As autumn begins to settle in, here in rural France the Kenyan sunshine seems a long way away, and a long time ago.

We’ve been back just over a fortnight, since when our feet have barely touched the ground. Heaps of paperwork, laundry, photographs and notes to sort, and don’t even mention the garden, a confection of rampant weeds and falling leaves. Oh, and falling walnuts that the dogs are digging out of the ivy and crunching up, which isn’t very good for their digestive systems, causing consequential unpleasantness.

I’ve an exercise book full of scribbled, cryptic notes, often written while bouncing on corrugated roads or lurching through rock-strewn rivers.


At the time they were written they must have meant something, but I am puzzling over hieroglyphics that say “Limea Brownie”. Or possible “Himea Brownie”. Answers on a postcard, please.

Here is the mighty elephant’s little cousin, the rock hyrax. Cute or what?


Cords and chains

Next Sunday will be the first anniversary of the day we drove to Dunkirk to collect Tommy from the SPA.

He’s changed so much over the last year. He is unrecognisable from the scrawny, scabby and staring-coated dog that he was then, and is far more relaxed and confident than when he arrived. He still stands at the gate looking wistful if we go out without him, but he’s no longer frantic that he’s going to be abandoned again.

The one area that we hadn’t made much progress is walking on a lead. He’s a puller, crouching low, digging in his claws and putting all his weight on his broad chest, and at 30 kilos he’s just too strong. We tried several different designs of no–pull halters, and a harness, all without success. He just pulls too much. Consequently we have been unable to enjoy taking him out, which means that we haven’t been able to enjoy going out ourselves for any length of time and leaving the dogs at home.

But I recently bought a new ‘no-pull’ halter that actually works! It’s just a few feet of soft woven cord that fits the dog’s head in a figure of eight – you loop it over the head, twist it up under the chin and loop it back over the nose. There are no straps, clips or buckles to adjust. It doesn’t ride up over the eyes, there’s no pressure on the neck, and it works like a dream.

So yesterday we went out for an afternoon on France’s ‘green Venice’ – the Marais Poitevin. As it was a sunny Sunday afternoon we wanted to avoid the busiest areas, and so headed for Magné where we followed a narrow shady lane down to the river bank. We wanted to cross the river. There was no bridge. But there was this:


Tommy needed no encouragement to  jump aboard, but Tally was most reluctant and had to be pulled from the front and pushed from the back. :) Terry then hauled us across to the far side of the very green river.


We followed the bank along to the lock.



The lock keeper’s cottage and two lock-winders

Tommy was interested in the lock, and the dog in the boat in the lock.


Our walk continued over the weir.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Thanks to their halters, both dogs walked beautifully, without pulling

We didn’t meet any other walkers.

We had to wait for the return ferry.


And then it was our turn to chain back to the other side.

All made possible by this:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s called The Perfect Pace no-pull halter leash. And it’s a “Yes” from me, a 5* product.  For the first time since Tommy arrived, we were all able to go out together, hassle-free. Who would have thought something so simple could make such a change.

An interview

The English Informer in France magazine kindly invited me to do an interview with them.

And here it is. :)  The magazine is crammed with interesting articles on every topic you could name. Well worth having a look.

Starting this Friday, over the next few weeks they will be publishing extracts from my travel books and memoir, on their

Café Pause page.

Don’t forget to have a look. :)

Junk junkies and a naughty little bit

When my step-mother said that we would replace my outgrown jodhpurs with a pair from The Thrift Shop in Nairobi, I was aghast. I’d never been to The Thrift Shop, but I knew it was about second-hand clothes! Other people’s cast-offs. Tatty old rags with tears and stains. We were very comfortably-off, but my step-mother was ever one to count every cent. How humiliating! What if somebody we knew saw us in there?

The first person we knew who saw us was my school English teacher, and the next person one of my school friends with her mother. The teacher was buying a flowery and floaty chiffon dress, and my school friend’s mother was buying her a school uniform to replace the one she’d outgrown. None of them seemed to be the least embarrassed at being seen there. They had no need to be. The clothes were all immaculate, hanging neatly on rails, and finding a pristine pair of jodhpurs that cost a few shillings and were a perfect fit was a pivotal moment in my life. I was hooked.

When we lived in England virtually all my clothes came from charity shops. That’s how I could afford to wear designer suits and evening dresses, bought at a fraction of their original price and still in new condition.

We don’t have that many charity or second-hand clothing shops here, but what we do have is what the French call “Chez Dior”, and the more down-to-earth English call “The Rag and Louse”. It’s a gigantic hangar behind a cement works, and it’s my favourite haunt when my wardrobe needs restocking.

If you can try to visualise the world’s biggest jumble sale after an earthquake, it will give some idea of the chaos that is the Rag and Louse. There are no hangers, no tables. The clothes lie in mountainous heaps on the floor, vaguely sectioned apart. There are men’s shirts, jeans, sports clothing, frocks, ladies coats, bedding, children’s clothing, lingerie, men’s jumpers, ladies’ jumpers, ski wear, scuba wear, swimwear, hats, shoes, blouses, wedding dresses, fabrics, handbags, work clothes, leather and fur coats. There is an unpleasant smell from the fumigation process which causes people to sneeze and cough. Vast trolleys of new stock are constantly arriving.

Photography is not allowed, but this might give some idea of the scene.

There is no easy way to find what you want. You just have to do what everybody else does, and dive into or onto a pile and start rummaging. See a flash of a colour you like, and pull. Pull! Eventually it will emerge from the pile so you can see if it’s what you hoped for. Hardened shoppers sit on top of piles and methodically work their way through them, often in pairs. There’s a primitive changing room behind a curtain. Don’t think that everything is worn out, stained or torn. Some of it is, but there are also plenty of new clothes still with their price tags on them. Like panning for gold, you just have to sift through a lot of mud to find a nugget.

Are you horrified? It’s no place for the precious or the snob. But for bargain hunters it can be a gold mine. One of my French friends, a senior fonctionnaire and the chicest lady you’ll ever see, buys most of her clothes there and always looks as if she’s stepped out of the pages of Vogue.

It’s a popular haunt for traders who snap up leather and denim by the van load for resale.

When a trolley load has been treated with whatever it is they treat it with, the trolley is wheeled to the centre of the hangar, where one of the staff sorts the contents rapidly, tossing them into wooden bins surrounded by shoppers keen to have first dibs. This is the hub of the place, and the ladies (it’s not really a man thing, here) chatter and laugh while grabbing at flying garments.

I don’t know how the conversation started yesterday, as I had only just managed to squeeze between two ladies guarding the bins, but the lady sorting the stuff from the trolley said loud and clear, in English: “A little bit.”

There was uproar, the ladies laughing as tears ran down their cheeks, clutching at each other, and temporarily forgetting the clothes flying past them.

If you don’t speak French, this will mean nothing to you, but if you do, you’ll know why a little bit (pronounced with a French accent) caused such mirth amongst the ladies. :D

I came home with a gorgeous skirt, beautiful two-piece outfit, blinding white fancy top, chic black top and soft cashmere sweater.

Oh, did I mention the price? You pay by weight. My purchases cost €6.90. :)


Colour, croaks, scurrying feet and the watchful eye

Summer was late arriving this year, but to compensate it lingered long. Despite the mid-November date, we are enjoying many warm sunny days and cloudless blue skies.

Yesterday evening when we walked the dogs it was still mild at 5.30, and the sunset was astounding, like a laser display in tones of gold, dove-grey and pink, blazing, fading, rekindling itself and splashing the skies with streaks that morphed as we watched them, and throwing golden lights onto the tops of the trees in the valley. We didn’t have our cameras with us. I am always left unsatisfied by photos of sunsets, no matter how vibrant. It’s their constantly changing shape and colour that fascinates me, something a static image cannot capture.

There is plenty of colour in the garden. The gingko and liquidambar trees I planted 10 years ago are aglow, wearing their most vivid gladrags; the roses are slightly battered, sharing their stems with hips, but unbowed; the cosmos is still vibrant, the nasturtiums and honeysuckle flourishing too.


Autumn rose




Virginia creeper


Liquidambar leaves


Reclining walnut tree at Hedgehog Hill










Tiny fungi

I’ve been raking up the fallen leaves and putting them at the end of the garden beneath the walnut tree – the one blown over in the great storm of 1999, which despite being knocked flat on its side has flourished and grown upwards. Unless you look at the original trunk that now lies horizontal to the ground, you’d never know. Beneath the tree is a patch of ivy and brambles, and that is where the hedgehogs hang out. The dead leaves will give them cover during their hibernation, and provide a source of food for the insects that will provide food for them when they emerge from their winter rest. And as the leaves decompose they will supply nourishment to the walnut tree that supplies us with a crop of nuts. I don’t understand why people burn leaves.

Indoors I can hear the constant scampering of tiny feet coming from the loft. The noise they make must be – I believe – disproportionate to the size of their owners; because if not, it must be a herd of goats bashing the floorboards as they run around doing whatever it is they do up there.

Last night it was midnight when the cranes passed overhead, their haunting voices eerie in the darkness, and the familiar lump rose in my throat and my eyes did their involuntary watering at the thought of the long journey these birds undertake every year of their lives.

And through all the seasons, for who knows how many years, out in the field the unblinking oak tree eye watches ……. It looks as if at one time the tree forked, and this branch was cut. The tree is estimated to be at least 400 years old. I’ve always loved the ‘eye’, which makes the branch look rather like a large, friendly snail, don’t you think?


The oak tree’s eye

And the audiobook winners are ……

Rafiki needed some encouragement to do her part in choosing the winners. She was more interested in trying to bite through the lamp cable.

She’s a little self-conscious at the moment. We left her with a friend while we were away on holiday, and it’s the first time she’s been away from the house for 20 years. Parrots are very sensitive, and she may have suffered from stress being in an unknown environment. She shed all her chest and back feathers, and instead of replacing them with new ones, has only managed to grow some fluffy down. Hence she looks as if she’s wearing a little white woolly waistcoat. At her next moult, she will hopefully regrow her proper plumage.

She was finally persuaded to take her pick from the 20 names on the dish, and the two winners are …….

Ladies, you will  be receiving the necessary code to download your copies, and I really hope you will enjoy listening.

I’m so sorry you couldn’t all win, but thank you very much for participating.