Archive for the ‘other sides to this life’ Category


Megan Rapinoe celebrates scoring another goal for the USA and is about to be congratulated by her teammates


Meredith and I sat beside each other on the sofa and watched the game together–but our loyalties were divided.

We were watching the semi-final of the Women’s World Cup–football/soccer, (depending which side of the sofa you were sitting on) between England and USA.

Whatever you choose to call it lived up to its sobriquet last night– The Beautiful Game.

Loyalties lie deep in the gut–something that catches me by surprise.

I live in France; I’m upset about Brexit, but roots kick in when the chips are down.

The game was played with a passion and politesse–not always on view in the men’s tournaments.

The skill on show was phenomenal and added to the pleasure.

Watching such breathtaking expertise is a joy–it lifts the spirit and can bring a tear to the eye.

The women’s game has struggled everywhere but the States to catch the imagination of Joe Public–not enough macho on display?

But this competition, played out in France, featured at prime time on terrestrial television, has changed things forever.

Along with Meredith and me in France, eleven million fans in the UK were watching.

The penny has dropped, the scales have fallen. The women’s game has come into its own.

Tonight Gianni Infantino, the president of FIFA (world governing body of football) recognised this by proposing expanding the event to 32 teams from 24 and doubling the prize money and financial support. 

Full time–USA 2 England1

I conceded–through gritted teeth.


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Suddenly summer!

Bursts in the fields, on the stands;

Yellow, red, golden.

Place Jean Jaures on a fine Saturday morning in the first days of summer is slowly coming alive as the stall holders–chatty and enthusiastic–finish setting up.

Meredith and I drive down the road beside the market at seven minutes past seven–and look at each other in astonishment–we made it! And it’s registering a mere 20C/ 68F.

The forecast is 38C/100F later in the day.

By 9am it will be hotter and more crowded; by 11am, a sweltering throng and much of the new summer fare, bought and carried off.

It pays to be early birds as summer starts to deliver.

Sunday morning 6.30am and our resident golden oriole is warbling a modest ‘good morning’ as I step unsteadily into the road to begin my first early morning walk of the summer.

It’s a surprise to feel a pleasant misty spray on my face after the intense heat of Saturday. Slowly the pistons and crankshaft start to loosen up and the old engine begins to move up the hill.

Thoughts unbidden pop into mind.

One of the joys of walking–unbidden thoughts. Couldn’t see the wood for the trees–my mother would say–last night, but the old computer left to its own devices has sorted things out overnight and gently suggests a solution to a problem.

Of course–why didn’t I think of that?!

I stop, half-turn–doing my best not to fall over– and give a desultory wave to whoever it is in the large white van looming up behind me. Could be Lionel, our plumber,  going to work on the house he’s building; could be Serge on his way to pick up his son for the weekend.

I walk on past a field of wheat that has turned golden in the heat of the last few days.

As I crest the hill I see in the distance the white van returning and think, “ah yes, Serge and son”. Then a ways behind the van, a lumbering noise with two headlights, descending. The mind, clearer now from the climb, twigs. Not Serge, but Celine in the van and Pierre driving the monster which is a garlic harvester* –and they are heading for their vast field of pink garlic to begin the annual harvest.

I barely survive as Pierre–looking anxious–edges past me and heads on for a long day mining his and Celine’s fortune.

Garlic gath’rers pass,

Leaving the scent in the air;

It’s that time again.

Life is far from dull for early birds.

*Meredith captured Pierre and Celine harvesting a few years ago.

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Today–30th June 2019–Winston Graham would have been 111!

I’m re-reading the Poldark saga books at the moment and being reminded of why this story still resonates.

WBGH Boston–home of Masterpiece, showcase for the majority of British TV drama in the States–is producing a series of podcasts to run with the showing of the fifth and final series of Poldark, stateside.

Mining Poldark is an epic undertaking–40 half-hour segments.  I’m co-hosting with Barrett Brountas.

It involves watching each episode–old and new– and re-reading the original books.

Barrett and I then spend  a half-hour dissecting each episode–agreeing and disagreeing in an agreeable fashion.

Coming Soon from MASTERPIECE – Mining Poldark

The team: Susanne Simpson (Exec Producer), me, Barrett (co-host), Nick Andersen (Producer)

We are nearly half-way through–and it’s a pleasure!

His wonderful writing lives on and is again a source of joy as well as–in this case–employment!

He wrote Ross Poldark, the first in the saga, in 1945 when he was 37 and bringing up a family of his own with his beloved wife–Jean at their home in Cornwall.

He finished the twelfth and last book, Bella Poldark, in 2002 at the age of 92!

This last tells the story of Ross and Demelza’s youngest child who becomes an actress–and with whom I’m sure Winston fell in love, as he’d done with Demelza–11 books earlier!

There’s as much PASSION in the last of the saga as there is in Ross Poldark.

He felt a loyalty to his characters–and this he passed on to his readers.

He was a supremely talented story teller.

Bonne Anniversaire, Winston!




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“They’re essentially volunteers” Meredith says this morning as she waters our visitors.

Whitey-pink and bluey-mauve; they arrived, it seemed, overnight; all of a sudden–there they were.

This morning they are enjoying the shifting light–a static ballet–barely responding to the whisper of a breeze; stick figures in an orchid conversation.

It’s mercifully cooler than yesterday–better for humans, cats and stick-people alike.

Beau likes to walk in the orchid forest early before the sun comes round to the courtyard;

…then rest in the shade on the cool metal seat of the wrought iron garden chair.

Behind my ear a small bumble bee is enjoying bounty from our extended orchid family, buzzing between mauve and pink, making them sway a little as he lands..

Three white butterflies swoop in–fighting among themselves; clearly two’s company three’s a crowd.

Ben rushes in–he never saunters–and settles at the dry food plate, before heading for the water bowl. It’s tough for sleek black cats in the near midday sun.

For a little longer we’re all happy to be in the courtyard–but the heat is rising–the skin starting to prickle–and soon we’ll make a dive indoors.

Stay awhile-stick people. We think you’re beautiful!



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It’s currently 94F degrees in Lautrec and set to go to 103F this afternoon–so I’ve made Ma’s Gazpacho this morning with the first of summer’s tomatoes, peppers, spring onions and cucumber.

It is ridiculously simple.

I wasn’t sure it would be worth it with the vegetables available–not enough sun in them yet.

First taste after the food processor–just the pulverised vegetables–encouraging!

I stirred in the vinegar and oil, seasoned and popped the big bowl in the fridge.

Four hours will be enough–though overnight is better.

Thanks again, dear Molly!

Her recipe features in my second cookbook–Healthy Eating for Life and–as tribute to Molly in my upcoming book: Robin Ellis’s Mediterranean Vegetarian Cooking (which is with the publisher, and due out next year).

Here’s my original posting from July 2011 with the recipe written out on a yellowing envelope in my mother’s handwriting:

It’s a fair bet my Mother first tasted this traditional summer soup from Andalusia in 1953–when my parents took brother Peter and me to the Costa Brava for a two week holiday. (Dad worked for British Railways and got a certain amount of concessionary travel in Europe.)

There were five hotels at that time in Lloret del Mar. Five hundred plus now!

We stayed in one with a pretty courtyard–yards from the beach.

I don’t remember the gazpacho–but the egg fried in olive oil I can taste to this day!

Franco’s military police, patrolling the beach in funny hats and holding not-so-funny machine guns, also made an impression. No such thing at on the sands at Woolacombe!

About a kilo collected this morning–a little more than the recipe.

Molly Ellis’ Recipe (slightly adapted!)

Chop the tomatoes roughly–and put them in the food processor.

Chop up half a large, peeled cucumber and half a large,  red pepper–seeded–(she calls them pimentoes) and add them to the processor.

I add a couple of spring onions (scallions)–chopped. (Ma adds a yellow onion–which I’ll try next time).

Mash up 3 cloves of garlic, as she does, with a little salt–and add them to the processor.

Pulse the contents–not too smooth a finish.

Empty this already tasty mix into a bowl and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Stir in 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and two tablespoons of olive oil.

A few drops of Tabasco–as she suggests–a matter of taste.

(At lunch today I added an ice cube to each served bowl.)

Chill for a couple or more hours.

We found one ladleful each is enough–with a whirl of olive oil to finish.

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They came down out of a brilliant blue sky in almost perfect order–lining up to land within feet of each other–on an isolated hilltop north of Brassac in the alpine part of our department–the Tarn.

They were greeted by a group of Resistance re-enacters–young men and women  in authentic wartime garb and equipment, who hurried forward to help gather up the parachutes–as actually occured in 1944 by moonlight.

The jumpers–a Frenchman and five Americans flown in expressly for the occasion–all Special Forces–played the game and patted their greeters warmly on the back–relieved to see a friendly face after their hazardous flight into occupied France from the American base in Algeria!

The large crowd of onlookers, after readjusting their necks, showed their appreciation with applause and whistles.

Speeches were made and thanks given.

We all sang or hummed La Marseillaise and the Star Spangled Banner and a thousand photographs were taken.

It was a memorable moment–and a fitting tribute to an act of derring-do, 75 years ago.

On August 6th, 1944 a US Special Forces team (OSS–Office of Strategic Services, precursor of the CIA) consisting of 15 men parachuted onto this same dropzone around midnight. One broke his leg in the low altitude drop and was spirited away by the maquis de Vabre to a safe house where he was hidden and received treatment.

Two of the remaining fourteen were shot dead five days later by a German patrol they had ambushed.

Robert Spaur, on the left, was one the two who lost his life on a remote and heavily wooded French hillside. His PAT comrades in this photo survived.

Twelve remained to fulfill their mission, which was to work with the local Resistance and prevent the Nazi occupying forces from sending reinforcements to fight the Allies after the Southern D-Day landings on August 15th, close to St Tropez.

Their perilous task was a success. They blew up a key strategic train bridge. Our local town Castres was liberated fourteen days after their landing. The Nazi occupying force–4,500 troops–surrendered. The Allied landings in Provence went ahead smoothly and the end of the war moved closer.

We followed the OSS men’s route from the dropzone back down into Brassac–in our case to enjoy an impeccably-cooked traditional lunch at a local restaurant of salade de gesiers and Joue de boeuf aux carrottes et vin rouge. 

It kept us in the bubble of history for a little while longer, savouring not only the food and company–but the whole remarkable and sobering story of OG Pat*.

Norma LaGueux Hamilton, widow of the Captain of OG PAT, Conrad LaGueux–raises the toast to honor and celebrate those who served.

People came from around the world to attend this 75th commemoration–from California, Florida, Washington D.C., Kabul, Paris and England.

Two of the original PAT team, Bernard Gautier and Robert Spaur, were killed in action and are buried in France–but not forgotten.

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Every time I drive past the Grand Hotel–a somewhat exaggerated description– on my way to the market in Castres, I’m reminded that the building served as local Nazi headquarters from the occupation in 1942 until the Liberation in August 1944.

Liberation declaration, August 20th 1944 on the balcony of The Grand Hotel, Castres

It’s hard to believe that this pleasant market town best known today for its successful rugby team, Castres Olympique, saw German troop patrols and Maquis operations designed to disrupt them–in my lifetime.

The town did not suffer the physical destruction that London experienced in the Blitz, but living for years with the constant threat of betrayal to the occupiers and a knock at the door, leading to deportation and death, carried its own heavy psychological pressures.

We had this in mind when we made the five minute journey to Lautrec mid-afternoon yesterday to cast our votes in the European elections.

Voting for us has become a rare treat.

Losing the right in the UK after living here for fifteen years, meant not being allowed to vote in the 2016 referendum on whether to leave Europe or not–something that would affect us directly.

We felt sore about that.

We can vote in the local elections–but have to wait until we are granted French citizenship to be able to vote in a national election.

We remain (!) citizens of Europe–until the UK leaves–so found ourselves unexpectedly still eligible to vote.

Becoming a French citizen will not involve my magical transformation into the classic British stereotype of a Frenchman.

Beret-wearing, moustache-bearing, onion-selling, garlic-smelling, baguette-carrying Pierre from “over there’–I will always remain inescapably English.

But I will feel–even more than I do now–a sense of belonging.

En plus,  I will be able to VOTE for the government to whom we pay our taxes.

This afternoon, one member of the four man crew engaged in cleaning “our” church is the German boyfriend of the daughter of Jean-Luc, our super-talented builder.

It is a chilling thought that this young man, 75 years ago, could easily have been a member a different four-man crew–a Nazi patrol, hunting the Maquis in the hills around Castres.

Happily for us–and for him–the European Union has been an agent for peace and the Grand Hotel operates now, as just that–a hotel, for visitors from all over the world, including Germany.





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