family, who replaced the precious money I’d lost.

I remember in Spring 1961, on a nine-week tour of Europe before University, bashing steel for a week in a factory in Dusseldorf to make connecting rings for pipes and being astonished how quickly the city had risen from the ashes–just sixteen years after the end of the war.

I remember in 1961--(twelve years after the end of the Greek Civil War)–picking mulberries from the tree at a corner of the road leading into Delphi and feeling guilty, trying to wipe the purple stain of mulberry juice from my arms.

That same year, The National Youth Theatre toured Genoa, Florence, Perugia and Rome with a modern-dress production of Julius Caesar (I played a shouty First Citizen). In Rome,  Caesar dressed in a garish uniform may have been an uncomfortable sight for some in the audience. One performance finished at 2am. The producer had run out of money and refused to pay the electricians, who went on strike in the interval. None of the audience left. This was definitely “elsewhere,” we learned that night.

I remember my mother beside herself with worry that brother Jack (six-years-old) was drowning on the beach at Marina di Campo on Elba in summer 1961–146 years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars!!

“There is a world elsewhere”, I pronounced as a defiant Coriolanus–banished from Rome. A college production this time on a tour of Norway, Denmark and Germany.

By now I knew there was and I thrived on exploring it.

I was lucky.

All these early remembrances of times past and many more in the years that followed –experienced in the war-free zone of newly uniting/united Western Europe.

Increasingly and quickly, war became inconceivable within the EU–and has remained so.

Unlike the twenty years after the end of the Great War, a stabilising and unifying  organisation had emerged from the rubble.

And let’s not forget what erupted on the doorstep of the European Union in former Yugoslavia in the mid-nineties.

It was brutal, it was tribal. Neighbour killing neighbour.

A genocide in Srebrenica–8000 men and boys, massacred.

Observer columnist Andrew Rawnsley last Sunday:

Now Foolish Albion is sailing away, jumping out.

That is why I’m sad or if I’m honest–mad as hell.


Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »