And hereby hangs a tale

Today is a big event in St Romain en Charroux – the annual brocante, street or flea market. This normally sleepy little village bursts into noisy activity on just the one day of the year, when the street is full of colour, people, treasure and, frankly,  junk. Interesting junk, though, and while we are trying to divest ourselves of clutter in preparation for moving once the house is sold, we still nevertheless find ourselves drawn magnetically from stall to stall and seldom leave without something we didn’t need but couldn’t resist.

I bought a large circular twirly iron thing that hangs on the wall and contains a dozen glasses for holding tea lights. It may give a romantic atmosphere to the dining room or may just catch dead flies.


Twirly thing with tea light holders.


TOH found two cushion covers featuring dogs – one ski-ing and the other dressed to aviate.


Aviating dog

Ski-ing dog

Ski-ing dog

Our working guest, Tall Paul, was delighted to find some English classics written in French, and between us we spent next to nothing, but I took quite a few photos.

Oh look, books!

Oh look, books!


Later, when I downloaded the photos, I looked at one of a pair of portraits and could have kicked myself for not buying them. They are the kind of thing you can look at and wonder about for hours. Who were these people? What were their names? Where did they live? What did they do?

“Damn,” said I to TOH.” I should have bought those.”

“Come on,” replied he, “let’s go and see if they’re still there.”.

So back we went.”Whereabouts were they?” asked he.

“No idea,” responded I.

And so we marched up and down, carefully avoiding the eyes of stall-holders hoping for a sale, peering around in search of the portraits. We asked other people if they’d seen them. No, shrugged they.

By happy chance I had grabbed my camera again, and inspiration struck! Scrolling back through this morning’s photos, I was able to locate the stall where I’d seen the photos. And they were still there!

How much were they? asked we.

€20 each, replied she who was selling them. But we could have both for €30.

We had only €21 euros with us.  €25, suggested she .

We turned our pockets inside out, I burrowed in my bra where I usually keep notes for safe keeping, but could only find a small piece of lettuce from lunch.

Reluctantly, but graciously, she sold us the pair, leaving us both feeling grateful but rather mean. The photos and the frames – 50 x 40 cms, so quite large – are in pristine condition. Back at the car, rummaging around in the ash tray turned up a few more euros and a plastic bag of small change, which we took back to her.

She was so thrilled that she flung her arms around me and gave me a kiss. Her genuine, absolute delight was worth those few coins.

And here they are, her great grand-parents, who will be a constant source of mystery and speculation. If they only knew!

Great grand-parents

Great grand-parents



Comments? Comment ça marche?

While burrowing around in the bowels of my blog, I discovered unapproved comments dating back over two years.

I’ve no idea how that happened, as I always approve or delete as soon as I receive notification, and clearly remember approving all of these comments previously.

However, when I checked on the posts, those comments were missing.

This even applies to my replies, which don’t require approval; nor do comments from posters who have commented previously.

Just one of those little mysteries.

So if you did leave a comment many moons ago, I apologise if you think I didn’t value it and respond to it. Blame WordPress.

My very good friend and brilliant blogger The Venomous Bead over in Costa Rica is suffering from a similar problem – comments she has been leaving over the past week on other blogs are not appearing, which is very frustrating after the time and thought spent crafting and posting them.

Anybody else experiencing the same, or any ideas how to resolve the problem?

Ugliest paperback cover ever?


A few years ago I picked up a non-fiction book about a serial killer in Paris during WWll, a respected and outwardly respectable doctor responsible for betraying and murdering Jewish families trying to escape from the Nazis. True crime is a genre that interests me, and I found the book well-researched and well-written. As a result I began corresponding with the author and although we’ve never met in the flesh, we formed a ‘virtual’ friendship based on mutual interests – France, Paris, literature, food and history.

Romance is not a genre I care for (in books!), but I was curious to see how Marilyn switched from non-fiction to fiction in her first novel, and was surprised to find that I enjoyed Bella, which is not a fluffy romp at all, but quite dark and gripping. Great cover, too.

Now her second novel (third book, second novel) has been published, one I’ve been looking forward to because I know her passion for her subject and how much has gone into the writing of this romance/drama set in Stalin’s Soviet Union, an era I’m interested in.

If I’d seen a paperback of this book in any shop I would never have touched it, but as I do most of my reading on my Kindle, I bought a digital copy from Amazon. Happily my old Kindle doesn’t show the covers, because this one is just – I can’t think of a word that sums up how awful it is – maybe ‘Unpickupable’? If this lurid, amateurish cover is any indication of the content, I really wouldn’t want to know.

Fortunately, I can confirm that it isn’t. For the Love of a Poet is, as the title implies, a love story set against the backdrop of Uncle Joe Stalin’s Russia, a country in the grip of deprivation and fear, where people can disappear without warning, and pandemics are described as nothing more that ‘minor outbreaks of flu.’

The writing draws you into the lives of the lovers and recreates the nerve-wracking atmosphere of living under the Stalinist regime. It’s one of those books that once you start reading, you don’t want to put down. While I very much enjoyed Marilyn’s two previous books by, I think this one really is her chef-d’oeuvre - a true masterpiece. 

Although as I have said, I’ve never met the author, I feel that we know each other well enough to be frank, and that she is confident enough to accept criticism, so I wrote and told her I thought the cover was horrible beyond description. It turns out that so does she, but it is out of her hands; it is what her publisher has chosen and it seems she’s stuck with it. She has received numerous messages, similar to mine.

Having a contract with a publisher is all well and good, but if their strategy is working against you, what good does it do?

Here is the cover in question:


I am going to nominate it as the ugliest cover I’ve seen for as long as I can remember. What a pity, the book is such a tremendous read, but how many people who don’t know that would actually pick it up? Sinister red/black, intensely ugly font, hammer and sickle, bizarrely placed, weirdly proportioned face, and where on earth is the poet?

Comments very welcome. Maybe you think the cover is OK? Maybe you’ve seen one you think is even worse?



Today we took our guest up to the Sunday street market in Poitiers to give him a taste of authentic French life. Despite looming clouds the market was packed, from babes in papooses to centenarians in wheel chairs. There were people of every colour and creed, a babel of languages, colour tones from pallid white (me) to rich dark chocolate; European clothes, Middle Eastern clothes, North and West African traditional clothes, the ladies’ cheeks decorated in patterns of coloured powder. A fabulously cosmopolitan melting pot of cultures.

Stalls offered both sophisticated gaudy clothes, cheap jewellery and watches, beautiful handmade pointy-toed leather slippers in a kaleidoscope of vibrant colours. Cut flowers, pot plants, CDs advertised by loud music that added an extra touch of bounce to the shoppers. Stalls that sold only melons, or local goat cheese. Another selling paella from a gigantic frying pan; spit roasted chickens, plastic boats of French fries, coffee and frying sausages all mingling to create an enticing aroma – even for non-meat eaters! Eastern spices and sweetmeats, local vegetable and fruit produce, glistening fresh fish, bric-a-brac, scents, hats, and cheap plastic household items. Something for everybody.

We arrived simultaneously with another couple at a fruit and vegetable stall where I had spotted some particularly spectacular tomatoes. ‘Go ahead’, I signalled to the other couple, who nodded, with big smiles. Ten minutes later we were still standing patiently while they bought avocados; apricots; vine tomatoes and coeur de boeuf tomatoes; green beans; flat peaches; bananas; lettuce, spring onions and green garlic. The stall holder meticulously picked out each item of produce for them, mixing ripe, almost ripe and quite underripe at their request.

Clutching our brown paper bag of tomatoes we moved around the market, acquiring melons, mangoes, aubergines, lettuce from different stalls – I like to spread our patronage. :)

Once we’d bought what we came for, we began making for the car park, when we came upon an Iranian family selling their home-made foods. We bought two very large pieces of Iranian lavash. A little further along we met a lovely Russian lady, selling her own home-made pirozkhi. We couldn’t resist her smile, nor her pirozkhi, so they joined the fruit and vegetables and lavash. Retracing our steps, we backtracked to the Iranian stall and bought a savoury pastry – I can’t remember what it was called, but it was stuffed with cheese and spinach. One more stall stopped us in our tracks – dried fruit, candied fruits, olives, spices and tapenades. We came away from there with 200 grams of candied hibiscus flowers, and 200 grams of candied aloe vera.

Thus our ‘traditional French market experience’ was anything but. Likewise our lunch.

I had planned to post some photos of our lunch, but the food didn’t last long enough. The lavash was an interesting contrast to our normal baguettes. It had an unusual elasticity and stretchability and required two strong hands to dismember it. :)

In case you haven’t seen candied hibiscus and are wondering what it looks like:


We agreed that we were glad to have tried the hibiscus flowers and aloe vera. I think they are one of those things worth trying once.

Unusual behaviour

This is a first for me. I have never responded to a bad review. They are part and parcel of being an author; you get good, you get bad.  That’s the way it goes. Not everybody likes what you write. As long as some people do, that’s OK.

But this was interesting, a study of the human condition.

One of my books was featured on BookBub recently. The e-book was reduced to 99cts. for the duration of the promotion.

It was downloaded just over 3,000 times over 48 hours.

Rapidly the first review during that period came in:

 Easily the MOST disappointing Kindle purchase I have ever made., July 27, 2014
 1.0 out of 5 stars
Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
This review is from: I Wish I Could Say I Was Sorry… (Kindle Edition)
This book was ridiculously depressing and dissatisfying. After you suffer through her whole stupid, sad life, no answers! The author dwells on all the awful stuff that happened to her – everybody has some lows – and passes over the good happy stuff. I must say I totally misinterpreted the title, lol! I thought, “I Wish I Could Say I Was Sorry….” would finish up with “….but I’m not!” and there would be details on an interesting life well lived. But no, just drudgery and complaints.I see it’s rated highly and I am baffled. When you recount the people in her life who should have been there for her and weren’t, I just want to line them up and slap them.

Hey, Susie, I’m here, you can apologize to me anytime you want. Thank goodness I only paid 99 cents.

Blackbird Digital Books, who publish my books, responded by offering her a refund of the 99cts she had paid for the book, but this did not satisfy her, and a long stream of comments ensued. They became increasingly unpleasant, and one of them was removed by Amazon. That’s fairly unusual, even when asked they tend to let people have their say, so she must have stepped outside their boundaries.
But – this has obviously really wound her up. She believes that her comment was removed because of a complaint, which is  not the case which, if she contacts Amazon, I imagine they will confirm.
As a result of her frustration, she took to her blog and to Facebook to see what damage she could do.
Here is a screenshot from her Facebook page (ignore the photo, I don’t know what that’s doing there, it has nothing to do with my book):
Diane Maggie McInnis Miller
“EFF off,” she says, declaring that she is going to spread the word as far as possible about this ‘crappy book. LOL’
Then she takes to her blog to tell the whole story of her review and the ensuing comments, ending with:   “For pity’s sake, don’t people know better than to try and stifle me by now????”
As a writer and amateur shrink who studies human behaviour, I am genuinely fascinated. What would motivate anybody, over a few cents, to become so angry and vengeful, and publicly boast about it?

Daring to hope

As a teenager, I was never still for a moment. Always on my feet, trotting hither and thither, bursting with energy.  Skinny as a rake.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when that energy level started dropping, but it was certainly at least 15 years ago. I’d find myself feeling suddenly overwhelmed with fatigue, falling asleep if I sat down. Being a vegetarian I put it down to possible anaemia, and took iron tablets or tonics, which helped a little, but not a lot.

Five years ago I seemed to be asleep more than awake, always, always tired. Sometimes too tired to clean my teeth, to get dressed, even to read. If I started reading, I’d be asleep in seconds. Likewise if I sat in a parked car. Zzzzzzz

During a routine visit to the doctor a couple of years ago, I mentioned in passing that I was always tired and needed to buy some iron tablets. No, he said, you need a thyroid check. Which I had and which revealed that I was indeed suffering from hypothyroidism.

I’ve been on thyroxine since then, and haven’t really felt any better. My idea of a perfect day would be to stay in bed and do nothing. That’s neither practical nor possible. I drag myself around, plucking up a weed from time to time, loading the washing machine, cooking a meal, when in truth I’d sooner be sitting doing nothing. The tiredness is like a veil hanging over me, draining my energy.

Since we came to live in France, I’ve always bought natural Guérande salt, both in crystal form for cooking, and fine for seasoning. But having high blood pressure, I was told by the doctor to minimise my salt intake, so I use it sparingly.

Recently I was reading an article on hypothyroidism, and the fact that lack of iodine can be a contributory factor.

A couple of weeks ago I began taking iodised salt. Natural sea salt does not contain iodine. During the last week I have felt definite small spurts of energy. I’m less lethargic, less prone to falling asleep during the day, and also finding it a little difficult to get to sleep. Dare I hope that iodised salt could be the answer?


Bearing in mind the doctor’s stern advice to limit my salt intake, I have to balance the increased risk of heart attack against constant draining weariness. Thinning eyebrows, dry skin and the impossibility of losing weight I can cope with, but the fatigue really drags me down. So I’ll take the risk.


Our family and other animals

Every night, about 10.00 pm, a mouse appears in the living room. It scuttles around the edge of the room until it reaches Rafiki’s cage. Then it begins to climb up into it. That’s no easy feat, as the legs of the cage are slippery. Sometimes the mouse almost reaches the lower tray, then falls back to the floor. But it keeps trying until it can squeeze through a narrow gap which allows it into the tray where the food waste falls. I can hear it scrabbling around. Rafiki knows it’s there, too. She sits on her swing with her head tilted, watching it benevolently. She likes furry things, and sometimes flies to sit on the bookcase with a teddy bear.


When it’s satiated, the mouse takes on a new challenge – the water bowl, which is high up in the cage. Once there, it drinks its fill, then abseils back to the floor and vanishes.

Sometimes I see it (I’m saying ‘it’, but of course that is delusional. There are probably dozens of them) during the day, as it whizzes around my office. I don’t know why, the only food here is the biscuit crumbs in my keyboard and there’s no way it can reach there. Anyway, I’m quite used to it.

This morning while I was writing I caught a glimpse of movement beside the cushion where one of our dogs was sleeping next to me. Thinking it was the mouse I waved my hand to frighten it away before the dog woke up and jumped on it. But it didn’t move. I had a better look. And this is what I found.



Just a little chap, about 3″ in length.

We’re used to wildlife in the house. Newts, tree frogs, birds, beetles, mice, it’s nothing new. I just wonder why? They have nearly two acres of field, dozens of trees and bushes, and a pond. But this house seems like a magnet for them. :D

I wanted to photograph the toad on my desk, but it was very squirmy and very dry, so I took it outside and put it on a stone, near the long grass.

Next, please. :D