Archive for the ‘Robin Ellis’ Category


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.


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.


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.”


“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.”‘


“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.


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!


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,


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


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.

Yes We Did image.jpg

He will be missed.

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Just back from Rome where we walked and walked and ate and ate–which was the object of the visit.

I planned this trip–to celebrate my 75th birthday with our friends, Helen and Keith (his birthday is two days before mine)–as four nights and eight meals.

In front of the French Embassy in Piazza Farnese

In front of the French Embassy in Piazza Farnese with my fellow Capricorn.

Worked out very well.

This might seem to undervalue Rome–the Eternal City, heart of the Catholic Church, ancient heart of the vasty Roman Empire.


Church bells sound on the quarter hour and bits of antique Rome are tucked into walls in unexpected places.

Look at those Roman heads in the wall!

HISTORY is everywhere–writ BIG!

It was unusually cold for Rome--as you can see here at the Pantheon.

At the Pantheon–in the freezing cold; unRoman winter weather we were told.

But so is the Roman love of FOOD.

At Pecorino, a wonderful restaurant near the Testaccio market

At Pecorino, a wonderful restaurant near the Testaccio market


Close to our hotel, Campo di Fiori–home to a proud statue of Giordano Bruno, a Dominican friar burnt at the stake in the piazza in 1600 as a heretic–now it’s famous for its daily market.


Food and history, side by side.

On our last morning, we bought a large handful of prepared punterelle, handily vacuum-packed for the journey.


Puntarelle is one of the culinary wonders of the region.

A member of the chicory family it is traditionally served in an anchovy, lemon and olive oil sauce.


On the way to Keith’s birthday lunch we walked through the old Jewish ghetto–where the inhabitants were locked in at night until the middle of the 19th century.

Now there are police sentry posts at the entrances–keeping attackers out.

Restaurant barkers in yamakas–stand outside in the freezing cold, tempting us to try the famous fried artichokes.


History and food–side by side.

The signature dishes of Rome are on every menu.

I ate an exquisite artichoke fried to a golden finish–the Jewish way–in a tiny restaurant called Soro Margherita (recommended!) in the Piazza delle Cinque Scole on the edge of the Jewish quarter.


I’d been to Rome with the National Youth Theatre in the summer of 1960 with our modern-dress production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

The following year I returned with a school friend.

Rome was one of our stops on a whirlwind nine-week tour of Europe before starting university.

I remember a single meal from this short visit.

It was a packed lunch of chicken and salad; eaten on location on the edge of what smelt like a sulphur pit.

It was my second day as an extra on a film called The Best of Enemies–starring Alberto Sordi and David Niven plus a galaxy of famous British character actors playing varied ranks in the British army in the Western Desert.


I’d met this guy in the youth hostel who had already been an extra on the film for weeks in Israel, but had decided to quit.

“Why don’t you take my place?” he  suggested. “They won’t notice if you keep your head down–just say you’ve come from Israel with the others. They pay £11 a day!”

A FORTUNE on our budget!

“Just make sure you are at the studios (the legendary Cinecitta at the southeast city limits) by six in the morning,”  my benefactor advised.

The hostel opened at six, so no chance of sleeping there and making the studios in time.

So I decided to try a bench at the main railway station.

They moved me on.

I don’t remember HOW I got there–but I ended up sleeping on the wall outside the studios and–keeping my head down–coolly signed on.

The first day we shot in the studio.

There I was–hobnobbing with my HEROES–Harry Andrews whom I’d seen playing at Stratford two years before with Laurence Olivier in Coriolanus and Duncan Macrae, the bony Scots actor whom I’d also seen with Olivier in Ionesco’s Rhinoceros in the West End.

I have no memory of what I ate that day!

The second day we were on location outside Rome.

I was a dressed as a Private–khaki shorts and boots–Desert Rats, they were called.

When we broke for lunch I took off my hot, sweaty boots and dipped my toes in a nearby puddle while tucking into my grilled chicken lunch.

By the time I got back to the studio, my left left leg was feeling odd–painful even.

It got worse quickly. Whatever was infecting that pool of water was now climbing rapidly up my left leg!

By the end of the day, I could barely hobble on it–and I had to inform the third assistant director that I didn’t think I could return in the morning.

Then it all came out that I was taking the place of the previous guy–and it got a bit awkward!

They paid me off, but said “don’t bother to come back!”.

As I limped into the hostel, Chris Fordyce, my school friend and traveling companion, looked worried. By ten that night he persuaded me to consult the hostel manager.

He sent me directly to a doctor in the neighbourhood, who by some MIRACLE was still at work .

The doctor examined my leg, shook his head solemnly and said in a wonderfully accented English:

“Eets very lucky you come see me tonight. Tomorrow, I would have to take your leg off!”

He gave me a shot of penicillin and a week’s supply, with a single needle to inject it–brave Chris’ job.

I was in bed for seven days–and the needle got blunter and blunter.

But I kept my leg.

Life might have been so different!

I eventually saw the film at the Odeon Leicester Square and thought I caught a glimpse of a very thin ME clambering over rocks with other desert rats–but I wouldn’t swear to it.





















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I pass Gaby and Pierette’s farm on my daily walk and scurrying out of my path two days ago were a platoon of ducks and geese.

December the first today. They must be new arrivals in time for Christmas.

Les pauvres!

December the first….

DAY ONE, in the early 1950’s, on the advent calendar and the agonisingly slow build-up to the big day.

Sweet torture!

The decorations are up in our little village of Lautrec and outside Monoprix in the town of Castres, the little carrousel and its prancing horses is doing its rounds.

What to buy so-and-so and and mustn’t forget thing-a-ma-jig….

Christmas is now inevitable and the pressure is on.

Well, I have a suggestion….


I know what it says on the cover but the recipes a healthy and delicious–good for everyone–and Meredith’s photos are sensational.

If your local bookstore doesn’t have it (in the UK), it’s available on Amazon–and only Amazon or other online book dealers in the USA. It’s also available for Kindle.

Here’s a look behind the scenes!

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Sunday night’s splendid finale to the second series involved a scene which brought back vivid memories for me.

Here’s what I wrote in my memoir, Making Poldark, about the studio recording of the miners attack on Trenwith–the final episode of our first series.


We finished the series with a bang – in fact we nearly burned down the BBC Television Centre. The last scene to be done in the studio was the burning of Trenwith – from the inside.

This was another diversion from the books – where Trenwith was kept well intact by Winston Graham. For television it was felt a more dramatic climax was needed and what better than the burning down of the bosses’ home by the disaffected and starving miners.

The set was a fine recreation of an eighteenth century upper-class living room filled with a mixture of real antique and good reproduction furniture and objets d’art. Well in line with the BBC tradition of authenticity, it had cost a fair amount to bring it together.

With the miners in this mood any thoughts of negotiation or arbitration were clearly out of the question. It was simply a matter of looking after one’s own and everyone for himself. The miners attacked through the windows of the drawing room where Ross was trying to persuade George Warleggan to run for his life; Elizabeth was there as George’s wife and Demelza arrived with the news that the attack was imminent.

It was the finale – the `walk down’ and in came the miners, professional extras who had been given instructions to set light to the place with their burning torches. This they did in a most professional manner. Original eighteenth century furniture was smashed and burned. But nobody said `Cut and so this bizarre spectacle continued, until things got so hot that the action ground to a halt and an instinctive responsibility prevailed.

It was a spectacular ending to an eventful nine months – and a few questions were asked.

Exhausted, we all went to the party at Angharad’s house. We’d been looking forward to it and it was not a disappointment. Two hundred people were there and it finished at 8 a.m. the next morning.

And so ended the first series of Poldark.

Well–“A more dramatic climax”?

I haven’t re-screened the seventies version–but Sunday night’s was pretty dramatic!

And I fancied Aidan’s approach, parting the angry red sea of miners.

My horse, Dennis, would have relished the drama of that–he was a natural born star and a bit of a show-off.

This was a terrific episode; for American viewers–a couple of episodes behind–something exciting in store!


Just eight books to go…!




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…not easy but I’m having a go!

It has been a hectic time–three weeks criss crossing the US for our book tour followed by a four-day cooking workshop.

We need a break.

The work ethic is a curse sometimes–what is this need always to be doing something?

Today I’m trying ignore itthat background whisper in your ear that something is pending and needs to be attended to.

Having some success.

(Though here I am writing this!)

I finish a brilliant read, the Booker-nominated His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet–but that is not a task, it’s a pleasure.

Allowed today!

Lunch and dinner will be left-overs–delicious bliss!

Sitting here in the kitchen looking at our neighbor chogging back and forth on his tractor is therapeutic.

Watching others at work, can be.

He’ll do this all day, only breaking for lunch.

The countryside has autumn written all over it; the harvests are in and the monster combine-harvesters have trundled back to base.

The fields of sunflowers, garlic, wheat and corn are now in transition; job done for another summer.

Soon they will be in newly-turned shades of brown heralding a short period of repose.

I’m awarding us a short period of repose.

There are lines to go over, with Meredith taking the roles of Demelza, George Warleggan and Ross Poldark– which she relishes (actrice manqué!)

But that is for later today or even tomorrow–the Spanish call it mañana.

We may go walnuting this afternoon but no pressure–tomorrow will do for that too.

Ben just came in at his usual trot for a brief munch, then he’ll be on his way.

His need to be “doing” is stronger than Beau’s.

Beau is a lesson to us all–and will be spotted putting in a hard afternoon’s lying around most days.


Ben busy in the background while Beau reposes.

What we can learn from cats!



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The END!

Full circle.

East coast to West coast and back–three weeks “on the road” and here we are in Washington DC about to fly back home.


It has ended brilliantly with two memorable meals–both cooked by others.

For three weeks I’ve stayed out of the kitchen–apart from making four omelets in Palo Alto.


We have relied on the kindness of friends for places to stay–without their generosity this trip would not have been affordable.

New York City was the US launch and a lively pop-up event at a Scottish bar and restaurant called St. Andrews in the heart of the theatre district.




Enthusiastic POLDARK fans in the pub snug



An American version of Demelza!

Our friends Melanie and Bruce kindly lent us an apartment on West 22nd Street–a long stone’s throw from where the bomb went off last week.

Melanie sent us photos of the Malibu Diner where we had lunch together–now a crime scene.

Then on to Dallas–hosted by our friends Cindi and Jay.

It’s hot in Dallas–every day! Close to 100F–we duck in and out of air-conditioned buildings and cars.

Screening of the first episode of season two of POLDARK at a local cinema–over 200 in the audience and it looked fabulous up there on the BIG SCREEN.


Q & A afterwards with Bill Young–the Vice President in charge of programming at KERA, Dallas’ excellent PBS station.


Thanks, Bill, for your creativity, perseverance and organization.

Some of the Dallas folks had scrapbooks of my FIRST visit to Dallas with Angharad 39 years ago!




Poignant visit to Dealey Plaza and the Sixth Floor Museum in the Texas Book Depository, kindly hosted by the museum’s British executive director, Nicola Longford.

With Nicola Longford

With Nicola Longford


The Texas School Book Depository on Dealey Plaza. The museum inside is the second most-visited site in Texas after the Alamo.


Brilliant audio tour helps bring some understanding to the tragedy.

Breathless we fly to Los Angeles and arrive late at the lovely little house in Los Feliz of Christy, widow of TV director brother Peter–who died suddenly ten years ago of a heart attack.

Christy helped make the original contact with the flourishing bookstore in Larchmont Village, Chevaliers, where LA Times TV critic Robert Lloyd moderates beautifully the next evening.

With Robert Lloyd, TV critic for The Los Angeles Times

With Robert Lloyd, TV critic for The Los Angeles Times


Sold out of books!

The following day a visit SoCal (KOCE), the PBS station for Los Angeles to record some pledge material with Maura Phinney.



A short flight to San Francisco and on to Palo Alto I visit the Gates of Hell (!) in the Rodin Sculpture Garden on the Stanford University campus with our local host, Holly Brady.

The Gates of Hell do not dampen our enjoyment of the beautiful California day.

Big turn-out at Books Inc— our third visit to this remarkable bookstore opposite the Stanford campus.


They’ve hosted us for all three cookbook tours.



I demonstrate that a diagnosis of Diabetes is not the end of convivial eating and drinking–in moderation, of course!

We sell out of books again.

We fit in a private tour of LucasFilms HQ in the Presidio quarter of San Francisco, close to the Golden Gate Bridge, thanks to Hilary and Yves.


It’s here that cutting edge special effects in films and animation are created. The halls are lined with artifacts at every turn.





We head back east for the final event at Arlington Library last Sunday.

We stay with our friends, Irv and Iris. Irv, retired Washington correspondent for The New York Times, agreed to moderate the event at Arlington’s Central Library. A double act is born!

The sell-out audience (over 180) enjoyed it enough to buy us out of cookbooks.



A good finish to a whistle-stop, heads down, no-time-for-shopping tour.

We spend a blessed 24 hours with our friends Ray and Ann in their waterside house on Chesapeake Bay–where I learn to breathe again.

Ray cooks a delicious meal of crab cakes with the local catch and pork fillet with clams–bliss it is.

Back in the D.C. last night Iris cooks up a storm for us.

Salmon marinated in soy, ginger and garlic preceded by an intriguing cantaloupe melon soup served chilled.

First day of autumn passes.

The prospect of walnuts and wood fires.

A bientôt, America and thanks!









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