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, 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.