Gardening guerilla

Today I planted some mesclun – “cut-and-come-again”. I’ve always preferred it to whole lettuces, firstly because you have a nice mixture, secondly because you only have to pick as much as you need and thirdly, of course, because it keeps on growing.

This year we are going to really make an effort to grow more food. Last year was a wash-out, as circumstances meant we were away for various long periods and the vegetable patch became a jungle of weeks – nettles, thistles, that awful crab grass stuff, chickweed, buttercups and dock leaves.

Not being a fully committed gardener, because my other interests take up much of my time and I can’t devote that much to the garden, I get very disheartened. Each year I carefully weed our raised beds, digging up every root and sifting the soil to make sure there’s nothing left. After carefully planting seeds or plantlets, watering them lovingly, it seems that overnight the weeds are rampant once again and all kinds of unwelcome insects are chewing through the seedlings or laying eggs on them. We put down copper strips that were meant to repel slugs and snails, and watched them drawn as if by a magnet and actually glide backwards and forwards over them. The only things that seem to flourish are rhubarb, parsley and chives. Everything else topples over, withers up or vanishes.

I know that you can deal with the slug problem quite effectively with sunken bowls of beer, and that if you hoe regularly you can kill off most weeds before they gain control. But what is the organic answer to dealing with other pests, weeds and diseases? I don’t want to use chemicals of any kind. I want one of those gardens like our French neighbours have, where all the plants are of uniform height and laden with healthy goodness. How do they do it, apart from the hoe? Any advice, please?

This is where I’ve planted the mesclun as an experiment to see how well these miniature greenhouses work. Right on the windowsill of the office, where I can keep my eagle eye on any attempted invasion from unwelcome visitors. 🙂



Winter walk

So we have had a little snowfall; nothing to get too excited about, only about 4 cm.

While it’s hell for the birds, who are desperate for food, the dogs love it.

Here are a few photos from our walk this afternoon. My camera is still being repaired so I’m using a little pointy-shooty thing that is quite limited in its abilities. But they give an idea of what the sunny Poitou-Charentes fields look like in winter.






Nice surprise!

As an antidote to the unpleasant choc, I received a very nice surprise. The Venomous Bead at Asurfeitofpalfreys has been kind enough to send me this most splendid award:


You might like to pop along to TVB’s blog if the winter weather is getting you down and you fancy a leisurely walk, somewhat off the beaten track in the area around Saumur. Allow yourself plenty of time to enjoy the scenery and history, the peaceful villages and the winding river. Go on, spoil yourself.

TVB has passed the award also to a number of outstanding bloggers, and really, if you are looking for good reads you’ll find some eye-openers, so spoil yourself again and pop along to meet them.

In the same relaxed spirit as TVB, with no strings attached, I’d like to nominate and pass on the award to Sarah at St Bloggie de Riviere, a lady who is inclined to speak her mind and not pull her punches, and is the author of the Floppy Monster educational books for small children.


Marilyn Tomlins, who also receives the award, is a journalist living in Paris, and writing about life there as well as her particular interest, crime. She really gets her teeth into juicy murders, and her recent post on the Chevaline massacre attracted several hundred comments leading to on-going discussions of the crime. Marilyn has also written a fascinating book, Die in Parisa gripping account of Dr. Marcel Petiot, a  prolific serial killer during WWII, and a thoroughly nasty piece of work. 


For everything that is good about life in rural France, Jacqueline at French Village Diaries will keep you in the loop and up to speed. She blogs about French food, books about France, her vegetable garden and her pets, the France that people dream of. A lovely feel-good blog to visit to raise the spirits and give you a warm fuzzy feeling and healthy appetite, and she is my third nomination.

Unpleasant choc!

And we’re not talking chocolate here, but the French choc.

Over the years I’ve lost many small items of jewellery, including diamond and other precious stone earrings, and I’ve never claimed on the insurance for them. But since mid-December I haven’t been able to find a 32″ 22-carat gold chain that I’ve worn around my neck for more than 20 years. It was originally a waist chain, but had shrunk over the years, probably in the shower.

Having hunted in every place it could possibly be, including the washing machine and the heap of dirty clothes waiting to be washed once the weather is suitable for the purpose, I concluded the chain is lost for good. And so I thought I’d claim for it on my household insurance policy. Our insurance broker is the most helpful and sympathetic man, he never lets us down and has gone out of his way to get us the best deals for all our policies, and I knew that our household policy included a generous allowance for jewellery. I just rang him to ask how to go about it.

And learned that there is no such thing as insurance for lost jewellery or valuable items in France! Stolen, yes, provided the theft takes place in your car, house or a public place, is reported to the police and you are able to provide evidence of the stolen items such as cameras and mobile phones, including receipts. But lost – no. Because, as he explained, if people could claim for lost items they’d be doing so on a monthly basis. He said that he doubts any insurance company in England any longer insures valuables for accidental loss, although I’m pretty certain they do.

And furthermore, in the case of theft, you should make sure that you have photographed all items of value, and their receipts, and keep the photographs in a safe place – preferably not in your house in case it should burn down.

It came as rather a nasty choc as I had assumed the policy did include accidental loss. Thought I’d mention in case anybody else is under the same misapprehension.


Blog hop: The Next Big Thing – French Twist

I’m honoured to have been tagged in “The Next Big Thing – French Twist” blog hop by Times best-selling romantic comedy author Victoria Corby. Although writing in very different genres, Victoria and I have much in common. We share a love of animals, we both live in south-west France, and we’ve both had several titles published in paperback by major traditional publishers. Victoria’s “Up to No Good” was a Times bestseller, and is now available for the first time as a Kindle title, and with a fabulous new cover.


The deal is that I have to answer a series of questions, so here goes.

What is the working title of your next book?

I Wish I Could Say I Was Sorry

Where did the idea come from for the book?

When I began researching my family tree, it raised numerous questions and brought back countless memories. Finding too many questions to which I will never be able to learn the answers is immensely frustrating. I didn’t want my children, and their children, to be faced with the same frustration if at some time in the future they should want to learn more about their forebears.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s autobiographical.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Although our family are all originally from south London, I think that given the scandals and dramas that we have known, the entire cast of East Enders could be put to good use if ever a film was made.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?


Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I am hoping that, like my travel books, it will be published by Blackbird Digital Books. However, it may not fit comfortably into their ethos and until the manuscript is finished and submitted, I won’t know.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

It’s taken several years and I’m still working on it. Every so often I put it away for a while because it brings back memories that are too painful and it takes time to recover and continue.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Difficult question. Many people have written about dysfunctional families, childhood traumas, family scandals and tragedies. There is one specific event in this book that makes it different to anything else that I have read. But it contains no sexual or extreme physical abuse, and I hope it doesn’t read like a misery memoir, because it isn’t intended to be one.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

As I said above, it was a desire to write down the events in our family history so that should they ever wish to know, my children and theirs will be able to find the answers to the questions. And it is, of course, a catharsis.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

It spans three decades, beginning with life in dingy, grey post-war London, moving to life in Kenya during the Mau Mau emergency and later as an independent country, and from there eventually back to England and some high drama. I imagine there are very few families who don’t have a skeleton or two in their cupboards, but I do think that our family has seen more scandals and dramas than most.

I’d like to tag two other writers to join the blog hop and share their writing talents.

Susan Keefe is very much a woman after my own heart, a passionate animal lover. With the help, and under the guidance of her gorgeous Border Collie Toby, Susan has written a series of charming books for young readers, based on the life of the animals who live on her smallholding in France. They are as entertaining as they are informative, designed to encourage children to learn about and care about domestic and wild animals.

Stephanie Zia has had a number of titles published by traditional publishers, and for six years she wrote a regular column for The Guardian on organic cleaning products and stain removal. She has been a tutor at Richmond Adult Community College creative writing classes, has her own publishing company and currently has three contemporary romance titles winning hearts and praises from prestigious reviewers.

Over to you, ladies. 🙂


The dress I stole

The current winter sales brought back memories of the time I stole a dress, and the awful consequences.

It was sufficiently long ago (in another life, in fact) that I believe the likelihood of prosecution to be negligible (knock on wood!) And were the company (which I shall not name) to launch criminal proceedings I could cite the tax avoidance (evasion?) of which their supremo is accused and suggest that proportionately that person is a great deal more culpable of dishonesty than I am (not that that is a valid defence in law, of course).

Anyway, this is how it happened.

Money was no object at that time. See something, buy it. Simples.

It was a time when I needed to maintain a full and fashionable wardrobe for professional purposes. I’ve never enjoyed shopping for clothes, being at heart a jeans and jumper girl all my life, but duty called.

When the winter sales opened in London I followed the frenzied throng into a large department store and onto the Ladies Clothing floor. From the rails I scooped up an armful of dresses and squirmed with them into a curtained cubicle half the size of a telephone cabin, with one of those mirrors that make you look shorter and fatter than you are and unhealthily pale.

I tried on a heap of dresses while being smitten by elbows and knees coming through the curtains of the adjoining cubicles. Space was so limited it wasn’t possible to see whether they suited or not, and not really caring – I could always give them to a charity shop – I made a short sharp exit, dumping the heap on the counter and handing over a cheque for the amount on the till slip.

Once home, I tipped the bags of rags out and tried them on at leisure. Most of them would do, although one was somewhat too frilly for office wear and I put it away for a frivolous occasion.

A little later when checking the receipt, I noticed that I’d been charged for 7 dresses, whereas I actually had 8. The frilly one had slipped through the net. I’d take it back the next day.

But when the next day came the thought of carving a path through the bargain hunters to go and sort it out didn’t appeal. I’d wait until the sales were over. By which time I had completely forgotten about the frilly frock hanging in the wardrobe.

Fast forward many months.

At the time we had an acquaintance, a beautiful, fiery Russian lady whom we had been able to help out during a difficult period in her life. Now firmly back on her feet, she had fallen in love with a shy Englishman, and was determined to marry him whether he wanted to or not. She arranged an event whereat she would openly declare her love for him in front of witnesses, and pin him down to matrimony like a moth pinned to a card. The venue was a London nightclub that she had booked for an entire Saturday afternoon. Two hundred of her friends were invited. Including us.

What do you wear on a Saturday afternoon in a nightclub for a Declaration of Love? I flipped through the wardrobe and there right at the back was the unwittingly stolen frilly frock. Too frilly for day-wear, not sophisticated enough for evening wear. Perfect. Waves of guilt washed over me, but were calmed by the thought that (a) it had been stolen long ago (b) if the cashiers incorrectly undercharged customers, there was a good chance they also incorrectly overcharged customers and they’d probably made up the shortfall (c) it had only cost £6 and the logistics of the shop tracing the transaction and rectifying it wouldn’t be worth the investment of time and resources.

So I put it on, and off we went.

The afternoon was interminably long, as our hostess stood in the spotlight on the stage reading poetry, playing music and swaying gently. After a very, very long time the great moment arrived, and she called onto the stage the retiring Englishman, who stood shuffling his feet nervously while she quothe at him. Then she presented him with a large, flat packet, beautifully wrapped, and commanded him to open it.

With obvious trepidation he did so, to reveal a magnificent red kimono, embroidered with dragons and peacocks.

“Put it on!” she ordered. He shook his head. So she put it on him, declared her love and then plighted him her eternal troth while he stood gazing at the floor seeking a chasm into which to vanish.

Actually a great deal more than that took place, but as it’s irrelevant to the rest of the story, I’m omitting it. Having got the Declaration of Love out of the way, our lovely hostess then began talking about her life, from childhood in Russia and via the rest of the world to the dismal circumstances that had led her to London, where, without the help of so many kind people, she may have thrown herself into the Thames. She thanked those people, one and all. We all clapped.

“And now,” she said, “I am going to ask those lovely people to join me here where you can all see them.”

To my horror, she called our names first.

Grabbing my hand, TOH pulled me to my feet. We had now been sitting for three hours. The frock, which was made of a cotton/synthetic material and had originally been just-above-knee length, had pleated itself like a concertina from the waist down, and was now bunched around my hips. As TOH tugged me towards the stage I tried to pull the frock down, but it was springy and as much as I pulled it, as much it sprang back up again.

No doubt there have been moments in life where I’ve been uncomfortable, but never on that scale. Standing there in the spotlight, the more I yanked the hem down, the more the fabric sprang back. My knickers were in clear view to the other 198 guests. 

There’s a moral there somewhere. 🙂