The Somme

FRIDAY JULY 1st 2016

We spend the day at Thiepval–witnessing the centenary commemoration of the Battle of The Somme.


It is a brilliantly organized event, attended by the great and the good…


and 10,000 of the rest of us, sitting facing the enormous monument designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.


At 7h30 on the the first of July 1916–100 years ago this day–the first soldier went over the top in a battle that would last into November.

Close to 20 thousand British troops were killed that first day.

In all, the Battle of the Somme cost a million Allied and German lives–combined.

Slaughter on that scale–the morass of mud and murder in July 1916–is hard to grasp.

The full horror–the physical nightmare of being there–impossible to experience; viewable, but at once removed, in contemporary photos, in books and museums.

We can only gasp at the sheer scale of it.

Below is a map showing the cemeteries that are located in the area of the conflict–280 of them.

Screenshot 2016-07-01 18.42.52

The vast monument at Thiepval was finished and inaugurated in 1932 in the presence of the previous Prince of Wales–and just seven years before Europe was again engulfed in flames.

The size of this elephantine, enigmatic building–(the finished version was smaller than he had originally envisaged) seems to echo the enormity of the disaster it represents. Was that Sir Edwin’s intention?


It can be seen for miles around beaming out its message of remembrance–“Lest we forget” over the now benign landscape.

On it are inscribed the names of the Allied dead–below, a part of the wall devoted to names of the 72 thousand soldiers missing in action.IMG_5486

As the ceremony came to a close and taking their cue from a heavy shower minutes before, poppy shaped pieces of paper, representing the fallen, rain down from high on the tower.

Blue for France; red for Great Britain.


We added a wreath of poppies to the many at the Memorial Cross.


Our inscription: When will we ever learn?

Inspired by Pete Seeger’s famous song:

Where have all the soldiers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the soldiers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards, everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the graveyards gone, long time passing?
Where have all the graveyards gone, long time ago?
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Gone to flowers, everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?





This vote for Brexit has shocked me.

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I’ve been trying to write something about it since Friday.

This blog has been carefully non-political (I’ve been tempted on occasion though!) but I feel I have at least to acknowledge that it has taken place.

Yesterday’s attempt was a bit of a rant–and my in-house editor took a red pencil to it!

It helped though, to have had a bit of a rant–like shouting in the car with the windows up.


I wrote to a friend yesterday:

We are devastated here after the result.

Still in shock–it’s hard to take in, like the death of a friend.
It’s the never-no-more part–the finality of it.
Working out the details will take years, but our withdrawal from the grand project that has kept the peace in Europe for 70 years is shameful and dangerous.
It is already unravelling in terms of delivering what the “leavers” wanted.
Well, it “remains” to be seen how it will play out.
The way people vote often has an element of self interest.
We live in France and are anxious to know how this will affect our situation.
(An added frustration was the fact that we did not have the right to vote–as we have lived abroad for over 15 years.)
This decision was too important to be decided by a simple majority vote!

Simple majority votes are fine for general elections–when the result can be reversed in five years– but this decision is forever.

I may have to get back in the car….








“I’m ready, I know I’m ready…”

Midnight swings into the kitchen early this morning like he owns it; the tentative side-sway replaced by a purposeful flat-backed stride.

No sniffing for food–he heads for the back door and out into the sunlight.

There’s been a change–no longer the youngest, running to catch up, eager to please, “I’m here too, let me play–pleeese!”


Beau and Ben–the Gang before Midnight’s induction

It seems he’s a fully paid up member of the gang–they are THREE now–the Mouseketeers!

Beau, Ben and Midnight–All for One and One for All!

As well as a “mouser”, he’s a “moler”. We’ve never had a cat that has caught so many moles–maybe that’s where he’s proved himself worthy of full membership–a specialist in his field–or rather our garden.

The lawn looks all the better for it!

His final initiation into the fraternity might have been last night.

As we set off for a post-dinner walk, just after 9h30, there is not a cat in sight.

Unusual! Some nights there’s a gathering,




“Come on!”

After we go 30 yards, we look back and Ben appears from the driveway, looking a little uncertain.

“Come on, Ben Ben!”

Then out comes Midnight.

Ben starts to run and Midnight overtakes him–and makes a leap for the cemetery wall–

“Look at me!!”

It’s at least a five-and-a-half foot elevation at this point–I know because at six-foot-one-and-a-half I can just see over it.

His front paws claw at the top of the wall.

There’s a moment of doubt–will he pull himself up or fall back onto the grass?

He makes it and with that last heave–joins the Gang (the Grown-Ups)!


No wonder he reminded me of John Wayne this morning!












There’s a piece published in The Mail on Sunday today that runs in the series My Haven.

The person is photographed in a place s/he considers a haven surrounded by eight objects that are meaningful to them.

The published piece about me–online anyway–leaves out close-ups of the objects, settling for the master shot and description of only six objects.

The little brown mug–miraculously restored by Donald Douglas, whose wedding present to us also features, and Beau–our world-famous cat–didn’t make the cut in the magazine–but are back in the frame here:


Mike Lawn at work on the Master shot.

Here’s my text with photos, as sent in to the newspaper, featuring close-ups of the objects taken by Meredith., who couldn’t resist adding a few extra photos!

My Old Bike:



—1938 Raleigh “stand-up and beg” bike

I did over ten thousand miles on this old jalopy riding into town to do voice overs from Chelsea to Soho and after we moved, from Chalk Farm to Soho.

It was fun, a little dangerous and the most reliable way of arriving on time.

2) Donald’s Bowl.


A wedding present from our friend, actor Donald Douglas. He was a fiery and passionate Cap’n McNeil in the first Poldark with his eye on Demelza! He is a talented artist and decorated and dedicated this lovely salad bowl to us on the occasion of our wedding.



3) The Anarchy Apron.


A gift from actor Michael Pennington and Arts administrator Prue Skene.

I love its provocative message and its punk appearance. It’s also very comfortable.

Michael and I have been friends since National Youth Theatre days.


4) My little Brown Mug


I drink my coffee out of it at breakfast. A pair of them were given to us by my beloved Aunt Mary a couple of years before she died aged 92. They are the work of a local potter in Aldburgh close to where she lived in Suffolk. That first coffee just doesn’t taste the same out of other mugs!

5) Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark

The copy of the first Poldark novel ROSS POLDARK by Winston Graham given to me in 1975 by the author with a very generous and kind inscription.


6) Photo of the Actors Company 1972.


This is the first season of the company formed by Ian McKellen and Edward Petherbridge. The actors chose the plays, the directors, the designers etc.. It was a strike for more control. Bankrupted me! (In this democratic company all of us actors got paid exactly the same– £50 a week!) Being a member for three years was hugely important in my life as an actor.

In the photo of the first Actors Company 1972:

L to R
Juan Moreno, Marian Diamond, Ian McKellen, Edward Petherbridge, Margery Mason, Sheila Reid, Frank Middlemass, Ronnie Stevens, me, Felicity Kendal, Robert Eddison, John Tordoff, Moira Redmond, Matthew Long, Tenniel Evans, Caroline Blakeston, Jack Shepherd.

7) Photo of me and my gorgeous wife, Meredith Wheeler!


Trying on out our black tie costumes for a big wedding we were attending in the U.S. Temperatures topped 106F and we looked a bit silly walking to the hotel reception in downtown Chicago in our black evening clothes!

8) Beau


He is one of our three indoor cats—we have three outdoor ones too. Meredith found him as a kitten in the garage one evening.








Someone, knowing we were a cat household, shoved him through the cat-flap. He sat, purring his heart out, in the palm of my hand. He’s now “top cat” and house guardian–but retains his placid sweetness unless sorely provoked.




“Doctors are able to identify silent attacks via an electrocardiogram (ECG) scan which reads any damage in the heart.

Heart disease is the world’s biggest killer, with the latest WHO figures showing it was responsible for 7.4 million deaths in 2012.

Experts believe many of the deaths happen in patients who have previously suffered a heart attack without knowing it.”

A month ago I was at the Clinique Pasteur in Toulouse for a follow-up stress test after my local cardiologist–Dr Lefevre (Dr Fever!)–decided that he was not a 100% happy with the annual test.

So my heart is on my mind–so to speak and this report caught my eye.


The heart attack you don’t know you’ve had.

I haven’t had one of these little earthquakes–yet!

But my mother died suddenly, aged 67, of a heart attack related to her Type One Diabetes and my middle brother–a Hollywood TV drama director–died suddenly of a heart attack at 58.

So two fatal attacks in the family are enough to give me pause.

A heart examination is one of the regular annual checks I have .

This involves ten minutes on an exercise bike with wires attached to your torso, monitoring how your heart is coping with the increasing level of effort you are having to exert on the bike.

[Kidneys, liver, feet, eyes, cholesterol, glucose, blood pressure—you name it, I am monitored.]

The heart is one of the organs put at risk by Diabetes.

And the problem for people with the condition is that it’s often not obvious there is a problem.

Our affected nervous systems can mask the symptoms–Monsieur Lefevre says it’s not clear why this happens–but being cautious and the least feverish man I know–he wanted to be sure the blip he saw was just  a blip.

I’d been to the clinic in Toulouse a couple of times before–in fact I’d had three stents fitted there successfully three years ago–a procedure that may have saved my life.

This time the sweet doctor who showed me the X-ray results, pronounced it nothing to worry about (a blip) and me–fit for purpose.

Je vous remercie, Dr Lefevre–Give me Fever !




Seeing this lift in our hotel transports me back to the forties and the residential hotels on the seafront at Eastbourne, where I used to visit my grandmother in the school holidays.

It has an open sided shaft so you can watch it ascend—looking up its skirts so to speak; and double hand-pulled filigree metal gates—that clunk satisfyingly shut.

It runs up the spine of the Fowey Hotel, built in 1881 to accommodate the new breed of holidaymakers arriving by train.

It also welcomed wounded soldiers for rest and recovery during the First World War.

It’s a period piece but manages to keep its dignity.

A testament to a time when the coming of the railways changed the face of Britain.


On the wall between the lift and the dining room there are framed letters written by Kenneth Grahame, author of Wind in the Willows, while on holiday, to his son, whom he addresses as “dearest Mouse“.


It is claimed that Kenneth Grahame made a boat trip up Lerryn Creek on the Fowey River with some friends and it became at the inspiration for the first chapter of The Wind in the Willows where the Rat and the Mole make a boat trip along the river for a picnic.

Wicker statues of the animal characters in the book guard the garden near the hotel.


Typical Toad–hogging the foreground!

We are in Fowey on Cornwall’s south coast, for the Fowey Festival of Arts and Literature where I’m invited to give the Daphne du Maurier memorial address which opens the festivities—wow!


The view from our window.

A week of wonderful cultural events unfolds in this unique setting.




Déjà vu is the order of the day.

I was in Fowey 40 years ago filming the rescue of Dwight Enys from a French prison for two quite uncomfortable weeks.

We filmed at sea for two days and up that same creek for the rest—me and my Merry Men all dressed in 18th century gear—doing our best to keep straight faces:

“Follow me, men!”  

“Keep your heads down–which way did they go?”

Fowey hasn’t changed much over 40 years–to its credit.


Though charming, it feels like a working place–not a cutesy-poo tourist attraction.

No pressure then–just the main keynote address and the following day a 45 minute talk about my books and how composing daily haikus helped me write them–and the “good luck” story of my diabetic journey.

Going up and down in that wonderful silent lift and soaking up the vista from our window–steadies my nerves!

More to follow…







The lovely green spears were in Realmont market today at reasonable prices.

I bought a kilo of straight ones for Friday dinner with our guests, arriving from the USA.

A second of less than perfect (less expensive too) specimens–asperges tordues (twisted)–to make this very simple frittata for lunch.

I have five eggs left in the pantry and a red onion. Add some cheese and seasoning–and there you have the ingredients!

Something different to do with this vegetable with a relatively short-lived season and a use for the cheaper spears with the less than perfect appearance.


  • 450gms/80z asparagus spears–prepared weight–ie tough ends removed and sliced on the diagonal into smallish pieces
  • 1 red onion–peeled and halved and sliced
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 5 eggs–beaten


  • 2oz grated parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper

Serves 2 to 4 people 

Soften the onion in the olive oil until it begins to caramelize a little–10 to 15 minutes

Add the asparagus pieces and mix in adding some salt and a twist or two of pepper.


Cook the mix over a gentle heat until the asparagus begins to soften. I like them to retain a little bite–about 10 minutes.

Let this cool.

Then ease into the beaten egg mix.


Fold in the cheese and check the seasoning.


Heat a tablespoon of oil in a 10 inch pan to hot–and fold in the egg mix and spread it evenly.


Immediately turn the heat down to the lowest and cook for 30 minutes.

There should be just a small pool of liquid left on top.

Finish it under a grill for 30 seconds.



Be careful taking the pan out of the oven–it is very hot, as I was reminded when the pan touched the side of my hand by accident–ouch!

Loosen the frittata round the edges of the pan with a fish slice or spatula and ease it out onto a favorite platter.



“High on the DING scale!” said Meredith.