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Archive for the ‘Robin Ellis’ Category

On my way to market a small deer skipped away from the roadside, in search of cover and safety.

Coming back a kestrel, missing the car by inches, swooped in pursuit of a sparrow, who shot low between the hedges to escape the car and the hawk.

A hare popped onto the road, looked up and scrambled back up the steep banking.

Yesterday a single egret–small, white heron-like bird–must have heard on the telegraph wires that the cows were due back in the meadow behind our house.

Cows are an endless source of nourishment for the egret.

“Pickin’s for all–all the gnats you can consume–come on down!”

Among the new green of the grass, a thin shaft of white with a head looking round forlornly–searching the field for absent friends.

“I spy no cows!”

Clearly someone was spreading fake news!

No cows or egrets appeared that afternoon.

Then there’s Sybil, the donkey from next door.

She’s chocolaty brown and small–contrasting with the herd of Blonde d’Aquitaine–creamy, pale and BIG.

I read that donkeys are kept with cows and calves as guards to chase off predators–a private security deployment.

Sybil spends her days munching on the fringes of the herd–ears pricked ready for action–the lonely life of a security donkey.

Small–certainly, but when she voices an opinion from just below the terrace–it’s deafening and demanding.

She opens her mouth and all her frustrations come pouring out:

E-E-E-E-E-A-A-W-W-W-W-W.

It’s enough to scare any would-be predator to death!

In fact, this morning it’s a fair bet that what she’s after is an apple.

She knows Meredith is a soft touch for apples.

Beau–Head Cat and private security agent–establishes contact with one similarly employed.

She wants one of them apples–and she wants it NOW.

“Alright, alright, Sybil–we hear you, dear.”

AND we have a kestrel family nesting in the oeil de boeuf of the attic.

Meredith and our neighbor, Florence, crept upstairs when they were sure the mother kestrel had flown off for food and spied three eggs.

The ways of the countrysidenot for me!–was how I felt for years.

I remember a weekend in upstate New York when the din of chattering chipmunks drove us mad and prematurely back to the relative quiet of the big Apple.

It bothered me not a jot that there were no kestrels in the Garden Suburb, nor deer on Hampstead Heath; no cows grazing on the Heath Extension.

I didn’t give it a second thought that hares were rare and donkeys unknown–though the milk cart of my youth was pulled by an old nag whose droppings ended up on the vegetable patch.

We did have a fox living in the garden behind us and that felt weird.

The country was where you went for holidays–or in my case on weekends for Sunday roast before scurrying back to the Big Smoke.

It looked beautiful, of course, but the only excitement it seemed to poor, ignorant me was the game of cricket, played out on the village green.

Times change; stuff happens…we get older!

I don’t feel that way at all now–and not even Sybil’s loudest shout would drive me back to the Big Smoke.

 

How silly of me–I left out the hedge hogs…!

 

 

 

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Meredith and I travel SOUTH!

A skip and a jump from chez nous–about a two-and-half hour drive.

We are heading for Corneilla-del-Vercola–a handsome, wine-producing village south of Perpignan, not far from the Spanish border.

I have been invited by the members of the local branch of the University of the Third Age to join them for their monthly get together.

On the first Monday of every month the group assembles for a shared meal–with a theme.

A recent event involved them learning how to make a pork pie.

This month was to be a bit different.

Jane, the host for the event, invited everyone in the cooking group to bring something they have prepared from one of my cook books–or this blog!

She says that Type 2 diabetes has an increasing presence among the retirees in the area.

Be that as it may this is some ego-trip and I don’t have to cook!

Jane and her partner Chris live in a prettily painted house on the village square with a magnificent view of the mountains from the loggia of their sitting room.

As the evening progresses the sunlight on the fine brick church across the square turns it a glowing red.

The guests (twenty of them plus us two) start arriving at 7pm and it’s clear from the animated chatter that the group s’entendre bien [gets on together well] and looks forward to these convivial evenings.

Each arrival proprietorially clutches a food box, as they mount the narrow staircase to the sitting room two floors up.

Jane has emailed the list of dishes we are going to be sampling.

Healthy eating/pre diabetic cookery with Robin Ellis

Menu

Nibbles:

Janet’s guacamole & babaganoush dips (Jane & Chris)

My contribution was the black olive tapinade from Delicious Dishes for Diabetics and Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics.

Starters:
Smoky cauliflower Soup (Morag & Mike)

Chilled Curried apple soup (Lesley and Joe)

Spinach and red onion frittata (Gill & Chris)

Salmon fishcakes (Margaret)

Mains:
Charlotte’s chicken tagine and whole grain rice (Genny & Giles)

Chicken with leek and lemon ( Mike and Morag)
Sausage & bean one pot wonder (Paul Jackson)
Pork loin in balsamic vinegar (Gill, Chris & friends)
Cauliflower & chickpea curry with rice
Asparagus risotto (Derek & Marjorie)

Salads:
Chickpea and cumin salad (Jane & Chris)
Fennel salad (Gill, Chris & friends)
Tomato Salad (Tonia)

Desserts:
Strawberries (Lesley & Joe)
Mango surprise (Marian)
Peanut butter swirl chocolate brownies (Jim)

(Not sure how the Peanut butter swirl chocolate brownies snuck in there–but nobody objected.)

Anticipating the feast,…

After a half hour of anticipation we got stuck in…

The food was delicious (but I would say that!) No, it really was!

The only problem was knowing when to stop–we were spoilt for choice on a laden table.

Thanks everyone–for the very fine effort!

And no one asked a single question about POLDARK!!

I’m rewarded with a box at the end of the evening–excellent wine from the village and some fine local olive oil.

Too kind!

As the French say–on s’est regalé  (we’ve enjoyed them very much!).

Next day we set off further south–for Spain and ancient Catalonia–where the Romans trod before us.

Heading for Cadaqués–where Salvador Dali built the house of his fantasies.

The heart of ancient Catalonia.

Hasta la vista!

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Thursday took a weird turn when Julien—occasional garden helper–knocked on the door during our lunchtime and announced to Meredith that the Audi had flat tyre.

Our other car–the dependable 18-year-old Clio–was at that moment in the garage for minor repairs.

We had afternoon plans that required a working car: The Thursday marché bio [organic market] in Castres after a haircut at 4pm; collect the Clio (if ready) from the garagist, then stop by Leclerc supermarché for two more of the nice, light garden chairs they were featuring.

A tightish schedule, but do-able–with a car that works.

Pneu crevé–oui…” confirmed Julien apologetically, as though it was his fault.

Julien is a one-off.

Gentil comme tout” [incredibly nice] with long brown hair to the small of his back–a sixties hippie look-alike who smokes Chesterfields and has green fingers.

It gradually came back to me–a moment of concern the day before at the supermarket carpark after we’d bought the nice, light garden chairs..  The back left tyre of the Audi had caught my eye–it looked on the low side.

I meant to check the next morning but forgot–hoping perhaps that I’d been mistaken.

Nope. I was right, it was a flat–une crevaison.

“Arrière pneu gauche crevé,” I explained to the friendly voice at the Audi support centre.

She estimated 45 minutes for the garage mechanic in Castres to arrive.

It was 2.30 pm.

“Shoot!” So inconvenient—just when the other car is in for repairs– and a haircut at 4pm.

Grace under pressure! Yes, yes! I KNOW!

Julien opened the boot and found the small spare wheel ingeniously hidden under the carpet.

Audi provides a little box-pump to inflate it that works by plugging into the cigarette lighter–of course!

The breakdown truck’ll be here soon–it’s not worth the trouble….”

I went inside trying to reorganize the schedule–with my head about to explode.

Grace, grace, grace–yes, yes, yes.

Soon a low electronic buzzing coming from the driveway attracted me back outside again.

Julien—Gardener Help and now Guardian Angel–was successfully re-inflating the flat tyre with the electric pump.

His can-do spirit (very American)–pas de problème [No problem!].

It was now 2.45 pm.

I was trying to slot this new turn of events into mon planning.

Meredith, in the Julien mode of graceful practicality, rang the tyre-repair place in Castres.

They could take the car in immediately.

Thus I drove the wounded Audi into Castres.

It was a simple puncture.

The repair man, another nice person and graceful with it (of course), handed me the culprit–a little black clou (nail), hand-hammered long ago.

Cost of repair: 30 euros. Completed in 30 minutes.

I arrived for my haircut with punctilious Jerome at 3.58pm.

Meredith gave Julien a bottle of bubbly as a big MERCI!

 

 

 

 

 

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I’m rewarded with a double first at Castres market this morning.

Two Spring firsts–though there is nothing spring-like about the weather.

I get there early–battling through a tempest of wind and the rain–determined to avoid last week’s crowds.

“Arrivez avant neuf heure le matin, ça suffit!” [Get there by 9am and you’ll be fine!] was the advice from our neighbor and friend Flo, who has recently taken over her sister’s lovely spice stall on Saturdays.

The spice stall on a sunnier Saturday–with cooking workshop attendees checking it out.

What a contrast to this morning as I arrive in Place Jean Jaures just before 8.30am, to find the dance of the parapluies in full swing.

Stall holders and punters alike are desperately trying to prevent their umbrellas–large and small–from taking flight while undertaking the normal buying and selling transactions.

With difficulty, I make my way down the line of local vendors–nodding and grimacing the “isn’t this awful!” message, before arriving at my destination.

Opening a conversation with the vendor under these conditions is problematical.

I settle for more nodding and grimacing and secure (ho ho!) my open umbrella under my chin.

With my head looking down at the ground, I reach for my porte monnaie [change purse].

The umbrella is doing its best to turn inside out.

It succeeds–WHOOSHand I’m involuntarily propelled towards the dry fruit stall–earlier than planned.

I manfully regain control and…

JOY!

Our newly acquired hen’s guardienne–for ’tis her stall–hands me a carton of six eggs.

Matilde’s first offering under our ownership.

What a thrill!

And to go with them for lunch today–a bunch of the locally-grown ASPARAGUS–FIRST of the season.

As I turn into our driveway 20 minutes later–the sun comes out!

Asparagus and eggs–a match made in heaven!

 

 

 

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These buildings opened in 1872–the year my paternal Grandmother was born.

This historic hospital with its striking Victorian facade, featured heavily in the news coverage of the attack in Westminster on Wednesday.

Nurses and medics rushed to help the injured on the bridge just yards away from its entrance.

“One of the most uplifting scenes amidst the whole tragedy was doctors and nurses rushing out of St.Thomas’ Hospital to help the injured,” said Abdi Duale, of London Young Labour.

Its proximity to the scene of the outrage reportedly helped limit fatalities, as the “catastrophically” injured were treated within minutes of being hit.

The hospital, on the south side of the river, faces the Houses of Parliament. The design was intended to complement the look of the newly-constructed buildings opposite–both puffing out their chests with imperial pride.

“Anything you can do I can do better!”

St Thomas’ was originally named for Sir Thomas A. Beckett (Henry II’s ill-fated Archbishop of Canterbury) and located in Borough High Street, Southwark. When the site was needed for the development of the railway link into London Bridge Station in the late 1860’s, it was moved to its present imposing site in Lambeth on the Thames, just off Westminster Bridge.

The design of the newly-sited hospital was influenced by the thinking of Florence Nightingale, whose fame spread during the war in the Crimea (1857).

Six “pavilions” were built facing the river, each connected by low corridors. These separate wings increased ventilation and reduced the possibility of spreading infection.

Three of the original six pavilions were destroyed in the London Blitz.

“No you can’t” “Yes I can !” “No you can’t!”…

St Thomas’ has been an occasional feature in my life–and I always prick up my ears when it’s in the news.

I feel proprietorial about it–“Tommys” belongs to me!

I lost my tonsils here when I was four–1946. (More common then to have them removed–penicillin not so readily available.)

I have a vague memory of being on a ward in one of the three iconic wings and standing on my bed–terrified, refusing to drink the orange-flavored potion aimed at knocking me out for the operation.

Not surprisingly, I don’t remember how the kind and understanding–if exasperated–nurses succeeded in getting the evil-tasting liquid down my poorly throat–but they did. I have no tonsils.

My dear brother Jack was born there–a triumph for the special Diabetes Unit. My mother was under their care–in the mid-fifties doctors were less confident of letting a woman with Type 1 Diabetes go to term.

This iconic hospital was also where Ma was taken by ambulance from Pinner way up in NW London in the middle of the night, after she blacked out at home. She’d had a hypoglycemic attack–low blood sugar/insulin imbalance.

Dad woke up–a miracle–called an ambulance and raced through the darkened streets to St. Thomas’ –where Ma was saved.

It happened more than once!

In 1959,  I visited my beloved Grandma–Dad’s adoptive mother–in another of the wings and was distraught a few days later on hearing she had died.

“Tommy’s” will always be MY hospital.

And Tommy’s tradition of saving lives and caring for the sick and injured was impressively on display Wednesday afternoon.

Its motto is Sancte et Sapienter: with holiness and wisdom.

And a swift pair of heels…

 

 

 

 

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Californian artist Robbie Connell’s marvelous portraits of cautious optimism.

In spite of everything I feel good this morning.

Good “in my water” as one of my early directors–Oliver Gordon Batcock at Salisbury Repertory Theatre, used to say.

And it’s worth saying because there are so many reasons to feel bad and uneasy and pessimistic and downhearted and disappointed and depressed.

When one feels an innate feeling of “alright” it’s worth noting that it is even possible, when–to misquote Rudyard Kipling–all around, the world is heading for the plughole.

Why some mornings this occurs is not immediately clear.

I got out of bed “the right side”?

My Mother would confront a moody Robin with the accusation of my having got out of bed the wrong side.

Puzzling this–and guaranteed to UP the grumpiness–because there was only one side to get out of my bed!

Could it be because what I ate yesterday agreed with me better than other days?

I can examine the news from around the world and try to extrapolate a positive vibe.

Surely not the case this morning….

Plenty of things to get unhappy about out there; why do they NOT inform the way I am feeling today?

Am I living in cloud cuckoo land?

No, but I am living in the heart of the French countryside and the weather is reasonable and I have a new recipe bubbling on the stove to be tasted and tested for lunch and I spy–not a cuckoo–but a robin on the bird table, looking proud and sweet.

Ben, our mercurial black cat has come downstairs for a quick bite before mercurially slipping out the back door.

Today’s “alternative facts” are not in yet.

If this is cloud cuckoo land, I’m tempted to stick around for a while.

Is there a chance I’ll feel the same tomorrow?

 

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We have been present at TWO!

Getting to the first felt like a ride to glory.

Being at the second–especially for me, a Brit at the party–was an enormous privilege.

Four years ago this week, Meredith walked into the VIP area just below the podium, turned round, looked down the mall and burst into tears.

It was solid people as far as the eye could see.

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A moment to savor for Meredith, who had worked her heart out– first for John Kerry, then for Barack Obama.

Especially poignant because four years earlier, at Barack Obama’s first inauguration, she had a purple ticket–and got caught up in the notorious Purple Ticket Scandalwhen thousands were blocked from getting in because the security arrangements broke down.

A bitterly disappointed Meredith sat on the stoop of our hosts’ house and wept–tears of frustration this time.

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Disappointing for me,” she said later, “devastating for the thousands of African Americans who had waited lifetimes to see a black president inaugurated.”

It had started so well.

The train journey from New York’s Penn Station to Washington’s Union Station turned into the most joyous ride I have ever been on.

The train was packed–not a seat to be had–and we all shared a single destination–we were headed to the promised land!

As we settled in our seats, the voices wafting across the aisle were unmistakably Irish; they belonged to a group of youngish men carrying guitar cases.

I whispered to Meredith,

“I think that’s an Irish band”

“Great. I hope you are going to play, guys!”

“We’ve just come from playing our hit song on the TODAY Show this morning.

There’s No One As Irish As Barack O’bama.”

Pause…

“You wouldn’t be the Corrigan Brothers by any chance?”

The title had caught Meredith’s eye on the Internet back home–and the song had made her laugh.

“Hey boys, we’ve been recognized! This is Brian and Donnacha and I’m Ger.”‘

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“Hello, I’m Meredith.” Another pause….

“You wouldn’t be Meredith Wheeler by any chance?”

She says at that point, the ears FELL OFF my head!

To Meredith’s astonishment and delight, they had been following The Obama Bridge Project that she’d been leading for months.

It was a brilliant scheme to promote Barack Obama’s bid for the Presidency.

Photos of Obama supporters holding banners on bridges large and small, iconic and unknown all over the world.

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Viaduct of Millau. Meredith in the middle with the Liberty head-dress.

The idea being that Obama–with his international heritage and mixed race background–had the potential to bridge divides and be a symbol of HOPE.

The Corrigan band were traveling with Obama’s Irish cousin (eight times removed!), Henry Healy from Moneygall in County Offaly–who said he’d been invited to the inauguration. His trip was being filmed by a documentary film crew from Ireland.

The band played the whole of the three-hour journey and we arrived in Washington feeling that the party had begun!

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Four years later we were in Washington D.C. for Obama’s second inauguration, almost on “spec”.

Meredith was hoping to pick up a ticket from the Democrats Abroad allocation–but nothing was guaranteed.

We stayed with our friends Irv and Iris Molotsky.

On the wall of their sitting room is a photo of them sitting within throwing distance of the podium at Barack Obama’a first Inauguration in 2009.

For years Irv was The New York Times Washington correspondent and although retired now, he still keeps his contacts on the inside.

A couple of days before the event, Irv went to pick up his tickets from the Congressional Press Office at the Capitol Building. He invited me along.

I had never been inside the building and eagerly accepted.

Meredith joined us and thanks to Irv’s friends in the press offices of the Senate and the House, we were treated to a tour of both houses of Congress.

Standing in the press gallery of the House of Representatives sent shivers down my back.

In the private behind-the-scene press office, abolitionist and supporter of women’s suffrage, Frederick Douglas is still remembered–the first African American nominated for Vice President of the United States. The passing of the 13th amendment–abolishing slavery–happened in the space below us on 31st January 1865,

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In two days time–January 20th, 2013, the second Inauguration of a black President would take place.

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And as it turned out, we witnessed it at close hand.

Irv’s friends came up trumps (whoops!) and found us seats in the row seven–next to Irv and Iris–(two rows behind Stevie Wonder and just in front of Katie Perry!).

It felt like touching history.

Indeed–an enormous privilege.

We attended both Barack Obama’s inaugurations.

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He will be missed.

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