Castres‘ Saturday morning market is a major event.

It attracts locals–alarmingly known as Castraises–and weekend visitors, among them the occasional cluster of rugby fans from Angleterre visiting for the match against erstwhile national champions Castres Olympic.

As well as offering a stunning source of local, fresh produce, it serves as a chance to meet friends, share a coffee or apéro [apéritif] in one of the bars that surround Place Jean Jaurès in centre ville.

It’s teeming by 10am with slow-moving crowds, greeting friends in the traditional French fashion of shaking hands or kissing on both cheeks (sometimes twice) in normal times–but these are NOT normal times.

After a 10-week absence in lockdown due to the virus threat, I’m back, wearing a mask.

I still get there early to bag the best, and move more freely from stall to stall.

There has been some rearranging of stalls to aid social distancing–but relative location has been more or less respected–important for punters to find their favourites.

Our great friend and neighbour, Flo, is an unlucky exception.  She and her marvelous spice stall have been radically re-located.

She is not happy about it.

Flo at her spice stand in happier times

Not everyone is masked now—though most traders are and shoppers must point to the courgette they fancy rather than sort through the pile.

I locate all my usual vendors and favor a few new ones.

There’s a seasonal limit to the vegetables on offer–summer’s bounty is some weeks off. Courgettes are featuring strongly and aubergines are making their shiny black presence felt for the first time since late autumn.

I’m hoping for broad beans next week and young artichokes so I can make Vignerola–the marvelous Roman vegetable stew–which features in my new book: Robin Ellis’ Mediterranean Vegetarian Cooking, published on 25th June (and available for pre-order now via various booksellers*).

The atmosphere is convivial, despite everyone looking slightly confused and discombobulated.

Queues run differently, stalls face the opposite direction than B.C. (Before Coronavirus!), voices are muffled.

All that said–it is good to have a little of the old life impose itself on the new.
“My kingdom for a ripe tomato!

*The new cookbook can be pre-ordered at any of these booksellers–and for those not in the UK, free worldwide delivery via The Book Depository/.






I just dug a grave for a squirrel.

Two graves in fact–both in shady cool spots.

In which hollow it finds a final resting place–is a decision that must wait  Meredith’s return from her Memorial Day ceremonies.

The fully grown red squirrel with its long bushy tail, made me jump as I swung the watering can round, early this morning.

There it was, lying peacefully stretched out and unmauled–at the corner of the vegetable patch; like a perfect specimen in a taxidermist’s shop.

No doubt a cadeau [a present] for Meredith–thought one of our six, well-enough-fed cats.

The reds are one of the many joys of living here in southwest France. They lift the spirits with their antics in the trees and their hop-along gait.

We’ve a mulberry tree dropping its tiny ripe black berries on the lawn and the roof of the car; that’s what attracted the poor mite. It ate one too many, too close to the ground and BANG!

We’ll find  a stone or heavy tree stump to mark the spot–not far from its last temptation–and place some flowers there.  Meredith planned to do the same this morning– honouring the fallen.

Mulberry trees are a source of food for silkworms (leaves) and squirrels (berries).

It’s the fruit of its beautiful, deep-red cousin that I covert.

Succulent, melt-in-the-mouth delicious; they are too delicate to harvest in large quantities. I’ve never seen them in the markets here.

Best to know a private mulberry tree–and not tell anyone about it!

Schoolfriend Chris Fordyce and I feasted–like the squirrel–from the overhanging branches of just such a tree, on the  outsikirts of Delphi in Greece–in 1961!

We reached up with bare arms–popping them straight into our hungry mouths.

There was no disguising our indulgence as we quickly signed the youth hostel register for the night, trying to hide our red-stained hands.

When Meredith returned from the ceremony–we agreed the appropriate resting place was under the mulberry tree; on the fringe of our cat cemetery.

We heard this morning that June 25th is the day my new book is officially LAUNCHED!

No dry dock smashing of champagne bottles or the equivalent book launch parties this time–circumstances don’t allow.

Just a heartfelt virtual heave.

Maybe later when the virus has met its match and it feels the right moment we’ll take a trip to Cornwall–Truro, where Meredith and I had planned a return to Waterstones and to meet up with everyone, as we have with previous books.

Meredith–who appropriately has just started a vegetable garden–repeats her triumph with the last cookbook, supplying all the photographs–upstaging me shamelessly. It looks beautiful, with the photos doing their job of making you want to cook the dishes shown.

Over a 100 recipes from round the circumference of the Mediterranean–many with the same components cooked in different traditional ways–the sun nearly always topping of the list of ingredients.

The book is written season by season–the way I like to cook–starting with Spring.

The recipes are simple with approachable ingredients lists.

It is available now for pre–order on Amazon.






As I start to write, a woodpecker—yellow, black and red—is performing an Olympic gymnastic routine on the bars of the bird feeder to reach the seed-ball suspended from the top of the cone.

Now hanging upside seedball, s/he has no concern for modesty as its beautiful underbelly is exposed. It is making several trips–I guess because hanging upside down is not its accustomed attachment technique and it gets weary.

It’s just one of the shows in town, during this period of lockdown, that has required us to stay put for the last TWO months.

The backdrop to this open air theatre–maybe the only form of theatre to survive this pandemic–is the scenery. Lots of rain followed by lots of sun and the result is an explosion of green growth. Spring has been in her pomp this year–lucky for us!

Last night, after a day of heavy rain, I heaved a soaking wicker chair indoors to dry it out. An hour later a “walk” (I looked it up!) of confused snails dropped off their unsought means of transport, enacting a show of slow formation dancing that could have done with more rehearsal. Their necks were at full stretch as they abandoned the routine and headed across the tiles for the front door. One by one, I helped them to a place of greater safety–a  circle of greenery in the courtyard.

Our two senior cats, Beau and Ben, are being particularly present through all this. Perhaps astonished to see so much of us at a time of the year when normally we might be away from home for a stretch.

Ben slept an hour in my lap yesterday afternoon, forcing me to watch an episode of Better Call Saul on NetlixI wasn’t able to move, you understand.

He and Beau have been seen to punctuate their progress out of window or door with a skip or two–just for la joie de vivre it seems. (The little sack of catnip may have helped put a spring in their paws.)

I’ve had some time to feast on more than food during lockdown. Music from another era, for example.

The Grateful Dead hove into view on Youtube a couple of days ago.

I put the earphones on–the Dead are not to everyone’s taste–and was reminded of the genius of Jerry Garcia.

Seeing him and his hair, I make a link with the present. There are some neighbours I don’t recognise on my walks until–click, click, click–it dawns on me who they are! No-one’s been chez le coiffeur for weeks–me included!


RIP and merci, Jerry.

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!

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).






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.



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!

Eye Test–encore…

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.


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?!